The roots of terrorism in the tribal belt of Pakistan could be traced back to the Russian invasion of Afghanistan back in 1979. The game of blood and iron brought death and destruction to the country when the Russian Red army landed in Afghanistan. The country’s social and economic institutions were undermined by the Russian Red army in support of its local ally that forced millions of Afghan’s to take refuge in the neighbouring Pakistan and Iran. Hundreds of thousands more fled to Gulf, Europe and rest parts of the world. Most of the fleeing Afghan refugees sought shelter in the adjacent tribal areas of Pakistan. The Afghan refugees were later joined by a large number of militant Taliban when they crossed the border into Pakistan after the US-led NATO forces toppled the Taliban’s government in late 2001.

Militancy spread over to FATA when the Afghan militant Taliban mobilised local population against the army that entered the region in 2003-4 to clear the area by launching a series of military operations in the troubled area. In 2007 Pakistani Taliban organised themselves under the banner of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to launch terrorist attacks against Pakistani installations. The following years (2008-10) Pakistani nation saw the bloodiest militant attacks inside the country.

Sensing the gravity of the situation, Pakistan, as part of its National Action Plan (NAP) launched military operation Zarb-e-Azb to chase FATA based militants in North Waziristan tribal district. The military operation yielded good results. However the government soon realised that military operation was not the only solution. The military gains achieved at the battlefronts could only be secured when it is backed by a well thought out, well-defined developmental agenda. To that end, a high profile six member committee led by the then advisor to the PM Mr. Sartaj Aziz was constituted to hold consultations with stakeholders and come up with its findings on the future status of FATA. The committee after having 10 months long consultations with stakeholders in FATA presented its recommendations to the PM on August 23rd 2016. The Committee on FATA Reforms (CFR) in its report recommended early rehabilitation of temporarily Displaced Persons (TDPs), holding of local bodies elections, land settlement, extension of higher judiciary to FATA, 10 years comprehensive socio-economic development plan and finally a gradual merger of FATA into KP.

In line with its reform agenda, the PML-N led government merged FATA with KP, though hastily, through the 25th constitutional amendment but materialising the merger in its entirety would certainly involve huge financial commitments on part of the federal as well provincial governments.

Reconstruction of the entire war-hit area is, no doubt, an uphill task. The decade long militancy in the tribal belt damaged and destroyed an estimated 83683 houses across FATA with close to 50,000 only in South Waziritstan tribal district. The figures do not include Bajaur and Mohmand tribal districts. Some 19600 shops and other commercial units got damaged in Mir Ali and Miranshah teshsils in North Waziristan tribal district. An estimated one million people got displaced as a result of the military operation that was launched in North Waziristan in Mid 2014. But the people are still waiting for the compensation packages from the government.

Due to huge losses in terms of men and materials in erstwhile FATA, the government should come up with a reasonable compensation package for the war effectees. This may help the war-hit people rehabilitate themselves and have a bit of relief from the mental trauma they have gone through all this while. The current package that stands at Rs. 400000 for fully and 160,000 for partially damaged home could hardly cater to the needs of the effectees.

Following the extension of higher judiciary to FATA, the construction of judicial complexes, recruitment of the required staff, required training and capacity building of the relevant staff would require 14 billion rupees. Where would this money come from?

The proposed generation of Rs. 100 billion through the NFC award as part of the 10 years socio-economic development plan, seems to be only a ‘soft commitment’, with no binding measures or forceful machinery behind to get it translated into action. The government needs to convene a meeting of the national finance commission to convince the provinces for the proposed 3 percent share in the NFC award.

Due to lack of clarity, the entire process hangs in limbo. The current confusing situation does not allow the bigwigs – the governor, the Chief Minister KP or ACS (FATA) to take ownership of the entire process. This scenario demands a quick jump by the legitimate authority to take the lead. The government should come up with a clear roadmap, a well thought out agenda, mechanism and a well-defined line of action on how to proceed further.

With the institution of almost 44000 elected representatives in place, the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) is better equipped and well prepared to hold the local bodies elections at any stage in erstwhile FATA. Officials of the FATA Secretariat argue the current tenure of the existing local bodies ends in August 2019, so holding the Local Government elections in the newly merged tribal districts at the early stage would create constitutional complications. The plan is to hold the LG elections in KP and erstwhile FATA at the same time, the official clarified. However, there is no constitutional bar on holding early elections to the provincial assembly seats reserved for the seven tribal districts and six FR region scheduled for April 2019.

We should be mindful of the fact that any delay in implementation of the reform agenda may prove fatal for the entire reform process. If things went wrong this time too, this would not be only the people of FATA but the entire nation to bear the brunt of consequences.

 

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Islamabad.

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