Ministry of Kashmir Affairs & Gilgit-Baltistan and Ministry of States & Frontier Regions: Rationalisation of institutions – XII
By: Farhat Ali
With years of poor governance, especially in the last decade, the institutions of Pakistan have suffered immensely and have recorded a significant decline with some being on the verge of collapse. There is a need to carry out due diligence and rationalization of these institutions so as to align them with realities and performance expectations in accordance with the prevalent social and economic global and local dynamics. Most important are the state institutions that have policy-making and operational responsibilities – the foremost being the ministries under the federal government and the subsidiaries operating under them. The elites governing them are perceived to be the brain power of the nation. The conduct of this segment of the state machinery matters the most for the economic and social welfare of the state. Much of public money is being spent to sustain them while their deliverables are neither transparent nor measurable nor up to nation’s expectations.
Eleven columns of this series carried by this newspaper earlier focused on the overall dynamics of the federal ministerial structure, Ministry of Science & Technology, Information Technology (IT), National Food Security & Research, Water & Power, Petroleum and Natural Resources, Industry & Production, Commerce and Textile Industry, Planning and Development, Railways & the Ministry of Defence Production. The Ministry of Kashmir Affairs & Gilgit-Baltistan and the Ministry of States & Frontier Regions are under focus in this column.
The Ministry of Kashmir Affairs & Gilgit-Baltistan was established on 13th August 1975 by the then Prime Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, with Abdul Hafiz Pirzada as the responsible federal minister. The objective was to build up global opinion and a legitimate case for the settlement of the Kashmir issue in accordance with the UN resolution. Also, the mandate was to focus development in this remote part of Pakistan and showcase it to the world.
During the last over four decades the ministry was headed by federal ministers from all the four provinces and retired Generals. The issue of held Kashmir continues to be the unfinished agenda of the partition of sub-continent. Though development in infrastructure has been made in this region, its hydropower potential is still required to be fully exploited.
The new government after taking over in June, 2013 set out its goals and priorities in the light of administrative and financial issues encountered by various ministries and organisations. The Federal Cabinet in its first meeting on 10th June, 2013 clearly manifested their desire by taking a decision that “Members of the Cabinet will prepare detailed briefing/presentation of their respective ministries/divisions indicating targets, objectives, issues/problems, detailed strategy for addressing these problems, adopting remedial measures, action plans with time line”.
The Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan in pursuance of the above decision of Federal Cabinet is reported to have undertaken a multi-pronged approach to address all its administrative and allied issues as spelt out by the Minister Incharge in his first meeting with the officers on 11-06-2013 as summarised below:
a) Improve efficiency, eradicate corruption, ensure discipline and punctuality, improve co-ordination between Ministry and AJK/GB Government, utilise development funds properly, reduce non-development expenditure and evolve improved management mechanism for J&K State Property, start up of some development works
b) Federal government to take up the Kashmir cause issue at international fora with new zeal and zest.
In the light of directions given by Federal Cabinet and Minister Incharge it is reported that a number of achievements have been made in the field of administration, financial discipline, eradication of corruption, management of development projects, better co-ordination with AJK and GB, education and information, a new legislation and similar.
All of these, however, are basic governance issues which in any organised set-up would not have been there, such as all section officers will ensure disposal of official business in accordance with rules of business to minimise irregularities, take measures to eradicate corruption and so on. It is not difficult to conclude that the ministry is not geared up to successfully accomplish the given mandate.
Whereas in conclusion, it is reported on the official website that the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan through the above measures/steps is endeavouring to achieve the set out goals in a focused manner in the best interest of institutional and administrative betterment of these two sensitive areas. In the last three months or so, there is a substantial improvement in implementation of government policies and co-ordinated interaction.
The Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) is headed by the Minister for States and Frontier Regions Lieutenant General Abdul Qadir Baloch (Retd), who has a rich field experience in this area. The main responsibility of the ministry is to manage tribal areas of Pakistan which is now a complex management on account of the influx of the Afghan refugees.
The Quaid-e-Azam recognised the importance and sensitivity of this region. He, therefore, underscored the need for the creation of a new ministry which is to work directly under him. It was announced and also gazetted immediately. The Quaid decided that the new ministry will be called “The Ministry of States and Frontier Regions”. The Quaid had further directed that unless there is any serious legal or other objection, it must be stated in the Press Note that the new Ministry will function under the direct control, guidance and direction of the Quaid-e-Azam, Governor-General of Pakistan.
An Office of Chief Commissioner for Afghan Refugees was established in 1979 to deal with the influx of Afghan refugees at federal level. It was declaring as an attached department of Ministry of SAFRON.
The main functions of that office are to deal the issue of Afghan refugees and co-ordinate with international agencies specially the UNHCR. There is a Commissionerate for Afghan refugees in each province except Sindh with a Chief Commissionerate based in Islamabad.
The return of Afghan refugees and transformation and integration of Fata into the mainstream of Pakistan’s social and economic fabric is a great challenge for the ministry and the whole nation.
Fata is inhabited by 5 million people and is facing multiple problems of endemic poverty that is the highest in Pakistan, along with the lowest development indicators. There is a huge deficit of human rights faced by the people as the protection under fundamental rights that are available to other Pakistanis are not applicable in FATA. It has been facing the blight of insurgency. It is for these latter reasons that FATA Reforms figure prominently under point 12 of the National Action Plan formulated for undertaking counter measures against terrorism. The Prime Minister formed a high-level Fata Reform Committee on 3.11.2015 to consult the tribesmen and all other stakeholders before formulating recommendations. The six-member committee undertook an extensive consultative process in line with the provisions of Article 247 (6) of the Constitution. They visited all tribal agencies and Frontier Regions and held meetings with the elected representatives – as well as businessmen, tribal elders (Maliks), educated youth, religious leaders and members of civil society. It was also briefed by experts on Fata before it finalised its recommendations in eight month.
The committee reviewed the overall security situation in the context of the achievements of the ongoing Zarb-e-Azb operation. The violence in Fata had created 338,000 TDP families who were living away from their homes; this had denuded FATA of its social structure too.
The consultation process brought forward four options of transformation of Fata; a) maintain the status-quo with minor changes, b) or granting a special status to FATA like Gilgit-Baltistan, c) or create a separate province for FATA, d) or integrating FATA into KP province recognising the close horizontal linkages of agencies and FRs with the adjacent KP district. The integration and transformation of Fata is one of the biggest challenges for the government in power.
(The writer is former President, Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce and Industry)