As I drove beyond the new Islamabad airport surrounded by unplanned housings to Bannu, I realised nothing had changed. Parched and scorched landscape, the vintage Khushal Garh Bridge and the dilapidated railway line that once catered to the high speed Hitachi rail cars to Kohat. Though the Kotal Tunnel and Indus Highway are new additions, the poor quality of road engineering, absence of highway police and unchecked lines of overloaded trailers reduced speed to a snail’s pace. There is no industry along the highway. Any that existed is long gone. Across Lachi appears a gas field. Geological fables mention huge hydrocarbon reservoirs explored and capped to facilitate cartels. The road across Kurram River passes through a desolate and deserted landscape pimpled with odd date palms. Unlike Karachi and Punjab, modernisation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is imprisoned in a time warp.

The misery and plight of brave hearts abandoned to colonial legacy and the phoney battle of elites is heart breaking. Hapless people torn between absence of governance and militancy walked hundreds of miles with animals and poultry. For the umpteenth time, they abandoned households to a hope that good governance and prosperity will finally erase the scars of history. Exploited for their patriotism by successive governments, greasy hands of FATA administration, geopolitics, upstart strategists, non-state actors and greedy politicians, hope is not forlorn.  Dehydrated and drenched in intense heat with crystals of salt on their faces, they stand in disciplined lines at distribution points. Tribal Maliks we met say only about 500 families of Gurbuz and Saidzai tribes moved into Afghanistan to relatives. Over 11,000 have since detoured back to Khurram into a camp at Alizai where facilities are far better. Their hearts remain in the hope that is Pakistan. IDPs in Afghanistan are barely 500.

Long briefings to officials on PowerPoint fail to animate human trauma; royal entourages disrupt relief. The figure of refugees has crossed 832,000. Officials agree that 30% could be duplications to be verified by NADRA. Errors of family trees and lack of registrations hold back issuance of Zong SIMs to be used for cash distribution and surveillance. An Engineering Division boosted by an Air Defence Brigade has been placed for management and security. For the past 12 days, officers and men have worked overtime to put an efficient organisation in place. Distribution points are testimony to their prowess. Food assistance is abundant with military rations and contributions of World Food Program and the UAE Government. Health facilities are wanting. Mobile surgical units placed at the camp are non-functional and disgraceful.

The military, used to working on clear directives is stretched between SAFRON, NDMA, FDMA, PDMA and the Provincial Administration. A politically exploitive mind-set prevails. The federal machinery seems to bypass the provincial administration to wield controls. The choice of Bakkakhel Camp (Azb Khan Kili) in FR Bannu lacks imagination. In reality, more than 70% IDPs are spread in Bannu and the remaining around DI Khan and Khurram. The entire backwash has spilled into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The Federal Government reluctantly and slowly facilitates them.

This battle for the hearts and minds of the tribal Pakistanis must be won because herein lies the stability and integration of a country whose people have been successively subjected to exploitative politics, faulty narratives, inventive nationalism and elitist governance. As a member of Pakistan Ex Servicemen Association (PESA), I accompanied Admiral (Retired) Fasih Bokhari with a convoy of relief. We rendezvoused with tribal leaders we had contacts through late Maj Gen Naseer Ullah Babar. Our mission extends to rehabilitation.

The people of FATA are not the only victims. Most Pakistanis have endured the same in varying proportions. The progressive left that relied much on Allama Iqbal and Faiz is confined to drawing rooms. Welfare is no more a priority. The much touted constitution of 1973 has been ignored and subjected to surgical procedures by military and civilian butchers. The social contract of Pakistan is meaningless.

Pakistani politics is a system of the rich, for the rich and by the rich. In order to sustain elites, the first three parts of the constitution comprising Articles 1-40 are circumvented by contradictory legislations. Local Self Government, the most crucial link in socio-economic engineering and good governance and part of the State under Article 7 has neither been promoted by political elites nor pursued by the honourable Judiciary. The parliamentary system with its inherent idea of accumulation of power has been systematically exploited to benefit a few. Conversely, at the grass roots level, powers have been separated to facilitate exploitation by the provincial and federal governments. Of late, the Judiciary with its selective interventions made a cabal with the old political elites and a media house to maintain the status quo. One case study is the ineffectiveness of all regulatory authorities that oversee transparency and ethics. Their heads were tarnished by a certain media house, removed on various pretexts by the judiciary and replaced by handpicked zombies. This method alone drains Pakistan’s exchequer to a tune of Rs. 10 billion a day.  

So can a corrupt and exploitative system be expected to forge a new model of governance in FATA? What do FATA reforms actually mean? In all probability, it will result in half-hearted efforts to preserve the elitists. The methodology will ensure the status quo.

Another factor is the ‘intent and action’ of the Federal and Provincial Governments to deal with the expected backlash of terrorism in the heartland. Most militant leaders have melted to reorganise mayhem in major cities. With no mechanisms at successive layers in place and the inability to handle crises sans military amplified in Bannu, counter terrorism operations in urban areas will be ultimately taken over by the military. A logical end is best left to the imagination.

This reminds me of a first person anecdote from Kargil. The House of Raiwand thought they would emerge as Lions of Kashmir and privately sanctioned the operation as early as October 1998. In the face of adversity, they disowned. How else could one explain the reluctance despite rhetoric to appoint a Kargil Commission?

Reluctance in the name of civil supremacy will not help. History will take revenge if it comes to eliminating militant havens in Punjab and Karachi. The Prisoner’s Dilemma will get intense. The criminal impasse will leave no option but to hand back the social contract to the people.  

Iqbal’s Farman-e-Khuda (Farishton Se) could not be more opportune.

Utho! Meri Dunya Ke Ghareebo Ko Jaga Do

Kakh-e-Umra Ke Dar-o-Diwar Hila Do

Rise, and from their slumber wake the poor ones of my world!

Shake the walls and windows of the mansions of the elites!

n    Compiled and written by Brigadier (R) Samson Simon Sharaf in discussions with Admiral (R) FasihBokhari on way to IDP camps in Bannu.