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November 1, 2015
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Empowering Fata

Opinion

November 1, 2015

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On Friday, October 23 this newspaper carried an item quoting the governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as having said that the local government system would be introduced shortly in Fata. At face value it presents an excellent idea, giving the impression that the government is serious about sharing power with the people of the tribal areas to give them a real ‘voice’ in the policymaking process, something the illustrious governor had promised earlier but did not implement.
However, that is not the case. In reality it is only a futile exercise in showmanship designed to fool the people of the area. What the government is contemplating is to grant some powers to people at the lowest possible level only – the village/tehsil tier – which will not bring any worthwhile change in the system of governance nor will it solve any of the real problems facing the people. It will just be a sop to those seeking to share the real power presently wielded at the top and jealously guarded by those exercising it.
The governor – an outsider himself, but agent of the president in Fata – has reportedly asked the authorities concerned to frame rules and regulations to hold these elections so that people at the grassroots level can participate in the implementation of projects in their respective areas. He talks of empowering people at the grassroots level but conveniently forgets to bring changes at the top level which strengthens apprehensions that the structure at the top –at the Agency and Fata level – will remain the same.
Those in power will continue dictating terms rather than being guided by or taking into consideration the wishes of the people. If the echelons at the higher power-intoxicated level remain the same then there is no point in extending nominal powers at the lowest level. Until changes are made at every level, including the top, it is fruitless to expect real change to take place on the ground. The system of administration is the main concern; it

badly needs to be revamped and the sooner that is done the better.
Announcing minor social and political reforms is the most improper thing to do at a time when the tribesmen expect drastic changes and are vigorously debating whether Fata should be made a separate province, merged into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or given a special status with a separate governor from among Fata residents. This amounts to an attempt to divert attention of the people from the core issue which is far more important to them than petty LG reforms. This will only generate ill will, animosity and contempt for the governor.
Deciding matters for Fata without consulting the people there, who have suffered enormously because of these decisions, has compelled the residents of Fata to demand that ‘outsiders’ should stay away from meddling with their affairs. These outsiders should not frame policies for Fata nor alter the fate of the people any more as that is only the prerogative of the people living there. This message is on every lip there and echoes in every street, nook and cranny in Fata – and those in power would do well to heed it.
The rulers should have read this message long ago and empowered the people to handle their affairs themselves like elsewhere in the country. They failed to take heed of the feelings of the people and continued to rule them in a brash and brazen manner. They neither realised the damage they were inflicting on Fata nor were they ever held responsible for it. Because of their wrong policies people in Fata are dying daily, their houses being destroyed and businesses buried under the rubble when markets and bazaars are demolished in military operations.
They have left everything only to the military to resolve and in the process lost all moral ground to preside over the destiny of Fata any more. The people there are sick and tired of the ill-conceived policies imposed on them. The 14-year-long war and the destruction that it has caused was enough proof of their ill-conceived policies but that has not deterred them from doing what they want to do.
Ruling Fata from a distance and not involving its people in any policy matter is neither in the interest of the government nor that of the people. It only benefits those who rule Fata in their official positions. For them Fata is a gold mine open to plunder without accountability; who wouldn’t like to be posted there and try to retain the system as it exists? Such attitudes must change. It is not only unfair, unjust, and undemocratic but unIslamic as well.
These people do not care whether Fata is in shambles or not, whether its displaced persons return or not, whether they have the slightest prospect for any reasonable future or not, whether the area turns out to be a safe haven for militants or not. That does not concern them as long as they have easy scapegoats in the shape of the local population to blame for anything untoward that happens there since they have no voice and can easily be tarnished with any brush they please.
One thought the war on terror was a long and bad enough experience to have taught them lessons for taking corrective measures and empowering the people so as to avoid recurrence of militancy but that is certainly not the case. Instead of doing that they want to continue with the present system on one excuse or another.
The government should have paid more attention to the return and rehabilitation of the displaced persons rather than frittering time and energy on matters of no consequence such as LG reform. It would be in the fitness of things if that is deferred till the return of the IDPs. It may be recalled that at the time of the launch of Operation Zarb-e-Azb the representatives of the government in Islamabad did not tire of making tall claims that it would shortly be over and the affected people would not have to wait long to return and be rehabilitated.
More than a year and a half has passed and they are still at the mercy of others, waiting for the government to allow them to return to the ruins of their homes. In the keenness to pick up the threads of their shattered existence and start rebuilding their lives as soon as possible the IDPs have even offered to repair their damaged houses on their own if they are simply permitted to return to the area.
The IDPs’ plight is a more pressing problem than the introduction of local government in Fata. In any case when a large chunk of the population is absent and living elsewhere as IDPs then who is the government empowering at the grassroots level in that area.
The government gives preference to the LG system and the people want repatriation of IDPs on priority basis. This speaks volumes for the difference in thinking and priorities that exist between the government and the people of Fata. This reminds me of a Pashto adage: “One bedridden person was dying of starvation and another was searching for parathas under his pillow”. Good luck, you poor people of Fata.
The writer is a former ambassador. Email: [email protected]

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