A budget of Rs2.489 trillion was presented in the National Assembly in the first week of this month. Only Rs8 billion was spared for Fata, which was later increased to Rs12 billion by the prime minister after the tribal parliamentarians begged him for an increase.
The budget is yet to be approved by the two houses of parliament. A cursory reading of the budget shows that an amount of Rs70 billion has been earmarked for the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP) and another Rs50 billion allocated for the development of displaced persons in the Malakand Division. There is no doubt that these two are important but Fata, equally devastated, should also receive fair treatment.
The BISP is considered by many economists as a political gimmick by the PPP to lure the poor to its fold. They argue that the thinly-spread, one-off payments being made under the programme will not remove poverty. These funds would have been better used for sustainable income-generating projects instead, providing a source of regular livelihood for the downtrodden through employment. This wasteful expenditure will come to an end if a party other than the PPP comes to power in the next election. The poor in Fata were discriminated as IDPs and are now being given step-motherly treatment again in the distribution of funds.
The prevailing law and order situation has been quoted as a strong argument for increase in the defence budget. The military’s involvement in counter-insurgency operations in the country has added further strength to the argument for this increase. The logical question that arises is why can’t the same argument be accepted for increase in funds to develop Fata? It is argued by counter-insurgency experts world over that insurgency cannot be weeded out through the military alone. It has to be accompanied by development and eradication of poverty so as to remove its root causes. Where on earth is the military engaged in combat operations? This, I understand, points towards the absence of political leadership in Fata. In 1997, the area was given adult franchise but without the extension of the Political Parties Act. The president promised political and economic reforms for Fata, but these remain unfulfilled.
The government would be well-advised to take note of the rapidly deteriorating situation in Fata. It needs to interact with the people to remove their apprehensions and misunderstandings, rather than leaving it to the military to resolve matters through guns. The inhabitants of Fata are fed-up with the way they are treated because they have neither revolted against the country nor have they taken up arms against the military. They need to be treated with honour and dignity like other Pakistani citizens.
Fata now stands at the brink of disaster. The youth are frustrated and have reached a stage where they are prepared to fight for their rights. They have seen the destruction of their homes and the sacrifices — rendered without any recognition and to no avail — made by their elders. They feel that the government has done nothing for the welfare of their elders and other kin. There are no jobs for them. The government needs to address this problem to reverse the situation.
The first step towards this goal could be a visit by the president to announce economic and political reforms and also extend the Political Parties Act to Fata. This would not only help the tribesmen but will also encourage the army to retrieve itself from the bogged down fighting with their countrymen, and from earning their undying hatred.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 23rd, 2010.
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