2018 Survey of Afghan People Shows Women’s Rights are Complicated

Although the current Afghan government is publicly committed to women’s rights and empowerment, women continue to face significant barriers to exercising those rights. It was not always thus. From the 1930s to the early 70s, Afghanistan was relatively liberal—to the point that Kabul was often referred to as the Paris of Central Asia. In subsequent decades, however, women experienced significant repression, culminating in large-scale violations of women’s rights and violence against women under the Taliban, who enforced strict gender segregation and the elimination of women from the public sphere.

Since the removal of the Taliban regime in 2001, women have made substantial gains. Women’s rights were enshrined in the national constitution of 2003, and successive national governments have vowed to protect women’s rights, eliminate violence against women, and support women’s economic empowerment and political participation. The Afghan constitution and the Law on Elimination of Violence against Women afford rights, protections, and opportunities to women that are unprecedented in the region and among other Muslim countries.

According to The Asia Foundation’s 2018 Survey of the Afghan People, women’s rights and participation in Afghanistan are improving, but very slowly. The broadest and longest-running nationwide poll of Afghan attitudes, the Survey has gathered the opinions of more than 112,000 men and women since 2004, providing a unique longitudinal portrait of evolving public perceptions of security, the economy, governance and government services, elections, the media, women’s issues, and migration.

The 2018 findings are encouraging when it comes to women’s access to justice. More women than men (21.8% vs. 16.4%) reported bringing family disputes to court, the Huquq Department, or the local shura or jirga, progress that can be partly attributed to three agencies of the Afghan government—the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, the Attorney General’s Office, and the police—which have established specialized units to provide support services to women in cases of violence and civil disputes. Media and public awareness campaigns led by civil society organizations and international donors are also making women more aware of their rights. In many ways, this progress is a major collective achievement of grassroots activists, CSOs, the Afghan government, and the international community since 2001.

Waning support for traditional practices such as baad and baddal is another bright spot for women (figure 1), one of the few areas related to women’s rights that has improved each year since 2004. Baad is the practice of giving away a daughter to settle a debt or a dispute between families. Baddal is the exchange of daughters in marriage between families, mostly for economic reasons. Both these practices neglect women’s choice in marriage. This year, just 9.5% of respondents agree that baad is an acceptable practice, down from 12.0% in 2017 and 18.0% in 2016, and the same downward trend holds true for baddal, which just 25.2% of respondents find acceptable in 2018, down from 29.1% in 2017 and 31.8% in 2016. Conversely, the acceptance of miras—a daughter’s right to inheritance from her father—has continued to climb, with 90.2% of Afghans now agreeing that women are entitled to inherit. And despite a long tradition of child brides in Afghanistan, some 36.4% of men and 29.0% of women in 2018 say the ideal age for a girl to marry is 18 years.

FIG. 1: Q-69. Tell me, do you strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, or strongly disagree with the following statements? (a) The practice of baad is acceptable. (b) The practice of baddal is acceptable. (Percent who strongly or somewhat agree.)

Support for gender equality in education has grown, from 82.3% in 2017 to 84.0% this year. Support has also grown for girls’ primary education, from 87.5% in 2017 to 89.7% this year. Perhaps unsurprisingly, women are the greatest supporters of equal access to education for girls (88.4%), although support among men (79.6%) is also higher than in years past.

According to women (figure 2), their most significant challenges, in ranked order, are illiteracy or lack of education (40.9%), unemployment (26.7%), domestic violence (19.2%), forced marriage (12.5%), lack of rights (12.5%), and poverty (11.3%). Afghanistan has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world, currently estimated at about 31% of the population 15 years of age or older. The UNDP estimates female literacy at about 31.7% of adults. UNICEF reports that 3.7 million school-age children are out of school—60% of them girls. According to the 2016–17 Afghanistan Living Conditions Survey, the national unemployment level currently stands at about 24%, and more than 54.5% of the population lives below the poverty line on less than a dollar a day.

FIG. 2: Q-7. What, if anything, is the biggest problem facing women in this area today? What is the next-biggest problem?

Overall, support for women in politics and leadership positions has slightly declined (figure 3), even though a record number of women stood for office in the October parliamentary elections. Support for women serving on community development councils fell from 69.7% in 2017 to 67.5% this year. Support for women as provincial governors also dropped slightly, from 55.4% in 2017 to 53.1% this year. Support for women as CEOs of large companies fell from 54.6% in 2017 to 52.0% this year. Support has also declined for women’s right to vote, from 89.0% in 2017 to 87.6% in 2018.

FIG. 3: Q-75. Do you agree or disagree that it is acceptable for women to have access to these leadership roles? Strongly or somewhat? (a) Member of a community development council. (b) Governor of a province. (c) CEO of a large company. (Percent who strongly or somewhat agree.)

