How the west was lost by Dr Pervaiz Tahir

Fata has emerged as our Wild West. Was there any attempt early in our history to bring the tribal people into the mainstream?
Other than the announcement by the Quaid-e-Azam to withdraw troops from Fata and the creation of corrupt-to-the-core states and tribal affairs ministry at the centre, not much is known about efforts to develop the tribal areas. It seems that the area was rediscovered during the Afghan jihad. The first five-year plan, 1955-60, approved and published in 1957, analysed the development challenges faced in these areas in considerable detail. What follows here is a freely excerpted account of the symptoms, diagnosis and the prescription given by economic planners in the 1950s. Please read on and wonder, like I did, at our failure to act in time.
The tribal areas are an irregular 25,000 square mile strip of country, lying between the settled parts of the province and the frontier. They are divided among several agencies and areas, which come directly under deputy commissioners, but conditions vary so widely between and within each agency that many details of the methods of implementing a general policy must be left largely to the discretion of the man on the spot. This is not only true in respect of topography but also in respect of the administrative system, the character of tribal organisation and tradition and the tribesmen’s interest in development, willingness to cooperate, ability to undertake schemes and their relative sense of security to engage in productive enterprise.
For the most part, the territory is mountainous and barren, though there are some fertile valleys. The area is entirely rural and while there is an extensive system of strategic roads, villages are for the most part extremely inaccessible and the population very scattered. The mode of life, in certain respects, is very different from that of other areas of the north-west and of the rest of the country. The people have a tribal organisation, the administrative organ of which is a jirga or a council of elders, a highly democratic body of which a malik is the spokesman, who is of strong character, may exercise a very important function as a leader, though of a somewhat informal sort. But maliks cannot commit their jirgas and corporate action can only occur after the jirga has come to a unanimous decision, which is binding on all.
The role of the political agent is to look after the interest of the government and the welfare of the tribal people within the framework of the jirgas and against a background of institutional tribal life. Administrative difficulties arise from the fact that the tribal areas are not subject to the general law of the land, being exempt from taxation, police authority and from other laws. But this does not necessarily mean that the areas are disorderly. In fact, they are subject to a very rigid code of tribal custom, sternly and vigorously applied by the jirgas, which protects the community from crime and from the violation of community taboos. It may be mentioned, however, that the institution of the blood-feud in certain areas brings some hazard to life and may cause considerable anxiety and uncertainty to many families. This institution certainly retarded economic and social development and is inconsistent with the idea of progress held by most of the tribesmen themselves.
In the past, the tribal areas had been extremely unsettled and were garrisoned by large military forces. This meant that efforts towards material development were not made with any great consistency or success. In recent years, the atmosphere has greatly changed. Except for a number of malcontents, the majority of tribesmen are thankful to be citizens of Pakistan. On the one hand, the number of regular troops in the areas has been enormously reduced, while on the other, the number of schools, hospitals, dispensaries and the like has greatly increased. A substantial number of scholarships are given for higher studies outside the tribal areas. There is much evidence that these things are being increasingly appreciated and demanded by the tribesmen. There has also been some effort to stimulate cottage industries and to train people so that they could work for them. There have been advances in irrigation, land reclamation and in forestry work. Development on the edge of the tribal areas has also had important repercussions. The PIDC Woollen Mills at Bannu, for instance, offers a local market for wool from the tribal belt and also employment to some tribal workers; there are proposals for using its needs and expert guidance to develop related cottage industries. The Kurram Gharri and the Warsak Dams have also offered tribesmen the experience of regular paid employment.


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