Fata’s Voice – Ayaz Wazir

"Fata has no voice” – this is what Governor Mehtab Ahmed Khan said at the time of taking oath as the 27th governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the federally administered tribal areas (Fata). He then qualified that by committing himself to becoming the voice of the people by raising their concerns whenever required.

While these nice words were still reverberating in Fata and people were celebrating the arrival of the new man as their ‘saviour’, it all started going downhill with his appointment of a commission for Fata – with just one member from Fata and the rest from areas outside the tribal region.

The formation of commissions to sort out Fata’s problems is nothing new. There have been commissions in the past also and a few of them did make some good recommendations but they remained just recommendations and nothing else since no concrete step was taken to change the lot of the people there.

The members of this newly constituted commission are, no doubt, distinguished people in their own right but the fact remains that they – except one – do not belong to Fata. This belittles the very purpose of its creation. Furthermore its chairman does not speak Pashto – much like the governor – and is expected at the same time to interact with people who are not well-versed enough in Urdu to explain to him the intricacies of the core issues which they feel should be addressed without compromising on their customs and traditions.

Another important incident that took place while he was still in the process of settling down in his new position was the launch of Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan. There he could have played an active and effective role by becoming the voice of the people and saving them from the devastation they eventually faced. However, he preferred joining hands with others to dislodge them and that too without any warning leave alone making arrangements for their temporary abode elsewhere.

Just a few days before the operation the KP governor had a meeting with a representative delegation of North Waziristan in Peshawar in the presence of the former corps commander where the jirga members were given two weeks to try and sort out, if possible, the problem of militancy there. The delegation had hardly returned to Miran Shah when the operation was launched thus denying any opportunity to the jirga members to try peaceful ways to resolve the problem.

With that began the unending agonies of the people. They became IDPs overnight, which could have been avoided had the jirga members been allowed the time given to them for resolution of the problem.

Arrangements made for temporary settlement of the IDPs and ration distribution points were neither adequate nor streamlined to cater to the needs of the people. It all took an ugly turn a few days back when the police had to take action to disperse the unruly crowd resulting in the death, as reported in the press, of two and arrests of many others.

Instead of resolving the issue the federal government used it for political point-scoring with the provincial government of KP. The IDPs are the responsibility of the federal government and not that of the provincial government. It’s another matter that Fata happens to be adjacent to KP and thus gets the brunt of whatever happens in that area. Let us not forget that the other provinces (Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan) had initially refused to allow entry to the IDPs into their areas until public pressure forced them to change that stance.

The federal government, in all fairness, should have provided enough funds and all other essential material to the provincial government to help it cope with the problem than controlling the purse through its representative in Islamabad. Instead of relief items becoming a bone of contention between the federal and provincial governments everyone should have cooperated to help and assist the displaced people through the government in KP. No province on its own could have handled a catastrophe of that nature.

The governor KP who had promised to be the voice of the people should have done so for the IDPs from there but he preferred to keep quiet. Since the handing over of Fata to the army the position of the governor has been greatly compromised. He is no more in the driving seat to run the affairs of Fata and is a ceremonial head like in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The corps commander who is the boss of the troops there is calling the shots – and rightly so since the area has been handed over to them by the civil government to sort out militants and militancy there.

Now that military operations have been conducted in all seven tribal agencies and most of the area is cleared of militants, as has been claimed, there is no justification, whatsoever, for the civil government not to be present there like before.

It is time for the civilian government – through its governor – to formally take over Fata’s responsibilities. He should maintenance law and order through the Frontier Scouts like before and the army should remain camped in camps/forts in the area to be availed for strikes. This will re-establish the confidence of the people in the lead role of the governor and at the same time relieve the army of the additional responsibilities of looking after development of that area.

Over the years Fata and its people have become part of a game of ping pong between the federal and provincial governments on the one hand, and civil and military establishments on the other. This needs to be corrected if relations with people there are to be improved and the area developed to bring it at par with the rest of the country.

The fast-changing situation in the region demands that we set our priorities right in Fata – in consultation with the people there. Those days are gone when people would wait for a indefinite period for the governor to take action on his promises. He must now honour his words quickly if he wants to be effective and develop that region. That is the only way to save him from embarrassment like the one he faced recently when a student from Fata refused to receive a degree from him at a convocation held at Peshawar University.

His ‘honeymoon period’ on the post has already passed without any change in Fata. He is to prove his worth through sheer hard work if he has any intention of mainstreaming the tribal areas. He is to honour all the promises he made.

It would be in the interest of the governor and the government that he becomes the true voice of the people. He may have forgotten his promise but the people have not.