Why not an Af-Pak Tribal Development Authority?

Published: March 9, 2015
The writer is a former caretaker finance minister and served as vice-president at the World Bank

The writer is a former caretaker finance minister and served as vice-president at the World Bank

One way of dealing with the post-conflict situation in the tribal areas of both Afghanistan and Pakistan is to create an institutional mechanism that will work on both sides of the border. Islamabad and Kabul should establish a Tribal Areas Development Authority (TADA) responsible for drawing up and implementing a multi-year plan for the accelerated economic development and rapid social transformation of the tribal people who live in these areas. These people have been the victim of uninterrupted violence for more than three decades. The real trouble started when the Soviet Union’s troops moved into Afghanistan in the late 1970s. An entire generation has reached maturity knowing nothing more than war and have attended the mass deprivation that results from it. If peace finally returns — as it might with the efforts currently underway involving the governments of Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States — it is important that this cycle of violence-desperation-more violence finally gets to be broken. This will involve the adoption of some radical and imaginative solutions. The proposed creation of the TADA is one such idea that deserves serious thought.

Before suggesting the modalities of the TADA, I will provide a brief overview of the scale of the problem that will need to be dealt with and with some urgency. While no firm numbers are available, it is generally accepted that there are about 50 million Pakhtun people in the world. Of these, 30 million live in Pakistan, about 15 million reside in Afghanistan and five million are scattered in the various diasporas these people have formed around the world. Some of these communities are quite old as the one in Germany. Some are the consequence of the displacement caused by the state of perpetual war in the two tribal areas. The Pakhtun have also taken advantage of the employment opportunities created by a succession of oil booms in the Middle East. There are an estimated 350,000 Pakhtuns in the UAE. The US has the second-largest Pakhtun community with its size believed to be close to 150,000. Most of those living in the US are well-trained professionals. Some of these have returned to Afghanistan. The current Afghan president was once a member of this community. This diaspora could be an important source for the recruitment of professionals that would be needed by the TADA.

The TADA would be a public sector enterprise to be jointly managed by the two governments. Each side would contribute policymakers, managers and professionals to the organisation. It would be headed by a person beginning, say, with one from Afghanistan, who will have a term of five years. His successor will be from Pakistan. The president will be guided by a 12-member board with membership equally divided between the two countries. Once established, its first task should be to take stock of the situation, developing a better appreciation of the demographic, economic and social conditions that prevail. This task will entail conducting population, economic and social censuses and surveys.

Once this is done, the TADA should formulate an ambitious economic and social development plan for a period of at least 10 years. This plan should be costed out with clear indication of the amounts of resources that would be available from the two governments as well as the amount that will flow in from the outside. There will be three sources of foreign flows. A good deal of support will come from a number of bilateral sources. There will also be support from the governments which were involved in fighting the stubborn insurgency in Afghanistan. Multilateral development agencies such as the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the Islamic Development Bank will undoubtedly be willing partners in this enterprise. In fact, given the expertise available in the World Bank, the TADA should seek its support in developing the proposed plan of action.

Conducting censuses and surveys and developing a medium-term development plan will take time. But the conditions in these areas are such that some immediate remedial actions will be required. The experience available at the World Bank in dealing with post-conflict situations indicates that certain areas need immediate attention once there are indications that the long-enduring conflict is reaching its end. The first is demobilising those who were engaged in the conflict. Given the history of the area, it may not be possible — or even advisable — to ask those who have fought the state to surrender their arms. The gun is in the Afghan culture and it may not be right to separate it from those who carry it. The issue is against whom the weapon gets to be used. The best approach is to reintegrate the insurgents in the society they have left to fight the state. This will require restoring the institutions of local governance that have worked for centuries and kept relative peace.

While some reversion to the old and timed-tried institutional mechanisms is being undertaken, the local leaders should be allowed participation in the national and provincial systems. As political scientists have begun to emphasise, peace and sustained development is possible only when a society’s institutional structure is inclusive and not exclusive. Making institutions inclusive needs participation of people at all levels of society in political and social processes. With the immediate needs taken care of, the TADA will need to begin work on the long-term needs of the tribal areas. How that should get done will be the subject for the coming week.

Published in The Express Tribune, March  9th,  2015.

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Reader Comments (5)

  • Aussie
    Mar 9, 2015 - 6:33AM

    Excellent suggestion, Shahid Burki Sahib.

    Let us see how much the US and other Western powers would be willing to give TADA for the re-development of a region decimated by their military actions. Even if all developmental expenditures were to be closely monitored by neutral third parties, or agencies of the UN, my first estimate of USA largess towards this good cause would not be very high. With US consultants employed and closely involved, the amount may increase proportionately to cover costs.

    Perhaps the concept can also be considered for joint development of the Eastern border, Sindh-Rajistan-Thar and also the two Punjabs. It could focus on joint planning to alleviate effects of natural disasters, drought, floods, agricultural data; even tax-concessions to joint and shared industrial zones beltways set up say one mile each side around no-man’s land with equal contribution and participation from both sides and with preferred status for export of products to both sides. China may prove to be a willing participant in view of its changing labor profile and logistical advantages all round.

    As well the exchange of students.

    Aussie: Shahid Saleem Arshad PhD SydneyRecommend

  • Salim Jan
    Mar 9, 2015 - 11:28AM

    Very interesting and practicable development plan for the most backward and war-ravaged tribal area of Pakistan and Afghanistan.It becomes the responsibility of the big powers which destabilized this area due to their imperialist policies.Russia invaded Afghanistan without any rhyme and reason and turned Afghanistan into a” Killing Field”.Then this Area became the victim of proxy wars among the regional countries.Then America devasted this country for bringing one main Suspect Osama into book as it later destroyed Iraq for putting an end to its nonexistent WMD program.This is a positive suggestion which needs to be materialised. A marshal Plan is needed for socioeconomic development of this area.Recommend

  • ahmed41
    Mar 9, 2015 - 2:39PM

    Put this plan into effect . It will work !!!!Recommend

  • Sexton Blake
    Mar 10, 2015 - 4:44AM

    In theory, a reasonable good idea, but it will not work. The US industrial/military complex over the last 13 years has aggravated a situation created by the Russians, and now the the whole region from Africa, and the Middle East through to the sub-continent is in complete turmoil. To suggest that banks could solve the sub-continent tribal problem is ridiculous beyond belief. Most of the current world problems have been created by the money junkies who control the banks, and our erstwhile leaders. Recommend

  • Iftekhar
    Mar 18, 2015 - 4:23PM

    This was all been asked in private n public but what about history of Durand line conflict? What of the fear of natives in the south? They are landlocked need access to sea for all such activity already we have seen the gun (according to author not advisable to be separated from them) with them even out of their tribal areas. when they don’t keep gun in Dubai or anywhere in the world then why in the South. it should be a comprehensive implementation of aspirations n fears of South too. But to make it very clear we will be happy to see flourishing and growing tribal areas, our best wishes to them n will help in any way possible to achieve peace n prosperity there.Recommend

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