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November 11, 2016

Mainstreaming the peripheral


November 11, 2016

The peripheries in Pakistan do not get their due share of attention, national activity or social development. Of course, some mega development projects are carried out in these peripheries but the deliverables of these projects directly go to the mainstream power centres.

Whether it is the expending of the national exchequer or political struggle or the media: all have their stakes in the three big cities of the country – Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad. The people of the peripheries are stereotyped as illiterate lots who don’t contribute to Pakistan. But when the powerful struggle for power in the centre is heated up, it manipulates the people of these peripheries.

For example, during the recent ‘lockdown fiasco’ Imran Khan had human resource and foot soldiers from these peripheries which he, too, has ignored – toeing the same path of the status quo, which he claims to change.

The incumbent rulers promote the CPEC as the sole lifeline of Pakistan, but the peripheries in this mega project too are ignored. Peripheral areas are often the sites of mega projects but the people there are not given even minimum financial or developmental benefits. They are only left to bear the brunt of the negative impacts of these projects.

Projects like the Bhasha dam, Dasu hydropower project in Indus-Kohistan, Khan Khwar hydropower project in Shangla and the Daral Khwar and Mitiltan hydropower projects in Swat and a number of projects in Chitral are just a few examples.

The power manipulators in Pakistan also do not consider the worries and woes of the people living in the peripheries worthy of mention or notice. These people are generally thought to be backward and prone to extremism, savagery, illiteracy etc.

Their social institutions, cultural norms and agrarian codes are often mocked by the mainstream. One such example is the criticism of the jirga. Jirgas are actually the Pakhtun traditional way of settling communal and social issues. A jirga can have many negative aspects if allowed to be an arbiter in dispensing justice but its importance in resolving disputes between tribes, families and clans is commendable. The institution of the jirga can be utilised for overall community mobilisation on pressing issues of social development.

One such attempt we saw last month in Peshawar when a jirga of ‘uneducated’ elders, social activists and local political leaders met lawmakers of both the provincial and national assemblies and demanded education for the areas of Bahrain, Madyan and Kalam. This jirga was mobilised by the social activists of these respective areas.

These ‘uneducated’ elders demanded schools be made for their daughters. Many in Pakistan might be surprised at this but this did happen – in Peshawar.

The jirga members, who travelled from their remote villages in Kalam, Bahrain and Madyan, met the lawmakers in Peshawar and presented their demands before them. The apathy of the education minister of the province was evident from the fact that he could not spare even an hour to come and meet the jirga. He could not even spare half an hour the next day to meet the small delegation left out of the larger jirga. The education minister should have been there since education in the province is his responsibility. But he was ‘busy’; those were the days when the provincial cabinet was preparing to march on Islamabad on the order of their party chief.

Another of his colleagues reportedly declined the invitation to attend to the jirga because a certain member of the KP Assembly from the opposition benches was sure to meet the jirga. These honourable ministers are otherwise very reasonable people with good intentions but they could not spare time to hear the jirga as it was composed of people from the ‘peripheries of the periphery’ (read Peshawar).

The jirga participants felt their absence but never complained since, to the people of the peripheries, those on such important positions are just ‘too great’ to entertain people like them.

Leaving these things aside, the jirga successfully and concisely put their demands before the lawmakers. They demanded that their area – the valleys of Bahrain, Kalam and Madyan, which make more than half of the Swat district – should be given a kind of special status so as to provide get more schools and colleges, quotas in educational institutions, quotas in various provincial departments, free electricity from the ongoing hydropower projects in the area, ownership rights in the forests and more link and main roads.

This jirga was not an ordinary event. The demands of the jirga were actually meant to mainstream those in the periphery as far as social development is concerned, something that is altogether denied to them.   

The writer heads an independent
organisation dealing with education and development in Swat.

Email: [email protected]



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