Few communities in Pakistan have suffered as much as the tribal Pashtuns of FATA. They have borne the brunt of violence that the state has been mired in for the last four decades. In addition, they have faced continuous stereotyping as terrorists and criminals; ever since the military establishment first began its dangerous flirtations with militant Islamism.
And the Pashtuns have had enough. Coming hot on the heels of their Long March to Islamabad to protest their systematic mistreatment at the hands of a hostile state — including extra judicial killings and the reported planting of landmines in FATA — they have now spoken up to accuse the authorities of vast misappropriation of funds that had been earmarked for development purposes. Meanwhile, certain sections of the media have reported that, in fact, some 76 percent of the FATA budget remains unused. Whatever the case may be — it is nothing less than corruption. And it may well impact the Japanese development package for the area that is said to be worth some $7.7 million.
Nevertheless, at this juncture it is important to listen to what the community itself has to say. Tribal elders from North Waziristan this week contended that the political agent had embezzled the majority of funds meant to repatriate locals after prolonged military operations. They want the matter to be probed by the NAB. This is not a new issue. Back in November of last year, the Peshawar High Court (PHC) allowed the FIA to investigate earlier reports of embezzlement; despite moves against this on the grounds that the writ of the state, including the courts’ jurisdiction does not extend to the so-called tribal badlands. This was a welcome development. Especially as it came in the wake of similar allegations from PPP Vice President Sherry Rehman who had contended that only 60 percent of Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) funds had been properly utilised in the area. There was also mention of how political representatives had the power to levy illegal and unconstitutional ‘taxes’ from FATA residents.
Thus what we need now are answers. We call on the FIA to issue an update on its investigation. Beyond the issue of possible corruption is the matter of the people of FATA that have found themselves cast in the frontline of the GWOT. Meaning that they have endured military action as well as targeted attacks at the hands of the militants as well as American drones. The very least they deserve is to have access to basic facilities as they make their return after having been internally displaced.
Thus in the short-term we urge that a forensic audit be conducted to get to the bottom of this once and for all; and if the worst is proven then a compensation package must be put on the table. And in the long-term, the Pakistani state must push ahead with the FATA mainstreaming project; whether this takes on the form of a merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or else a separate province. But one thing is certain, tribal communities have suffered unduly by way of state-sponsored marginalisation. And the time has come to bring this to an end once and for all. *
Published in Daily Times, March 6th 2018.