Why has Fata not been developed and mainstreamed to bring it at par with the rest of the country? This is a question that is often asked by the younger generation who want to understand the reasons for deliberately keeping Fata backward – so much so that so that it became a haven for militants and the centre of militancy in the region.
The answer is simple; the people of Fata are manoeuvred into playing roles similar to the one their elders had played in shaping developments in the region. Their forefathers installed King Nadir Shah in place of Bacha Saqa in Afghanistan and took over present-day Azad Kashmir from the Maharaja who wanted to hand it over to India against the wishes of its people.
And recently they played a vital part in the defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan followed by the ‘forced’ withdrawal of US troops from there. They have to play whatever role is decided for them, as and when required, by the powers-that-be who sit far away. That is why Fata has neither a government of its own nor is it a part of another actually democratic setup. It is at the mercy and whims of the civil and military bureaucracy. All matters concerning its residents are decided for them by outsiders and they themselves have no say, whatsoever, in the governance of their own area. It is as simple as that.
A few days back while watching news on the TV I was pleasantly surprised to see Fata members of parliament staging a walkout from the House to register their reservations against the governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Optimistically, I thought they were protesting to seek restoration of their right as members of parliament to make laws for Fata like they do for the rest of the country. But my hopes were soon dashed to the ground when I learnt that all they wanted was release of their funds which had been frozen by the governor soon after assuming charge of his post.
The ostensible reason for the freeze was to avoid misuse of the funds but how the governor can do that without inspecting any project for which funds have been allocated, to check its progress or status, is beyond comprehension. The governor cannot visit the area without ‘permission’ and even if allowed to do so his visit is limited to only a few hours during which it is not physically possible, even if he wishes, to inspect any project. He travels by air from Peshawar to the respective tribal agency, spends a little time addressing a select gathering of Maliks/notables and then flies back to Peshawar. This is all the governor does when he visits Fata.
The same applies to the visits by the corps commander although obviously he does not need the permission of the governor to visit Fata. But whenever he does go there his visit is also limited to a few hours unless the occasion demands otherwise. He meets his soldiers to boost their morale and holds meetings, if required, with the local notables.
Like the governor he also opts not to travel by road in order to observe firsthand the conditions and difficulties of the local people there.
Fata residents are poverty-stricken, peace-loving people who have become circumstantial victims of policies of power politics made by outsiders. They are the victims of a policy to breed fighters in their area to eject the Soviets from Afghanistan without a thought about the blowback such a policy would have on the area; of policies of having ‘strategic interests’ in Afghanistan and of nurturing proxies against our neighbour to the east, without the foresight to visualise that one day these pliant gun-toting proxies were bound to turn into disgruntled battle-hardened monsters who would spread out and set all corners of Pakistan afire. And through no fault of their own the poor tribal residents have been caught between a rock and a hard place, the militants on one side and the state on the other…trusted by neither and at the gunpoint of both.
They have neither revolted against the state nor taken up arms against the military to deserve this treatment. They cannot and should not be condemned for the wrongs of others. Miscreants are everywhere; they were found in every major city and handed over to the US but the ordinary people there were not punished so why this discriminatory attitude with the people of Fata – where everyone has to suffer for the sins of others?
This unjust and biased attitude has brought Fata to the brink of disaster, its youth totally frustrated and facing challenges at every place – be it the office of the political agent, an academic institution or a government office. They are discouraged everywhere and, at times, refused help simply because they come from Fata. This needs to be corrected before matters reach a point of no return. It must not continue anymore because that would force them to take matters into their own hands. That, in turn, would be disastrous.
To be continued