Fata doesn’t need wishes - Ayaz Wazir - Thursday, April 07, 2011

It was a pleasant surprise to see the new governor of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa the other day during a seminar on Fata at a hotel in Islamabad. The governor sounded aware of the basic problems faced by the people, of which he made mention in his address. Talking about the poverty and illiteracy in the tribal areas, and the injustices suffered by the people there, he expressed some wishes: he wished for the spread of education in Fata; wished for amendment to the “notorious” Frontier Crimes Regulations; wished for extension of the Political Parties Act to Fata; and wished for actual utilisation of funds meant for Fata in the tribal areas themselves.

What the governor desires for Fata is what the tribesmen themselves have been wishing for, and for more than six decades. If he only longs for changes in Fata, just as the tribesmen do, what has he become governor for? A person in his position is supposed to be able to take action and actually deliver what needs to be delivered. The situation that exists in Fata desperately needs a strong person at the helm, capable of taking decisions on the spot to change the course of events. If the governor continues just wishing without taking steps to redress the situation, then his name will also be added to the list of his useless predecessors who are only remembered as mere occupants of high office.

No one can dispute the importance of the measures that he mentioned for development of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, and for their being mainstreamed with the rest of the country. But how he is going to execute them is of primary importance. The tribesmen will lend full support to anyone who can actually take them out of the status quo in which they are mired since Pakistan’s independence. They are aware of the difficulties entailed in the washing away of the sins of omission in these 63 years and they know that everything cannot be undone in a week, a month or a year. It will take time, but the timeframe should not be decades and centuries. The beginning should be made without further waste of time. in making empty promises and wishing, without taking the actions that are required.

If he is serious about winning the hearts and minds of the people who are now his responsibility, he should get his priorities right and immediately do what comes first. And for him the first thing to do is to rid the tribesmen of the tide of death and destruction. This “collateral damage” has already caused havoc in that area. He needs to arrange for the healing of the wounds of those who, in these nine years of US military operations and drone attacks, suffered most from “collateral damage” (that hateful American term which is now used by our military too).

At the same time, he must ensure rehabilitation of the internally displaced people, who left their homes in a hurry, leaving everything behind in the vain hope of finding their belongings intact on their return after the end of military operations. That unfortunately did not happen. Their homes were looted or suffered destruction, and peace is still a far cry. He should enable them not only to return to their homes but should facilitate their bringing in food and other essential items. He should see to it that building material is made available to them on-site for reconstruction of their homes.

For that to happen, the governor will have to declare all roads in Fata open for traffic. This reminds me of what a senior military officer promised at an international conference while discussing arrangements to facilitate the safe return of the IDPs. Apart from other facilities, he said, cooked food would be available to them when they return to their homes. The return of some IDPs was shown on TV with great fanfare, but what happened later is hardly known even to those who propagated their return. They had to leave the area and head back for the camps as all roads connecting them with other nearby towns and markets were closed, thereby denying them access to any place for buying of food items – to say nothing of cooked food.

Fata needs to be connected with the rest of the country. It has a good network of roads but most are closed for public use because they are being used by the army. Some of the tribal agencies even have good operational airports, but, again, they are only for military use. These far-flung areas need to be well connected and linked by air with the rest of the country, to make it possible for the non-local employees, volunteers, social workers, and other professionals to travel there to help in education, health, agriculture and other fields.

The late Prime Minister Muhammad Khan Junejo realised this need of the area and promised an air link between Wana and the rest of the country. But that also remained a promise, like so many others by various leaders.

Outsiders’ development mantras cannot erase the fact that the people of Fata have been living under the corrupt political agent system for centuries. Be they political agents or the military, both have failed to make life liveable for the people of the tribal areas, and that is what the governor needs to understand. If Fata continues to be considered and treated as a war zone by the policymakers in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, then peace is unattainable and development merely a proposition.

Whatever the views of our politicians, intellectuals and academicians, serving and retired government officers, senior TV anchorpersons and other opinion-makers, the local people take a straightforward view on their problem. They consider extension of the law of the land to be the only solution to all the problems faced by the people. I wish it were that simple. There is no disagreement on the need for the mainstreaming of Fata, but there is a sharp contrast on the ways and means of achieving that objective. It has to be done in accordance with the customs and traditions of the tribesmen, which no outsider can understand by simply having served in that area. The wishes of outsiders will only complicate matters further.

Fata has been a victim of empty promises because the destiny of its people is in the hands of outsiders whose interest is limited to the perks and privileges that they enjoy, which is why they are not concerned about the welfare of the people of Fata. It is high time that we treat Fata as part of Pakistan and the tribesmen as loyal citizens of this country, giving them the responsibility for development of their own area. They are quite capable of taking Fata out of the present mess.

The writer is a former ambassador who hails from Fata. Email: waziruk @hotmail.com

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=40316&Cat=9

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