A blessing or an unmitigated disaster?

Published: January 21, 2017
The writer is a former interior secretary and former ambassador

The writer is a former interior secretary and former ambassador

One of the persistent and costly failures of our system is that time, resources and energy are spent on issues that neither resonate with the masses nor reflect the needs of the community. One such manifestation is the current campaign launched by some to merge the tribal areas with the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P). The Reforms committee constituted by the Prime Minister has made a similar recommendation for making the tribal areas part of K-P.

A merger however is not as simple as it looks. It means a complete transformation of the area, by a scheme that has been superimposed on the tribes.

Firstly have the tribesmen ever demanded the abolition of their separate status or the dismantling of their identity? If this is not the case then is the government motivated by a desire to integrate the area with the province in order to improve the conditions of life in the tribal area. That is perhaps true.

The question is whether integrating the tribal area with the province would bring about changes in the socio-economic conditions of the people? It is of fundamental importance to analyse the causes of the economic backwardness of the tribal area. A few things are clear: the existing laws in the tribal area have not impeded or obstructed the execution of developmental projects in the area, in any sector eg., communication, education, health, agriculture, power, water, etc.

Roads, schools, colleges, hospitals, water supply schemes, irrigation channels, power lines — have all been planned and executed in all seven agencies and the adjoining FRs since partition without any interruption or breakdown that could be attributed to the ‘systems’ in the tribal area. Yes the level and quantity of such works was low — not because of the systems but because of low or inadequate allocations.

Corruption in the institutions operating in the tribal area has been cited as major reason for changing the complexion of the area. Has that something to do with the systems or the deliberate policy of the government?

When governments resort to appointing officers to the tribal area with a motive to promote the culture of corruption and the highest in the land become the direct beneficiaries, do you blame the system or the policymakers in Islamabad?

If a governor who has the experience and vision were to appoint officers on the basis of competence and integrity wouldn’t things improve significantly in a short span of time?

The emergence of militants in the wake of the induction of the military into the tribal area in 2002-03 was a watershed in the evolution of the new dynamics of the tribal area.

This ominous development has two dimensions. First, the deployment of the military in the tribal area in 2002 preceded, and not followed the advent of militants. The militants appeared as a response to the deployment of the military that was seen as a Musharraf’s attempt to please his American masters and gain legitimacy as well as patronage.

Secondly as the militants gained ground and the government began to counter their expanding outreach, there was no problem for the authorities to order bombing, demolitions, strafing, detentions, etc, without any opposition or questions being raised. Would that be possible in the other provinces like K-P, Punjab or Sindh?

Because there was this system in the tribal area that allowed the government to resort to any action it deemed necessary without any obligation or restraint imposed by the laws or conventions. That underscores the continuing need for keeping the distinct identity of the area because of strategic considerations.

If attention is focused only on the comparative strengths or defects of the two systems: in the tribal area and settled areas, stark realities would begin to be seen. The system in the tribal area based on quick retribution, jirga and the institution of collective responsibility, delivered. It delivered peace and harmony. The rate of crime in the tribal area was at least ten times less than in the settled area. Crimes like robberies, rapes were non-existent while murders were few and far between. Because the system delivered quick justice to parties without any financial cost.

By comparison not only were more crimes committed in the settled area for the same number of people but parties had to undergo the cost and torture of spending money, paying bribes and engaging expensive lawyers for years with no end in sight to the misery, pain and suffering. Do we want the people of the tribal area to now endure these pains and hardships and create resources for payment of fees to lawyers? And lastly are the people of the tribal area in any urgent need for ‘reforms’ which would create a frightening scenario of uncertainty, of chaos, of lawlessness?

At a time when the tribal area is in desperate need for reconstruction and rehabilitation, should we concentrate on rebuilding or carrying out structural reforms? The area has suffered horrendous losses. Its economy is shattered; its infrastructure broken; villages, houses, markets nearly all blown up; hundreds of thousands having been displaced; so much so that 140,000 have sought refuge in Khost province of Afghanistan. Thousands are traumatised, hundreds indeed thousands have perished in battles, bombings including hundreds of innocent civilians that included women and children.

The area is heavily militarised where movement of people is restricted. Hundreds of new posts, forts have been constructed as well as a new cantonment in Tirah area of Khyber. Panicky and grief- stricken tribesmen don’t know where to go for relief.

To make matters worse the administrative structures have been almost rendered irrelevant. New power centres have arisen. The once pivotal political agent has lost his clout, power and is playing a second fiddle to the military who are calling the shots. The absence of unity of command has gravely impinged on the system of administration.

The question is whether restoring the infrastructure, the economy and most importantly the rehabilitation of the IDPs takes priority or whether we should embark on the project of ‘reforms’ that would alter the status of the area.

People, the rank and file, would perhaps never allow the destruction of their identity. They would not accept the pain and suffering that the police, lawyers and lengthy, unending litigation would bring in the shape of reforms. Land settlement would destabilise the area and lead to countless number of civil and criminal cases where relatives would be pitted against one another.

Let us prioritise our options. Plunging headlong into an abyss would have catastrophic implications. The people of the area should not held hostage to the vested interests of just a few representatives who have collectively not polled more than a few thousand votes and who do not reside in the tribal area. Considerations of justice and strategy would dictate a policy or approach that would bring prosperity to the people. The emphasis should be on quality education, better health care, more jobs, electricity, water, trading, roads, parks and skill development — these and not the so-called reforms would herald in the advent of a new era of emancipation and progress.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 22nd, 2017.

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Reader Comments (1)

  • Farooq Khan
    Jan 22, 2017 - 3:43PM

    The federal government, KPK government and GHQ must listen to this man, he is one of few who have solid and comprehensive knowledge of tribal area of Pakistan. Continued mishandling of tribal areas can have long term devastating consequences for Pakistan.Recommend

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