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September 7, 2015
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Alienated Fata

Opinion

September 7, 2015

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The political and judicial vacuum, coupled with bad governance and massive corruption in state institutions that resulted in creating a gap between the state and society, ultimately led to the people’s exclusion from the political process in today’s volatile tribal belt of Pakistan.
This widening gap that led to a trust deficit between the rulers and the ruled provided a space for the non-state actors (the Taliban) to exploit the sense of deprivation and frustration among the masses. The militant Taliban, in first instance, started cutting those roots that they viewed were connecting the state with society. Hence their first victim became the tribal elders and maliks. So far they have targeted killed over 3,000 tribal elders and maliks with almost half of them only in Bajaur Agency. The unabated target killings of the influential tribal elders forced thousands of maliks to flee the area and leave the field open for the militants to administer justice themselves.
Journalists were the next target. Over two dozen journalists were killed in the line of their duty across Fata. The intimidation, torture and killing of dozens of journalists forced many more to flee the area for safer places in the country.
Next on the list were schools, where the militants viewed the future educated lot to be a potential threat to their interests. Over 800 schools have been blown up so far in the tribal areas. The same trend was witnessed in the Swat Valley during the 2009 crisis where Mullah Fazlullah-led militia blew up close to 420 schools.
The prevailing chaos, disruption and disorder in society led people to lose confidence over the state and its institutions. Only 0.6 percent of the population pays tax in Pakistan as against 4.7 percent in India, 58 percent in France and 80 percent in Canada. People hardly pay zakat through the government institutions. They withdraw their money from the banks a day before Zakat is to be deducted and redeposit it after the process

of zakat deduction is over.
This does not mean that we, as a nation, are not patriotic. For good reasons we do not believe in state institutions, especially when we see strange stories of corruption in government departments making headlines in the national media. This makes one develop a sense of alienation for the system s/he is not part of. People disown the system they think is not meant for him and where their views and wishes are not reflected in the decision-making process. This leads them to lose confidence over a system that neither delivers to them nor protects and guarantees their rights. The obvious manifestation is the killing and setting ablaze of criminals in the busy bazars of Lahore, Sialkot and now recently in Karachi.
The country’s vigilant civil society can be seen in the front row when it comes to any crises and disasters – natural or man-made. The unforgettable contributions of the civil society in the October 2005 earthquake, the 2010-15 floods, droughts and huge mass displacements in the wake of militancy and subsequent military operations across Fata and the Swat region speaks volumes for the generosity and spirit of the Pakistani nation. While cracking down on civil society organisations the government often forgets that its own incompetence and failure in service delivery has created space for over 56,000 non-governmental organisations to do what the government failed to do.
To connect the dots, the government has to restore people’s confidence by bridging the gap between state and society. The state-citizen relationship should be strengthened. And this is possible only when the common man is empowered by giving him a say in the decision-making process. He should be given a sense of ownership by including him in the political process.
To that end, the local government system offers a perfect solution to the needs of the common man.
We have long been talking of mainstreaming Fata but our planners have hardly put in sincere efforts towards this. It is not rocket science; it’s all about giving Fata’s people their legal and constitutional rights. The local bodies elections could be a good start towards mainstreaming the restive tribal areas.
Fata has been under the spotlight for the last more than one decade. Being at the centre of international attention, there is a global urge for change and development in the tribal areas. However, the writ of the state can hardly be restored in the absence of a formal governance structure – the democratic institutions. Similarly participatory development is possible only when powers are delegated on the lower level. Delegation of power from top to bottom could break the status quo and put the region back on the track towards progress and prosperity, allowing people to have their due say in the decision-making process and ultimately own the system.
With Balochistan taking the lead, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh and Punjab are all set to hold local bodies elections in November. Ironically, this time too, the war-ravaged Fata region seems to be ignored. No word has come from the Presidency, the PM House or parliament on the issue in question. The silence of mainstream political parties has sent a shocking message across Fata that the slogans of mainstreaming Fata were just part of its political campaigns and had nothing to do with the welfare and prosperity of the people of the region.
The army is busy doing its job on the military front but we have to go a long way on the political front as well. We have to build institutions. If we have to move forward towards mainstreaming the region, this is the right time for the political managers to make sincere efforts towards a representative local government system in war-ridden Fata and address the people’s sense of frustration and deprivation.
The writer heads the FATA Research Centre (FRC) in Islamabad. Email: [email protected]

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