A lot has been written and spoken over the last few years about the wishes of the people of Fata for a separate province where they can have a government of their own. And, pending that a Fata council should be constituted to include representatives (councillors) from all the seven tribal agencies, with the governor also (under whose supervision they would work) belonging to Fata, not an outsider.
It was at a recently held seminar, where the emphasis was on empowerment of the people of Fata, that a tribal parliamentarian boasted that the government had agreed to constitute a Fata council which the president would announce in his speech on the Independence Day. But the bubble of this “good news” burst soon afterwards when the participants got to know that the government had already placed a draft regulation on extending local government to tribal areas on the website of the Fata Secretariat with a request to the public to read it and respond with views about the proposed legislation.
What kind of a government in Islamabad and its functionaries in Peshawar dealing with Fata have we got who are blissfully unaware of the level of literacy and poverty in that area? The government and its minions appear to visualise people in Fata being not only economically prosperous but also having a 100 percent literacy rate and fluency in English capable of reading and understanding the draft, with every tribesman walking about the fields clutching his laptop under his armpit with which he would sit down in the shade of a tree to access the website. What a world are we living in? How poles apart are we from each other?
The people in Fata expect the government to take concrete steps to resolve their problems, whereas the government indulges in frivolous showmanship which has no direct bearing on their current problems of insecurity. This attitude has disappointed the people immensely. Forget the bunkered president or any of his two prime ministers, even the second-tier leadership has failed to visit that area to understand the problems of the people. How can it win the hearts and minds of the tribesmen when it is not paying the least attention to their problems and genuine demand of self rule so that they can take measures required for restoration of peace and tranquillity in the area? What message is the government sending to the people there when it resorts to acts like the one in the pipeline (the regulation) which carries no real significance for them?
People there feel that this only proves that the government is not concerned about the real problems that they face, nor worried about the future of their children growing up in an environment of militancy where the gun is preferred over the pen, where educational institutions have been destroyed, health facilities are non-existent and prospects of economic improvement nil. Instead of attending to these problems, the government intends imposing a regulation which givers no powers whatsoever to the local people. What will they do with a few urban hubs at Parachinar, Sada and Khar in Kurram and Bajaur agencies where the government intends introducing the municipal committee system in which the functions of the so-called elected councillors will include, as stated in the press, removal and dumping of refuse, latrines, public health, water supply, drainage, food and drink, livestock, public safety, municipal planning, building control, streets, traffic vehicles, culture and sports.
These committees will work under the direct supervision of the political agent of the agency concerned. The regulation is silent about the source of funding of this system. It also does not touch upon the money exacted through irregular taxes at check-posts by the political agents. I wish a clause had been included in the regulation abolishing this illegal income.
If the elected councillors were not to be given powers, why create this hype about the introduction of local government in Fata through a new regulation? The real powers have been given to people who do not belong to that area but will administer it through remote control sitting in Islamabad and Peshawar.
The government could have learnt a lesson from the fate of the Agencies Council which was introduced by dictator Musharraf in Fata in 2004 whereby 450 councillors were elected through one man one vote and were to exercise powers like councillors in the settled districts of the rest of the country. But that was not to be as invisible hands intervened to stop handover of administration to the locals.
Under this new regulation too, complete power rests with the governor. Everything revolves around his wishes, including the suitability of individuals as councillors for the job. If that is to be the fate of elected councillors, then why adopt the system to begin with, as the authority already rests with the governor under the Frontier Crimes Regulation, which is already in force in the areas, since 1901?
Again, it is worth asking that if consultation with locals is so important, why they were not consulted when the draconian “Regulation in Aid of Civil Power” was imposed on Fata in 2011, giving totalitarian authority to the military in contravention of human rights, local customs and traditions? Let us call a spade a spade and accept the fact that the new regulation for extending local government to the people of Fata is nothing but an eyewash, a farce and a deception.
The writer is a former ambassador who hails from Fata. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org