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    A Thousand Dreams

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    By : Syed Talat Hussain August 29, 2016
    The writer is former executive editor of The News and a senior journalist with Geo TV.
    It may sound surprising to many but the reality is that the most important news from the last week is not Karachi-related. The excitement built around the pulling down of Altaf Hussain from his once invincible pedestal is largely a culmination of a wasteful and bloody experiment the establishment carried out decades ago with supreme pride and commitment.
    The madness that these days fills bulletins in the shape of endless press conferences, antics of individuals and beating of the patriotic drums by all of Altaf’s ex ‘boys’ is the inescapable result of manipulation of politics in the name of national interest and duty to the country. It will settle down soon, even though the shape of things to come may not be as rosy as many hope to see.
    The most important development has come from that far away land that seldom catches popular fancy and even less media ratings: it concerns Fata. This area seems poised to take a strategic break from its troubled past and, from the looks of it, is finally moving towards integration with the national mainstream.
    For the first time in the last 150 years since this separation was started by the British, seven tribal agencies, and six FR regions, spanning 27,250 plus sq kilometres of land and inhabited by well over five to seven million people, may be on their way becoming settled part of Pakistan. With the report of the Committee on Fata Reforms coming out in the open, a plan of political integration of Fata with Khyber Pakhtunkwha after half a decade is now on the anvil. The federal government and the various authors of the report are hopeful that this effort (14th in a row in the last 40 years) is bound to bury an awkward colonial legacy by streamlining a crucial stretch of border with Afghanistan once and for all.
    They believe that the consultative process that went into the report has yielded consensus among all stakeholders on merging Fata with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. They also think that the wide-ranging reform package for the next five years, accompanied by a development agenda for the next ten years, will level the ground for the merger. Over ten billion dollars and a deliberate attempt to bring Fata’s development at par with the rest of Pakistan will ensure, the authors believe, that the people of this area get the same rights, responsibilities and privileges that all the citizens of the country are born with.
    These hopes are well-meaning. However, the report makes the journey ahead look like a stroll in the park. The report makes assumptions that need serious reality checks. It sets targets that in some cases are flights of fancy and in others barely achievable. It imagines a near-perfect world of administrative reform in which everything moves like clockwork, ticking nicely with a well-oiled bureaucracy and competent leadership in attendance.
    The report is unrealistic in several crucial areas. It presents a halfway house of legal and administrative reform when it proposes a jirga-driven judicial system whose cornerstone is local custom. It also recommends, among many other things, transformation of the derelict Levies into an efficient body with policing powers. The two measures are meant to address the concerns of the local tribals, who according to official sources neither want the usual police nor the justice system as they operate in the rest of Pakistan. By recommending the middle way, the report neutralises the issue of tribal objections for now but does nothing to suggest how the proposed interim system will eventually fuse with the normal police and justice structure in the rest of KP.
    There is also little clarity on the role of the federal government which for the next ten years is committing itself to carrying out vast-scale development work in Fata. This practically means that even when Fata will cease to be Fata and will become part of KP, the federal government-led development plans will continue to treat it as a special area where the centre will carry out vertical interventions by spending dollops of resources and money.
    This process will require special constitutional protection because after the 18th Amendment all such interventions in the provinces raise legitimate issues of federal government’s jurisdiction. The present KP government will sign on loosening its authority for the larger goal of letting the process of Fata integration begin; the next one may not be as cooperative since in the next five years the federal government will be operating in an area that would be provincial responsibility.
    More fanciful is the assumption that the report makes about the dates after which the process of integration with KP can earnestly start. It sets the deadline for the return of the displaced populations of Fata (whose numbers vary according to convenience of situation) as 31st of December 2016. Even more incredibly, the report suggests that all activities under the reconstruction phase must end by the close of 2018.
    Do we really understand what we are talking about here? Pulling displaced populations out of the camps is easy but where are they being sent? In areas that are razed to the ground without markets and any means of earning. The aftermath of the military operations is not a pretty sight in large parts of these territories. Ask those who have already gone back to, say, South Waziristan and they will tell you that they have gone back to wilderness.
    Even if everyone is wheeled back to their land regardless of whether it is liveable or not, the reconstruction phase will take a very long time. The few markets that were demolished during raids in Bajuar Agency in earlier operations took years to be reconstructed. Here the area is much bigger than just one tehsil: here the destruction is much more than a few marked places. How and who will get Fata’s affected agencies up and running by 2018 for the reform committees recommendations to be put in practice? There is a military command change in between now and 2018 and a national election. The two factors will slow decision-making down even further.
    The report also takes it for granted that the federal government would be able to retain the implementation of Fata reforms on the top of its priority agenda. The Sharif government’s track record of sustaining focus on issues like these is very poor. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif goes on Hi-Octane when it comes to matters pertaining to Punjab or his political survival. He converts to Lunar Energy on everything else.
    His team of bureaucrats follows the direction of his nose. They make no extra effort to get him to follow up on concerns that may not be related to Imran Khan, General Raheel Sharif, Mariam Nawaz or Shehbaz Sharif but still demand his utmost attention for consistent action. The result always is fading policy interest and silent distancing from the hot topic.
    Even if a miracle were to happen and the prime minister and his limited team of assistants were to overcome LADS (Long-term Attention Deficit Syndrome), the implementation mechanism that the report relies on in its present form will blunt their zeal. The KP governor and Fata Secretariat are most ill-suited to shouldering the responsibility of undoing an entrenched colonial system.
    Governor Jhagra is a good man, but he is not the man for this job. The Fata Secretariat is brimming with incompetence. With instruments like these in hand, a habitually slow-moving Sharif government, the report assumes, will change Fata’s history. That is a thousand dreams packed in 91 pages.
    The surest sign of how interested the federal government is in implementing the report’s recommendations will be if the prime minister is seen to be taking charge of the full initiative. This is a thousand dreams packed in one sentence.
    Email: syedtalathussain@gmail.com
    Twitter: @TalatHussain12[/COLOR]
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    Last edited by CSS World; 4th September 2016 at 10:07 PM.

 

 

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