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Despite its desperate NGO-isation, FATA, the fourth world, struggles to find itself on the developmental map of Pakistan

Pakistan state apathy towards FATA’s inhabitants can be best summed up in these few words: degrading, indifferent, and downright subhuman.

The FDIHS, 2013-14 development indicator of household, which excludes North Waziristan, and parts of Khyber and Orakzai Agencies, best indicate state absence from its responsibilities and duties towards the region. FATA, the fourth world, struggles to find itself in the developmental plans of Pakistan.

Despite being hit severely by militancy, the War on Terror, and massive displacement, the state is not ready to bear the burden of the responsibilities it owes to the area.  In this absence of the state, most of the developmental goals and projects have been handed over to non-governmental organisations. NGOS are the product of neoliberal policies expressed in the privatisation and decentralisation of state institutions.  The “private agencies that pursue activities to relieve suffering, promote the interests of the poor, protect the environment, provide basic social services, or undertake community development” is how they are defined.

The nonexistence of government institutions in FATA, either to give relief to war victims, the displaced people of FATA, offer developmental services, de-radicalisation of the area, or to improve education, has led to different projects being allocated to the non-governmental organisations, mostly with no or little accountability on the part of the state and their donors. How these NGO projects are evaluated and what is the mechanism of transparency and output of such projects, since the state is absent or rather retreating in the area, is unknown. And how much of these NGO managers and staff are a professionally qualified team with an understanding of the local conditions?

In 2012 the FATA Disaster Management Authority (FDMA) issued 104 no objection certificates (NoCs) to various foreign and local NGOs to carry out developmental schemes in tribal areas, while there was a long list of applications being processed. The mushrooming of these NGOs post 9/11 and donors’ interest would make one think that the whole of Pakistan and the world has only one goal, and that is to make FATA the ultimate model of development for the rest of the world.

These NGOs are mostly operating from settled areas of Pakistan, either Islamabad or Peshawar, claim to have access to FATA, and some of them claim to be carrying out elusive goals of de-radicalisation of the women hailing from FATA.  What would be the value and relevance of such NGO work on the ground and who is there to monitor the projects?

Anyone aware of FATA’s dynamics would be highly sceptical of such projects since governmental institutions have trouble accessing the FATA region for one or another reason, and for that reason alone, state and Donors are unable to monitor and evaluate projects in the area. So where is the transparency in the utilisation of funds and how is this primary concern for donors as well as the government, tackled?

This makes one wonder that in a colonial system dating back to 1901, rife with corruption, from a political agent’s office to the non-democratic Jirga system, how are these NGOs working for FATA claiming to be working on different causes like awareness campaigns, education, development, children’s welfare, relief operation held accountable in a very undemocratic system? Are they responsible only through their lengthy reports fancied by their donors, and the conferences and presentations in fancy hotels and labyrinthine project applications that international funders required?  Where is the output of such projects, since it is not difficult to judge that the NGO-isation of FATA’s development and other numerous projects run by different activists-turned-managers are not giving tangible results desired by the people of the region?  No fundamental dent has been made in any of the issues faced by FATA and its population. How do these NGOs, operating within highly skewed systems of power, and corruption, claim to be above it?

My recent encounter with one of the workers of such an NGO providing relief services to Bara Khyber Agency displaced the population operating in Taro Jabba in the vicinity of Peshawar, left me questioning their staff’s ethics and asking them whether the principles of altruism and voluntarism are key defining characteristics of these organisation working and focused on the most impoverished regions of the world.  The team and many others operating in FATA refuse to accommodate or employ the local populations in their projects. So much for local community development and participation.

The behaviour of the staff employed from the settled area of Peshawar district with the displaced women and their children was very much lacking in all its basic concept of decency, altruism, dignity, and respect.  The displaced women, waiting in a queue from early morning until late afternoon, were told by the working staff that they couldn’t stand the odour emanating from those women and the children of those waiting. Are there any basic lessons of decency and dignity and respect given to the staff to make them aware and sensitive towards the plight of these people before they are employed?

The people of FATA are bearing the brunt of the failure and the reluctance of the state either to streamline FATA or to deliver the elusive word of “development”, and its increasing reliance on the NGOs and donor funds to fill the “void” created, unfortunately with no accountability and transparency. The government’s role of keeping a check on their corruption or providing an enabling environment or a legal and policy framework is missing from the picture in FATA.

The principles of neoliberalism expected to reduce the government role in the economy and development of FATA, have been taken to a new extreme in FATA, with the state role being completely substituted, particularly in development.

NGOs and other organisations received funding as an alternative to the state, however, where are the mechanisms of this free society and democratic norms in FATA required by neoliberalism?  And who sets the agenda of such projects and their themes? Brings to mind the view of Brendan Martin, who said that the belief that civil society will be able to cope where nations have failed is a counsel of despair as civil society does not have the ability the state would have.

We tend to forget that FATA, under colonial laws and an outdated system of corruption has no vibrant free civil society, and suffers from colonial policies imposed upon them. If trade along the Torkhum border can be legalised, it can generate enough income to develop the whole of FATA. Trade from that route has great potential. The government on the other hand, rather than playing a supporting role, is creating more hurdles and the NGO-isation seems to be the only solution for them. From Karachi to Peshawar, an average of PKR 5000 is paid in bribes. However, from Peshawar to the Torkhum border, PKR 25000 is given in bribes to officers of the Political agent office Khyber Agency and the government and NGOs expect us to believe that post-9/11 funds will make all well in FATA.

Source: The Nation

Byline: Mona Naseer

November 29, 2016

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