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Conflict & Fata institutions

THE results of a perception survey carried out with 4,000 respondents in Fata, enumerated in Understanding Fata Volume 5, are illuminating on a number of counts.

Some of the results appear to confirm what had been assumed by a number of commentators, but a substantial proportion of the findings indicate that there are some positives in the situation and with a little more effort, the institutions of Fata can still be revived.

This is an interesting finding because many people, including myself, had believed that the effect of the past decade of war would be the collapse of Fata’s institutions and a complete alienation of the tribesmen from the rest of the country.

Consider, after all, the fact that the area has suffered 10 years of marauding attacks by extremists including Al Qaeda and the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, and military counterterrorism operations by the Pakistan Army and the Frontier Corps, unfettered as they were by concerns about human rights or the rule of law and often ignored by the media.

While the survey is confined to the perceptions of Fata’s tribesmen, there is nevertheless some indication that the residents of that area are in fact returning to the traditional system of management. On the other hand, the state has perhaps not put enough effort into integrating its activities into the communal framework of the tribes.

An estimated 716,000, according to the survey, of the area’s four million-strong population were, at some time or the other, displaced internally over the past year by the fighting. Despite all the upheavals, however, they have not fallen under the spell of extremism. This speaks volumes about these oft-forgotten and abused people’s resilience and their traditions.

In terms of the tribes’ interaction with political authorities, 28 per cent of the respondents are reported to have interacted with the political agent and administrative system in 2008. By 2011, the number had fallen to 10.5 per cent, showing a declining trend of contact between the authorities and the tribesmen.

This is clarified by another result regarding the respondents about their trust in the political agent. In the 2010 survey, 7.2 per cent of the respondents said that they trusted their political agents; in 2011, 10.7 per cent said that they trusted their PAs. The curious indication is, therefore, that while (for whatever reason) contact between the tribes and the administration declined (possibly due to military operations), yet their trust in the political agent appears to have increased.

During the past eight years, more than 800 tribal elders have been killed by the TTP, other extremists and criminal gangs. One would assume that one of the main pillars of the tribal administration would thus have been wiped out. However, the survey results give a different indication. While 15 per cent of the respondents interacted with their tribes’ elders in 2010, in 2011 some 27 per cent of those interviewed said that they had done so.

To understand the full implication of this finding, one must examine what it means. In the tribal areas, the role of the elder is to act as the eyes and ears of the political agent; to his people, he is the representative of the government and a link between the state and tribe. Additionally, he is also the person who attests and verifies paperwork connected to matters such as getting a passport, obtaining admission to schools or colleges or recruitment into government service. In this sense, an elder has a pivotal role and influence on the tribe.

The revival of this institution leads to the conclusion that the alienation of the tribesmen is tapering off and the militants have not succeeded in driving a permanent wedge between the state and the people — something I had previously assumed had occurred.

Secondly, the eyes and ears of the political agent — the elder — exist despite the high rate of attrition.

Thirdly, the tribal administrative system remains robust and effective despite all that it has suffered. Apparently, the extremist elements have not succeeded, which is a healthy trend that needs to be strengthened.These findings are supported by other trends indicated by the survey. In 2008, 35 per cent of the tribesmen interviewed said they had interacted with the religious personalities of their areas.

There could be two reasons behind this: the ordinary tribesman was seeking protection against the militants by putting himself under the protective fold of a religious figure, or the ordinary tribesman had written off the government’s structure based on the tribal elder and had begun to align himself with the emerging power in his agency.

However, in 2011 such interaction with religious personalities had dropped by more than half to 16.5 per cent among the respondents. This conclusion is supported by the tribesmen’s shift towards interaction with tribal elders and the increase of trust in the office of the political agent.

The results of the survey relating to Fata’s apex organisation, the Fata Secretariat, indicate the need for more interaction. Of the respondents, 66.6 per cent said they could give no opinion on its performance, which could be due to poor communication, while 42.4 per cent were altogether unaware about its performance. An effective communication strategy could improve this deficit.

If militancy and extremism is actually tapering off, as this perceptions’ survey seems to indicate, it would mean that the tribesmen have remained steadfast despite the pain they have suffered. Efforts must be renewed to bring them into the mainstream.

Article was published on Dawn


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