The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government passed Mineral Sector Governance (Amendment) Bill 2019 the other day. The bill declared all mines and minerals in the newly merged areas as the property of the government.  Section 6 (2A) of the law says…’all mines and minerals shall be and shall always be deemed to have been the property of the government, and the government shall have all powers necessary for the proper enjoyment of its right thereto’.

The treasury benches call it a great development towards putting an end to the long-standing disputes amongst the tribesmen over the ownership of mines in addition to generating greater economic opportunities in the war-torn region. However the bill that was passed in haste left behind a dozens of questions for the government to answer with most important being, if it serves larger interest of the of the country, why was it passed so hastily in a non-democratic way.

It is pertinent to mention here that the bill was passed by applying rules 82 of the Provincial Assembly of KP Procedure and Conduct of Business Rules 1988 amid protests by the opposition parties who were not allowed to debate the issue.  The move prompted the opposition members to encircle the dais of the speaker in provincial assembly and chanted slogans against the government while tearing apart copies of the bill.

Like the elected representatives, the tribal elders also seem unhappy for being left out in the consultation process. Seeing it part of the greater conspiracy, the tribal elders called it a move aimed at making a room for the blue eyed of the ruling PTI to get benefited from the lucrative business opportunities in the mineral rich area.  These views reflect the fears and reservations of those who believe the government played a game with tribesmen in the name of merger. Citing the lack of land records, communication infrastructure, proper transportation and required expertises, the business community believes the move will only end up in bringing a halt to the existing employment opportunities in the region. Thousands of employees already working in various factories inside the region will have to pack up and go home as a result of the move. This issues may get further complicated when it comes to dealing with the already awarded lease contracts. In addition, thousands of cases expected to be flooding into the courts will add up to the existing cases pertaining to the land disputes being moved in to the newly established courts in the newly merged areas will put an extra burden on the budding judicial system at work. 

The political pundits, however; believe the bill is not what it is projected by the opponents. This will bring enhanced economic activities to the region. The bill promises local employment, preferential treatment to the local contractors and a royalty for the local communities. We have long been talking of the precious stones and mineral resources in the region, but this could hardly be explored and exploited without having access to the latest technology, and this is the domain of the government.

The noise is all being made by those who are the beneficiaries of the system alone. The latest constitutional development will benefit the entire community in a very formal way.

Being a constitutional obligation, the move, after all, is a positive development and a right step in the right direction. But at the same time those keeping an eye on the developments taking shape in the region caution the government about serious challenges ahead. Previous experiences show the government can’t make it without the general will. This involves a strong public-private partnership. Experts suggest the government to reshape its list of priorities and redefine its plan of action to make it matched with the will of the majority in order to earn local ownership for its reforms agenda and achieve the desired results. A failure may give space to the spoilers to speed up its anti-reform propaganda. To counter the negative propaganda, experts recommend a greater role for media in educating the general masses on the benefits of the move.

In addition, the red tapism and bureaucratic hurdles may hamper the process to get materialized. We have no dearth of legislation but implementation is the real issue. The mines and mineral policy that was prepared in 2014 was an unprecedented policy but this policy could not be implemented till 2016 due to some bureaucratic hurdles. The government should come up with a well defined and well designed implementation strategy and work out a practical plan of action to move forward and get the people of the war hit region duly benefited from the mega project. The huge mineral resources, if explored and exploited in scientific way may help generate a lot of economic activities in the region. The gainful employment of the people and specially youth would help save them from being fallen into the hands of the militant Taliban who in the past have been exploiting them through material incentives.