Taken together, these worrisome trends will alarm activists who have worked for years to improve the lot of women in Afghanistan. Before the October 2018 parliamentary elections, women held 27.7 % of seats in the national parliament, 0.7 points higher than the 27% constitutional quota. There are real fears, however, that women’s hard-won gains in Afghanistan may be in jeopardy following news of the peace negotiations with the Taliban and the government’s offer of a generous peace package.

Local, national, and international activists and organizations must work as hard as ever for women’s rights and empowerment in Afghanistan. The Foundation’s 2018 Survey of the Afghan People provides valuable data that can be used by the Afghan government, the international community, researchers, and the media to support evidence-based policymaking and improve the public debate about women’s rights in Afghanistan.

Farrah Azeem Khan is director of The Asia Foundation’s Women’s Empowerment Program in Afghanistan. She can be reached at farrahazeem.khan@asiafoundation.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author, not those of The Asia Foundation.

Q&A with Head of Afghanistan’s Largest News Operation

Lotfullah Najafizada leads TOLOnews, Afghanistan’s largest (and most popular) news operation and its first 24-hour news channel. An award-winning journalist, Najafizada has been named a next-generation leader by Time Magazine and one of Forbes magazine’s “30 under 30” Asian influencers in media in 2017. Our chief communications officer Amy Ovalle asked Najafizada to help navigate some of the findings in this year’s Survey of the Afghan People.

As a journalist, is the Survey of the Afghan People helpful to you?

Lotfullah Najafizada

The Survey of the Afghan People is indeed the best annual study of Afghanistan, and it serves as a reference for so many people, including journalists. We use it not just when it’s out, at the end of the year, but throughout the year as a reference on the many topics it covers.

Afghanistan has been a mix of positive and negative stories—many negative in the Western media—making it hard to paint a simple picture of the country. As someone who covers Afghanistan, are there key indicators that interest you in this year’s Survey?

The fact that nearly two-thirds of the Afghan people remain negative about the future of the country is alarming and, indeed, telling as well. Let’s not forget that the data collection this year happened during the peak season for positive developments. I’m also very interested to see that the people’s trust in the reliability of the media is growing, which is positive news.

This year, 62% of respondents report experiencing fear while voting, up from 52% in 2017. Yet, people turned out for the recent, long-delayed parliamentary elections. Confidence in the IEC is up from 38% last year to 43% this year, satisfaction with democracy is up from 57% to 61%, and 52% said they believed the October elections would be free and fair. Are we seeing an enduring commitment to democracy?

The voting segment of the Afghan population is getting younger and younger. Some of the people who just voted for the first time in their lives were born just before 9/11 and don’t remember the Taliban regime. The people of Afghanistan have no other choice than supporting our fragile democracy.With every election, the belief in democratic values is growing and strengthening, and although the last elections were nowhere close to perfect, Afghans showed great resilience and commitment by turning out to vote in millions.

More people own televisions this year, and cell phone ownership has reached a new high, yet 34% say their household financial situation has gotten worse, compared to 10% in 2007. Can you give some context on people’s mood about the economy and opportunity?

The mood is that the economic situation has gone down, but some projects, such as TAPI, the 1,800-kilometer Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-India Pipeline, or the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline (which was announced during the Survey data collection) might have helped improve public perceptions. TAPI is expected to create jobs and bring in gas and significant resources in annual transit duties to Afghanistan.

Afghan women’s lives have improved significantly since the Taliban were ousted, but women continue to face problems, particularly with economic issues. Most Afghans (70%) agree women should be allowed to work outside the home, and the majority (84%) said women should have the same opportunities as men in education. Acceptance of baad and baddal is declining, and acceptance of miras is going up. But there are clearly still constraints on women in Afghanistan. Is it your sense that women are making gains?

Afghanistan is still one of the worst places for women, but it’s changing because of changes in the culture and, to an extent, the situation. You see more young women in the streets of Kabul and major cities who are successful and ambitious, who are decision-makers in their own lives, running businesses and NGOs and working in the government. Let me stress, however, that the situation for women is still nowhere close to being acceptable.

Lotfullah Najafizada is the director of Afghanistan’s TOLOnews. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the interviewee, not those of The Asia Foundation.

Leapfrogging and Sidestepping: Outliers Spark Municipal Reform in Myanmar

“We don’t have to employ more traffic police; the smart machine will do the job!” proclaimed U Ye Myat Thu of the Mandalay City Development Committee (MCDC) to an audience of three dozen ministers, mayors, and officials from across Myanmar crammed into a small traffic control room in Mandalay. Myanmar’s second-largest municipality has installed remote-control traffic lights, high definition video cameras, road sensors, and loudspeakers at intersections throughout the city, he explained. Software in the control room takes that data and generates dynamic traffic-flow visualizations for a handful of trained officials overseeing the system.

The new technology, the Sydney Coordinated Adaptive Traffic System (SCATS), uses artificial intelligence (AI) to optimize traffic flows across the city. Learning and improving over time, it can answer questions such as, “To maximize traffic flows, how long should the green light stay on during rush hour?” The system runs daily experiments and makes continual, small adjustments without the need for a human operator. SCATS has already increased traffic flows over one of Mandalay’s main bridges by a reported 50 percent.

