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Development Advocate Pakistan: Volume 4, Issue 2

Dec 7, 2017

Much has happened following the previous issue of the Development Advocate on FATA mainstreaming. While earlier, reforms in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) were discussed, now the Government has begun to make those tough decisions needed to bring reform, through acting on the recommendations of the Committee on FATA Reforms.

If the quality of life of communities in tribal areas is to be improved, fundamental reforms are required, and we in UNDP appreciate the Committee's resolve to settle the political, economic, and legal issues which have kept FATA out of the mainstream, through a nationally owned and driven process. The Committee's recommendations – varying from extending the country's justice system to the introduction of elected local government and fasttrack economic development – would do much to address the myriad issues faced by the people of FATA. If implemented successfully, these reforms will open a path towards social and economic development for the region and its people. Independent polls and media reports suggest that the plans have widespread support from a population currently under served by the status quo.

FATA's status as a special tribal region has weakened the functioning and legitimacy of governance mechanisms. This has provided space for militancy, illicit trade and corruption. Along with a legacy of historic instability, FATA faces extreme challenges related to human socio-economic development. Poverty is widespread and deep, and the means for livelihood are limited. About 73.7 percent of the population live in multidimensional poverty – the highest proportion in Pakistan. The region's economy is largely dependent on subsistence agriculture, livestock and transit trade. Only eight percent of the geographical area is under cultivation, and most of it depends exclusively on rainfall.

Improving the economic conditions in FATA requires substantial investment and reform. To do this, the government is preparing a 10-year socio-economic plan, which envisions signi􀃶cant investments such as irrigation schemes, mineral development, integrated plans for health and education, business development and special industrial zones to uplift the region's development status, and set it on course towards achieving the sustainable development goals.

There has been a healthy national debate on the elements of the reform process. Beyond the headlines, there are three basic elements of reform which aim to improve governance and people's lives.

  • The First of these is effective representation from the local level to the national legislature, through the empowerment of the legislature and the introduction of an elected local government system. Elected councillors can give locals a role in the decisionmaking process, and the legislature can increase oversight over governance in FATA. Local councils will likely include tribal leaders as well as new faces, including youth and women, ensuring both continuity and change in the new FATA.
  • Second, a separation of judicial and administrative power (presently vested in the political agent), as is the norm in the rest of Pakistan, will have a positive impact on both governance and on delivery of judicial services. 
  • Third, while the tribal people have long held fundamental rights under the Constitution of Pakistan, the proposed extension of the superior courts will-for the first time-allow them a forum of redress. This will provide additional protection to the people of FATA and bring them at par with the rest of the country.

What looks good on paper, often struggles in implementation. There are several pitfalls that might hinder progress at the very outset. Not every actor will be content with the final package, and some stakeholders with entrenched interests may work to undermine the implementation. The process of implementation will be long and expensive; so the people, the Government, and the development community and partners, will need to have patience through the process, and when the process encounters hurdles, be determined in following it through.

Despite these challenges, I see the prospect of governance reforms in FATA as one of the brightest lights on the horizon. It has the potential to improve the lives of the people and to bring stability to both tribal areas and the rest of the country. I hope that this second issue of Development Advocate Pakistan on FATA Reforms will contribute to the ongoing debate and lead to tangible progress on the ground.

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