June issue 2009

By | News & Politics | Published 15 years ago

Stung by criticism for its lack of preparedness to cope with the situation arising from the influx of a large number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) following the military operation in the Malakand division, the Frontier bureaucracy appears determined not to be caught napping while drawing up plans for the return of the uprooted families to their homes and providing them with basic services in their villages and towns.

Though a recovery plan for the destroyed infrastructure in Swat, Buner and Lower Dir hasn’t been finalised, its preparation has started. Meetings have been held and officers from the lines departments are being mobilised and assigned to prepare plans for the revival of existing facilities in the education, health, communication and other sectors.

Proposals are also being fine-tuned for setting up a 10,000-member special police force comprising retired soldiers and villagers from the affected areas to defend vulnerable areas against militants. Members of this force would initially accompany the Pakistan Army contingents on duty and patrolling before gradually taking over the areas that have been sufficiently stabilised. The raising of this special police force is considered critical to allay fears that the Taliban militants could return once the army troops are withdrawn from the remote parts of Swat and the other districts or pulled out altogether.

Apart from a provincial recovery plan being prepared by the NWFP government, the federal government and the Pakistan Army too, would be expected to shoulder responsibility for putting in place infrastructural services before the IDPs start returning to their native areas. It is felt that the majority of the IDPs may rush back to their villages and towns once they realise that there is no fighting in their area. They are unlikely to wait for a formal announcement to return or for the revival of certain basic services to their area. People from this region are used to living in tough conditions and in any case, life in the crowded relief camps in this hot weather cannot be better than back home in heavenly Swat, or the equally lush green and pleasant regions of Buner and Lower Dir districts. Keeping this factor in view, the authorities would have to work on a war footing and make an effort to revive the damaged infrastructure and provide the services needed to repatriate the IDPs on an emergency basis.

While the politicians take credit for policy initiatives that prove successful and blame the civil servants and the bureaucrats if things go wrong, the latter cannot defend themselves in public. The ruling politicians in the NWFP faced criticism for not being able to properly look after the IDPs and for failing to control the deteriorating law and order situation in the province. The ANP-PPP coalition government in the NWFP was also criticised for making controversial peace deals twice with the Swat militants, once directly with Maulana Fazlullah in 2008 and then indirectly through his father-in-law Maulana Sufi Mohammad. In particular, the ANP leadership claiming the legacy of the late Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s creed of non-violence, had defended the “Shariah law for peace” agreement it signed with Maulana Sufi Mohammad until the end and taken to task all those who opposed it. But then it made an about-turn and became the most vocal supporter of the military operation in the Malakand region. It has now gone to the other extreme and is pushing the army to physically eliminate all Taliban leaders and commanders in Swat. For this purpose, it even took the unusual step of announcing head-money for the capture, dead or alive, of 21 top Swati Taliban figures, including Maulana Fazlullah.

The Frontier bureaucracy, for its part, is gearing up to meet the challenge posed by the largest displacement in Pakistan’s history and for reviving the infrastructure damaged by two years of violence in Swat and, to a lesser extent, in Buner, Lower Dir, Upper Dir, Shangla and the Malakand Agency, all part of the Malakand division. Chief secretary Javed Iqbal is leading the effort and at a recent meeting chaired by him in Peshawar, the contours of an early recovery plan for the Malakand division were drawn up. Chief economist of the province, Shakil Qadir, who is also a member of the Emergency Response Unit (ERU), presented the outline of a proposed recovery plan. Department heads were asked to identify gaps in service delivery of the militancy-affected areas and propose remedial measures so that funds could be allocated for the purpose. The education, health, communication, agriculture and revenue departments were asked to mobilise their employees for the task ahead. The Peshawar Electricity Supply Corporation (PESCO) and the Pakistan Telecommunication Company Ltd (PTCL) were directed to revive their services on an emergency basis and were promised funds for accomplishing the task. A search for competent officers was also launched to deploy them in the affected districts. It is worth mentioning that civil servants have already been deployed at the IDP’s camps to streamline their management and delivery of services.

The recovery plan no doubt is important and would require timely funding to become operational. But no such plan can be implemented unless the security situation improves and the civil administration and police returns to work in the troubled areas. Most government officials, including the cops, had deserted duty due to threats from the Taliban and left the people at the mercy of the militants. Though the troops will remain in the affected areas for quite some time, they will have to pull out at some stage. For that to happen, there is a proposal to raise the special police force to be manned largely by retired, able-bodied soldiers and villagers from the affected districts. Each village would have a force of 30-40 cops who would be provided arms and a salary of Rs 10,000. The force would be for a period of two years and its competent members would then be inducted into the regular police force.

The strength of the Frontier Police is 50,000 but it is short by 16,000 keeping in view its population and special needs on account of the militancy issue. A recruitment drive is being launched in the first week of June to enlist 3,400 cops but the shortage of police personnel would still exist. That could then be filled by regularising the services of the members of the special police force, which in its present shape is sort of a village defense militia. As none of the top Taliban leaders and commanders have been killed or captured in the ongoing military operation in Malakand region, the possibility that they would stage a comeback and create trouble cannot be ruled out.

Rahimullah Yusufzai is a Peshawar-based senior journalist who covers events in the NWFP, FATA, Balochistan and Afghanistan. His work appears in the Pakistani and international media. He has also contributed chapters to books on the region.