Tribal areas’ elections uprooted a working system, and the government must step up
Last weekend, elections in the merged districts were held peacefully. Sixteen members were elected in a direct vote to the Provincial Assembly from seven districts and the frontier regions attached to the districts of Pakistan’s northwestern province, Khyber Pukhtunkhwa.
In many ways, this heralds the advent of a new era. For the first time, elected representatives from the erstwhile tribal areas will sit in a Provincial Assembly, participating in debates and law-making, and raise issues at the provincial level relating to areas like education, health, roads, power and water besides security and peace.
In other words, people of the merged districts now have the opportunity to benefit from two constitutional forums, the Parliament and the Provincial Assembly of KPK province.
But this important development has to be seen in the wider context of the merger itself. Will the new scheme be accepted by the people? Will the new arrangement deliver quick justice, socio-economic development and bring stability and peace to the area?
Among the people, there are many deep suspicions about the viability of this new system. First, the deliverance of quick justice. The old system was based on norms, customs and values codified by rulers since generations. In fact, the law was steeped into the values that people understood and had vowed to protect.
The system ensured that anyone committing an offence would be correctly identified and punished in accordance with law. It was rare that any culprit would get away with a crime, and this was the bedrock of the administration of justice in the tribal areas.
Secondly, the decisions in civil and criminal cases took very little time- three to four months in most cases. This reinforced the belief that a verdict based on the customs of the people would soon be forthcoming, and cases did not linger on for years.
Thirdly, the old system was inexpensive. Parties did not have to engage lawyers or pay any court fees.
Among the people, there are many deep suspicions about the viability of this new system.
Rustam Shah Mohmand
Now, all this is going to change. There will be long delays in obtaining court verdicts leading inevitably to parties settling scores outside the court. Clashes could multiply and conflicts over property might increase manifold; blood feuds might also increase, and adversely affect the peace, tranquility and economy of the area.
Because land settlement has not taken place in the tribal areas and because land is collectively owned, disputes over ownership will in all probability increase because the principle of collective responsibility will have been dismantled.
In the tribal areas, farm land is scarce. There is a danger that whatever agricultural land exists there will now be utilized for the construction of police lines, police stations and police posts, court buildings, jails, and thousands of houses for police and judicial officers.
There will be a race coming, to construct offices and homes at quick speed- all non-development expenditure.
The fear is that whatever resources the government can procure, might be needlessly spent in creating administrative infrastructure, and leave little for sectors like education, power, water and hospitals.
Faced with these prospects, the authorities should ponder creating an alternative dispute resolution mechanism that corresponds to the customs of the people and meets the ends of justice. Equally importantly, the government must intervene to restrict the use of agricultural land for building official infrastructure.
A policy of minimum state intervention will be wise. That will not only restore the trust of some people in the new system, but will also save resources for the socio-economic progress of the people. As well as taking these measures, the government should begin creating a viable, vibrant local government system that can address problems at the grass-roots level.
The government is well advised to carry out initiatives like afforestation, preventing waste, water conservation, better irrigation systems and above all, a good quality education—as a vigorous component of human resource development.
Now that the state has taken the plunge and a new system totally alien to the deep-seated customs and norms of the people has been introduced, the measures outlined above must be adopted and implemented to ensure the success of the scheme and to help maintain a lasting peace in the merged districts.