PESHAWAR -- A new programme in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) is finding success in raising awareness on local governance and rule of law in militancy-hit tribal areas, officials say.
The "Safeer-e-Baldiyat" initiative, which began in January, is meant to encourage participation in local governments as part of the merger of the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) with KP.
It seeks to help tribal leaders eliminate the scourge of militancy and terrorism in the region, which spread in the absence of viable governance and an administrative system.
The establishment of a local governance system in the merged areas is one of the key initiatives of the FATA merger plan, according to Kamran Khan Bangash, special assistant on local government to the KP chief minister.
The programme will strengthen the democratic process and integration through public participation in local government in the region, he said.
"Local government ambassadors" comprising 120 residents, mostly youth, from the merged districts are carrying out the effort. They all have been equipped with the skills needed to deliver the campaign's goals, he added.
The ambassadors, who include 30 women, will work in pairs in all 702 village neighbourhood councils of the merged areas and will conduct community sessions targeting about 72,000 residents, of whom 25% will be female, he said.
Local elections that were slated for August 2019 now are rescheduled for August 2021, giving the ambassadors time to properly educate the public about the necessity of the rule of law and local government in order to strengthen the democratic process at the grass-roots level, Bangash said.
As part of the programme, the local government ambassadors are conducting community sessions in educational institutions with students and with teachers, along with meetings in households with women, according to documents handed out at the launch of the project in January.
Sessions in jirga halls are held for males, while meetings with religious leaders take place in mosques.
"The ambassadors are enthusiastic and have been reaching out to the masses effectively since the launch of the programme," Shah Hussain, the co-ordinator of the project, said on July 10.
Safeer-e-Baldiyat volunteers have travelled throughout the region, including the snow-clad hilltops of Kurram District, and have made their way to the rugged terrain of the Orakzai and Tirah valleys, according to Hussain.
While military operations have played the biggest role in curbing terrorism in the tribal areas, the ambassador programme contributes to raising awareness on fostering peace, boosting local participation in government and explaining how the rule of law should work in the absence of militants, Hussain said.
"We are working on a multi-pronged strategy," he said. "The mosque imams and religious leaders are engaged to help promote the true image of Islam as a religion of peace, and the response is excellent."
The awareness sessions are held in community halls, schools and public places and also through a door-to-door campaign. At the same time, female ambassadors are interacting with women and girls inside homes, he added.
In addition to working on governance issues, the outreach team is boosting awareness of COVID-19 in the area -- along with measures to mitigate its spread -- through door-to-door campaigns, Hussain said.
"The tribesmen are jubilant about the programme," said Izat Gul Afridi, a journalist from Khyber District.
The awareness drive will increase citizen participation in local electoral processes and promote responsible citizenship among the residents of merged areas, he said.
Efforts by female ambassadors to create awareness among women will have a long-term impact on the overall democratic process as they will "create a sense of responsibility and emphasise the importance of voting", Afridi said.
"I am optimistic. The programme is reaching residents who had remained deprived of their basic rights, and we will help them to understand their due rights and will create awareness about governance and development," said Amir Khan, a local government ambassador for Khyber District.
The project is aimed at informing the youth of the tribal areas about the local government system, the merger and the development plans for their areas, he added.
"The tribes have many misconceptions and misunderstandings about the merger of FATA into the settled areas, and this ambassador programme has effectively helped to remove their apprehensions," said Abdullah Khan, an ambassador from the Bara area of Khyber District.
"After our interaction with them, they are very clear about the government initiative," he said.
"I operate in the Bara and Akakhel areas, and while the COVID-19 lockdown has slowed down our movement, I expect we will have great success going forward," he added.
"Both the elderly and young tribe members are very responsive when they learn of the local government system and the development it would bring," Khan said. "They see the new system as a game-changer that will bring prosperity and further establish the government's authority."
"The awareness campaign will go a long way in creating a real change in the governance of the tribal districts," said Shahram Tarakai, a member of the KP Assembly and a former provincial minister for local government.
"The vision of political change in the tribal districts will bring real change in the tribal areas."