The conferences and seminars on Fata, that I have attended so far, have one thing in common: analysts from Fata are invariably outnumbered by analysts from outside Fata. The outnumbering in number is understandable. But the outnumbering in analysis and the way forward is beyond comprehension.
The analysis of experts from Fata is based on the firsthand personal knowledge and experience while the assessment of those from outside Fata depends largely on references from the old record and books written by British officers who had served in the region during the British Raj in the Subcontinent. And since a majority of participants in such conferences neither belong to Fata nor have they visited or worked in the region, they are easily swayed by inferences from the past rather than solid suggestions based on facts and the ground realities.
This was precisely the case at a recently held roundtable conference on mapping the future of Fata by a well-known think tank in Islamabad. Analysts from outside Fata had a field day. They were listened to more carefully and attentively than their counterparts from Fata.
Mapping, according to the Oxford dictionary, means “a graphic symbolic representation of the significant features of a part of the surface of the earth”. When this job is required to be done, it is given to those who have the required expertise and the firsthand knowledge of the area. Keeping this factor in view, when the mapping of Fata’s future was to be done one assumed that the job would be assigned to the people of Fata. However, that was not the case. The job was given to people who did not belong to Fata and had no firsthand knowledge of the situation. These inexperienced people were involved in making recommendations for mapping the future of Fata.
This way of dealing with Fata is not only unjust and unfair, but it contributes heavily to the sufferings of the people in the region. This attitude needs to be changed or else it will continue adding to the people’s sufferings, irrespective of the measures that are taken in the days ahead.
Although the government claims to be willing to mainstream Fata, at the same time it refuses to make the locals stakeholders who can share responsibility like people elsewhere in the country. The government wants to do everything itself without the involvement of the locals. That the Fata Reforms Committee does not include a single person from the region is a case in point. Even in the subsequent committees that the governor of KP constituted for the purpose of proposing and executing the 10-year development projects in Fata, local representation was missing.
For the first time, Fata will be coming out of the shackles of tribalism to join the country’s democratic system. It would be suitable if the process is initiated through democratic principles where only the people of the area – and no one else – will have the right to decide matters.
This right must be given to the people of Fata if the government believes in the principles of democracy and that is what matters the most for the mapping of Fata’s future.
According to the announced policy, Fata is to be merged with KP. But after five years and for 10 years, the federal government will provide funds for the development and the reconstruction of that region. Since a new entity (Fata) with a population of about 15 million people will be joining the province, it is natural that people of both regions will have reservations about the distribution of national resources between them.
To make sure that nothing goes wrong, particularly in the initial stages, it would be in the interest of both if an agreement is reached between them. According to this agreement, the governor of the province for that period should be appointed from Fata to supervise the utilisation of the funds (Rs110 billion per annum for 10 years) and ensure that it is spent in the development of the region and not misappropriated like the money donated by foreign governments for development of Fata and the rehabilitation of its internally displaced people.
An additional advantage of appointing a governor from Fata is that since he would know better than anyone else which project is suitable for which area. This will also ensure that the earmarked funds are spent on projects that exist on the ground and are not simply on paper as was the case in the past.
The top two positions in the province – the chief minister and the governor – should not belong to one area. If the chief minister is from KP, the governor should be from Fata and vice versa. This arrangement should continue even after the initial stage of integration as the people of Fata will take time to fully integrate politically and be in a position to safeguard their interests.
The people of Fata are kept in a cage-like situation under the Frontier Crimes Regulations and are not allowed to interact freely with the outside world. In this modern age, they are denied access to the internet and the mobile telephone system despite the fact that the facility is available and used by government servants and law-enforcement agencies in that area.
The government, for the time being, is pre-occupied with the Panama leaks controversy. As such, it looks difficult that it will have time to pay attention to the process of reforms in Fata.
However, when it comes out of the problem and begins to keep its promises on Fata, the only way to do that will be to involve people from the region in every decision that concerns Fata. If this is not done, the so-called Fata reforms will be a futile exercise.
The writer is a former ambassador.