Administration on the brink‏

A FEW days ago I attended a stakeholders consultation to review the effectiveness of district governance in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa since the 2008 elections.

The findings of the research into the counter-insurgency suggest that a weak and an exploitative management system fans insurgency and that if there is a gap between expectations and people`s capabilities, the level of insurgency will go up.

The administration in Fata collapsed after the military was inducted into Waziristan in 2003. The administration suffered badly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa when the 2002 local bodies` reforms demolished the executive magistracy.

It is a moot point why Gen Musharraf and Gen Naqvi undertook such fundamental and risky reforms at the inception of the `war on terror` in 2001. Conversely, COAS Gen Kayani rejected reforms in Fata last year, saying that a war was under way and that this was not the right time for change. Clearly, Musharraf thought differently. Did the reforms increase empowerment or transfer more resources to the districts? The answer to both questions is in the negative. That misadventure has almost caused immense damage. If intentions are not honest, the results will be poor — this truism stands proven in this case.

As revealed by his subsequent acts, Musharraf wanted to use the concept of local governments to create legitimacy for staying in power, like Ayub Khan before him who created a similar district government model that he named basic democracy. Musharraf was not keen to empower communities; he was more focused on obtaining political legitimacy via the new elite represented by the nazims. This is not to say that all nazims were incompetent, yet it is undeniable that the writ of the state declined.

In the process, the power of the provincial government was also eroded, rather than constituting the apex of executive authority. Simultaneously, Musharraf inducted a religious alliance government in the NWFP, as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was then named, through rigging in the 2002 elections. These measures would encourage the expansion of the insurgency from Fata to the NWFP. What has happened subsequently in Pakistan confirms the imprudence of Musharraf`s policy reforms.

Former Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee once asked our commerce secretary (who was leading a trade delegation to India), “Secretary sahib, please explain how President Musharraf can run Pakistan without a strong district administration? We in India sleep safely at night in the knowledge that our administration will protect us.”

Consultations with stakeholders in the region provided an extremely distressing picture of mis-governance in the districts. The extent of damage is yet to be fathomed by any of the development partners. Today, the administration is fragmented, leaderless and the people are angry. The feudal elite have captured resources and disaster assistance doesn`t reach the impoverished.

In a sense, this bad-governance phenomenon has become a factory for the production of what David Kilkunnen, a counter-insurgency expert, calls the “accidental guerrilla” — a person who is marginalised and disaffected, and thus picks up arms against the state because no one is willing to address his grievances. Today, the district administration cannot provide services to the people. Such services are crucial for an effective strategy against extremists.

The current situation on the ground was best summed up by an experienced district coordination officer (DCO) during the meeting. He administers to about 700,000 people living on the banks of the River Indus. He said: “The people of my district cry for help in many areas; they want better health and education services and they need security as well as assistance during floods. I want to help them, but I don`t have the authority to order government servants. They are no longer answerable to me. So how can I be of any assistance to the people?” He continued: “I cannot punish anyone and the provincial government doesn`t listen to its district coordination officers.” This is sad indeed.

The DCO narrated the result of an inspection of a multi-million rupee rural health centre (RHC) in his district. The RHC is supposed to be the focal point for the delivery of health services to more than 150,000 persons. When inspected, it had no doctors or paramedics. Its residential quarters had been rented out to private citizens of the nearby town.

Only three lady paramedics associated with a Unicef project were present. When a report was made to the department, the DCO was rebuked and told not to interfere. Meanwhile, the three paramedics were evicted, and today, the houses remain under the occupation of outsiders. The doctors remain absent.

In 2010, the total development budget for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was Rs69bn. Out of this, the allocation for 28 districts was a paltry Rs1.5bn. Even in Gen Musharraf`s day, the allocation to the districts remained low. The result is that since 2002, enrolment in primary schools has declined. There is a large monitoring staff but it has no budget for travel — therefore, there is no monitoring.

One of the major causes for the insurgency in this region is mismanagement at the district level. The solution lies in the province itself. No amount of strategic dialogue with the US or others will help us to contain extremism, unless we bring sanity to the command and control structure at the district level. Simultaneously, the government should make an exit from construction and the delivery of social services. These are most effectively delivered at a lower cost by the private sector. 

Instead, the government should lay down standards and monitor the delivery of services. When the government becomes effective, it will empower the state and allow people to build positive feelings towards it. A similar situation prevails in the other provinces too. If we wish to succeed against the insurgency, we must undertake reforms for better governance.

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