The political and judicial vacuum coupled with bad governance and massive corruption in state institutions that resulted in creating a gap between the state and society ultimately led to the people’s exclusion from the political process in today’s tribal belt of Pakistan. This widening gap between the two ends that led to a trust deficit between the rulers and the ruled provided a space for the non-state actors (militant Taliban) to bank on the sense of deprivation and frustration developed amongst the masses over the years. By arriving on the scene, the militant Taliban, in first instance, started cutting those roots that they viewed were connecting the state with society and denying them space to consolidate their power on the political stage of the area. Hence their first victim became the tribal elders and maliks. The unabated target killings of the influential tribal elders forced thousands of maliks to flee the area and leave the field open for the militants to administer justice on their own sweet will. Journalists remained the next target. Dozens of journalists were killed in the line of their duty across the tribal areas. Intimidating, threatening, torturing and killings of dozens of journalists forced many more to flee the area for safer places in rest parts of the country. Quite a few said good bye to the profession. Next were the schools where the militants viewed the future educated lot, a potential threat to their interests. Over 900 schools were blown up in the troubled area to deny the school going kids their right to education and make room for their activities in the underdeveloped region. The same trend was witnessed in Swat valley during the 2009 crises where the militants blew up over 400 schools in the picturesque valley to further its agenda.

The prevailing chaos, disruption and disorder in society led people to lose confidence over state and its institutions. This comes true on the whole of the country. Only 0.6 percent of the population pays tax in Pakistan as against 4.7 per cent in India, 58 per cent in France and 80 percent in Canada. People would hardly pay zakat through the government institutions. They would withdraw their money from the banks a day before Zakat is to be deducted and redeposit the same after the process of zakat deduction is over. This does not mean that we, as a nation, are not patriotic. We are, no doubt, both patriotic and good practicing Muslims but for good reasons do not believe in state institutions when we see strange stories of corruption in the state departments making headlines in the national media. This reflection allows one to develop a sense of alienation for the system which he is not part of. He disowns the system that he thinks is not meant for him and where his views and wishes are not reflected in the decision making process. This leads him lose confidence over a system that neither deliver to him, nor protect and guarantee his rights. The obvious manifestation is people’s killing and setting ablaze the culprits in the busy bazars of Lahore, Sialkot, Rawalpindi, Karachi and elsewhere in the country.

God has blessed Pakistan with an active civil society. The country’s vigilant civil society could be seen in the front row when it comes to any crises and disasters – natural or man-made. The unforgettable contributions of the civil society in the October 2005 earthquake, 2010-11 floods, droughts and huge mass displacements in the wake of militancy across the former FATA and Swat region speaks volume for the generosity and spirit of the Pakistani nation. While cracking down on the civil society organisations the government often forgets that their incompetence and failure in service delivery has actually created a space for close to one hundred thousand non-governmental civil society organisations to cover for and do what the government failed to do.

To connect the dots, the government has to restore people’s confidence by bridging the gap between the state and society. State-citizen relationship should be strengthened. And this is possible only when a common man is empowered by giving him a say in the decision making process. He should be given a sense of ownership by including him in the political process.

We have long been talking of mainstreaming FATA but our planners have hardly put in sincere efforts for materialising the idea. Mainstreaming FATA is not a rocket science; it’s all about giving its people its legal and constitutional rights. The local bodies’ elections could be a good start towards mainstreaming the tribal areas.

FATA has been under the spotlight around the world for the more than a decade now. Being at the centre of international attention, there is a global urge for change and development in FATA. However; the writ of the state could hardly be restored in the absence of a formal governance structure – the democratic institutions. Similarly participatory development is possible only when powers are delegated on lower level. Delegation of powers from top to bottom could break the status quo and put the region back on the track to progress and prosperity allowing the people to have their due say in the decision making process and ultimately own the system.

This is the time to look forward and build on what we have achieved already. The gains on the battlefronts achieved through the military operation Zarb-e-Azb could be secured only if it is backed by a well-defined and well thought out developmental agenda.

We have to build socio-economic and political institutions to bring the region’s low human development indicators at par with the rest parts of the country. If there is a will to move forward towards mainstreaming the region, this is the right time for the political managers to make sincere efforts for introducing a representative local government system in the war-riddled tribal districts and address the people sense of frustration and deprivation they have developed over the years. Any delay may prove fatal to the entire exercise. If things went wrong this time too, this would not be only the people of this war-hit area but the whole country to bear the brunt of consequences.

 

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Islamabad.

khan45@gmail.com

@bjkahn