The much-delayed formation of local governments in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has once again become questionable as the provincial government of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has moved the Supreme Court of Pakistan against a decision of the Peshawar High Court (PHC), under which the upcoming local elections were to be held on a party-basis. Earlier, the PTI government had decided to hold the elections on a non-party basis while the opposition parties had challenged the decision in the court.
Local governments are direly needed in the province, in particular the merged tribal districts (MTDs), formerly known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), which have never seen such institutions. Since the merger of the former FATA in KP in May 2018, the state efforts to mainstream the districts constituting a huge region by undertaking massive development initiatives have remained extensively unimplemented. The fundamental reason has been that there have been no such forums to identify the developmental needs of the areas concerned and then come up with appropriate projects and finally execute them in a befitting manner. These forums could only be provided by local government institutions. However, the residents of the merged districts have got extremely frustrated with the lack of development of their areas and more importantly the complex issues the merger has created. This is apparent from various congregations in different tribal districts and the provincial capital, Peshawar, rejecting the merger outright. It is a serious issue which the authorities seem to be unable to tackle but would have profoundly serious consequences. In this backdrop, the decision of the PTI government in KP with its Chief Minister Mahmud Khan, working under the direct tutelage of the party head and Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan, to hold non-party LG polls in the province is merely an attempt to conceal the most possible defeat of its candidates in the upcoming elections in its political forte due to the pathetic performance of the party in the province and the Centre. This attitude of the PTI government would not address the grave issues of conflict and terrorism-affected KP, rather could make them murkier.
In case of the rest of Pakistan, the absence of local government institutions has multiplied the miseries of the people but the non-existence of such structures in the merged districts has taken its toll on the residents of the region and may inflict huge damage to the security and stability of the region in the months and years ahead.
Developmental initiatives are only successful when there is a proper mechanism for their conception and more importantly it largely depends upon their enforceability which, in turn, rests upon the availability of the structure and apparatus and their nature. Insofar as the MTDs are concerned, there is no proper state apparatus or mechanism in place as the region has been in administrative transition after its merger with KP in May 2018. None of the government administrative departments, whether the police or general administration, could be fully entrenched in the region, resulting in massive issues and conflicts. More importantly, the long promised and long overdue LGs institutions to be established in the region are yet to see the light of the day. Now further delay would make the situation worse. Keeping in view the nature and remoteness of the region, the foremost step for the state was to establish local government structures which never existed there despite their critical need. However, despite the passage of more than three years local government institutions are still to be set up in the merged districts. Unfortunately, more than capacity issues it has been the lack of the will and vested interests of individuals within the federal and KP governments that have prevented the establishment of local government institutions in the ex-FATA.
The region should not have first been merged with KP. But whatever happened is now history and therefore, the tribal belt would somehow have to be subsumed into KP but there are numerous challenges to it. This is evident from the fact that when the government realized the problems in integration and the resultant vacuum, which emerged after the ex-FATA merger with KP and with it the discontinuation of all regulations in the region and impediments to enforcing the laws of KP in the region, it enacted the FATA Interim Regulatory Framework. The interim arrangement has replaced the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR).
Today, the far more important question about the merged districts is not their integration but putting in place normal and self-sustaining governing structures there. Local government elections in the region were promised by the previous PML-N government to be held by October 2018. Afterwards, it was said that the elections would be held after the provincial assembly elections on 17 seats. But despite these elections taking place two years back, there have been no local government elections there. As these elections could not take place, it has raised doubts about the government’s seriousness about the issue.
Prime Minister Imran Khan some time back desired to come up with a uniform local government system in the country. Moreover, he has also directed the quarters concerned that local government elections in KP and the former FATA should be held simultaneously. PM Imran Khan’s desire to have a uniform local government system in entire Pakistan may require constitutional changes as presently every province is empowered to have a local government system of its choice. However, making constitutional amendments to bring a uniform LG system is not possible for the weak federal government.
National and international so-called Jihadist organisations and individuals find an extremely conducive environment in the former FATA to make the region their base for regional insurgency and international terrorism in the name of Islam. All these negative developments in the former FATA have their roots in the long-existing political and legal vacuum in the areas, specifically due to the absence of local government structures. This long existing political and legal vacuum in the region was also among other factors due to the non-existence of any form of self-governing local government institutions, due to which the establishment of the state writ in the region remains a far cry while it could not at all be developed and the provision of fundamental needs of the people could not be ensured.
As profound social, political and economic changes have occurred over decades, particularly in the 21st century, the legal and administrative structure of the former FATA, which has its roots in colonial times, could not respond to the complex problems and needs of the growing population. It slowly and gradually made the existing administrative apparatus redundant which further eroded the state writ in the tribal region. Every kind of negative trend pervaded and thrived in the region as local, national and international terrorist and militant groups took full advantage of the situation and cultivated their bases in the region. Criminal gangs, like kidnappers and extortionists, also used the territory for their activities. There is little, if any, realization within Pakistan’s policymaking institutions about formulating a new administrative system for the region. Even there was no serious effort to introduce a local government or municipal councils system in the region to provide a rudimentary modern system of administration.