The Mandalay traffic control demonstration was part of Myanmar’s third national Horizontal Learning Workshop, a project of The Asia Foundation and the Renaissance Institute. It was a clear example of what Harvard’s Matt Andrews terms “positive deviance” in public sector reforms. It’s a somewhat unwieldy expression for a sharp insight, that in many contexts there are groups or organizations whose uncommon strategies enable them to find better solutions to their problems than their peers. Forget international best practice: there is much to learn from these local examples of success.

The control room is an outlier among Myanmar’s municipalities, an experiment made possible by the relative autonomy of municipalities in Myanmar’s otherwise highly centralized system. Such outliers contain valuable information about where reforms can lead and possible paths to get there. The three-day workshop was an opportunity for mayors, ministers, and municipal bureaucrats from across the country to showcase local reforms and learn from each other’s successes, missteps, and failures. The traffic control demonstrations provided a graphic example of the power of data and how experimental approaches can advance reforms when no simple solutions are apparent.

A consistent workshop thread was how technology can sidestep some of the stubbornly persistent human-resource problems that have bedeviled local administration in Myanmar. For instance, municipalities are limited in whom they can hire and how much they can pay, due to restrictions imposed by the Union government at a time when Myanmar’s cities were simpler places to manage. Deficiencies in the educational system mean that analytical skills are also in short supply. MCDC has turned to SCATS to sidestep these hurdles, obviating the need to train a cadre of traffic control analysts and hire traffic police to stand at intersections operating the traffic lights.

The SCATS software is sold globally—a rare success of an imported development tool—but it takes on a distinctly Myanmar flavor when combined with one of the most widely used technologies in the country, Facebook. This is a country where mobile-phone ownership has skyrocketed since 2014 to more than 105 phones per 100 people, and where 80 percent of those phones are smart phones, compared to just 59 percent in neighboring Thailand. For many here, Facebook is the internet.

Back in the traffic control room, SCATS is automatically tracking traffic violations and saving the videos for later review. When SCATS recently recorded a hit-and-run accident, MCDC posted details from the video on its Facebook page. The perpetrator turned himself in within days. MCDC has essentially sidestepped the stubborn problem of weak traffic enforcement by crowd-sourcing detection and introducing social sanctioning as a form of deterrence. (It’s an innovation that many in the West, where privacy is a greater concern, might find uncomfortable.)

MCDC’s use of Facebook reflects a broader trend among Myanmar’s municipal governments. Facebook has become a place where citizens can virtually assemble to articulate their needs, and municipal officials throughout the country have begun to scan the comments on their Facebook pages to inform their decisions. The Asia Foundation, in partnership with Koe Koe Tech, a technology-focused local nonprofit, is looking to systematize this data collection by using Facebook chatbots and a new mobile application, MyoTaw, that allows the public to directly communicate their concerns to municipal authorities. The app will also let users pay their municipal taxes and fees, freeing tax collectors to focus on higher-value tasks, such as adding the many missing properties to the tax register—essential for increasing the tax revenues that fund urban services.

This kind of technological leapfrogging isn’t always glamorous. “Of the first six months of every fiscal year, we used to spend about three months filling in tax bills by hand,” reflected U Aye Koh, senior bureaucrat of the Taunggyi Development Affairs Organization, speaking to workshop participants. This changed with the adoption of Myankhon (Fast Tax), a computer- and tablet-based mobile application for tax collectors and their supervisors that frees executive officers like U Aye Koh from personally signing over 2,700 business licenses each year. The app has streamlined tax collection, and The Asia Foundation and the Renaissance Institute are supporting the government’s use of the digital data for policymaking. A case in point: how to increase property tax revenues while making the convoluted system fairer and easier to understand.

Despite its effectiveness in sidestepping some stubborn obstacles to development, technology is no panacea. Some people may be left behind as governments shift their public engagement to digital platforms. The Foundation will be testing this hypothesis in five Myanmar cities in its upcoming City Life Survey, a multiyear perception survey of 2,400 urban residents. The survey data will reveal how different groups, such as the rich and the poor, make use of technologies related to municipal government—for instance, how often they post comments on their municipality’s Facebook page.

The new technology must also plug itself into a very human system. U Aye Koh spoke to participants about struggling to make his staff comfortable with the new tools. The tax collectors were wary of Myankhon’s digital oversight, and they were uncertain of how it might change their roles. Two years in, however, they have been won over. With the time savings that Myankhon provides, they can now focus on the huge task of keeping their property records up-to-date in these dynamic cities.

Which takes us back to Mandalay’s traffic police. Introducing AI to traffic control doesn’t mean that traffic police are no longer needed; rather, it frees them for priority tasks more suited to people. And ultimately, technology, like any development intervention, is constrained by the system it inhabits. As Myanmar’s urban citizens know all too well, even the most sophisticated AI controlled traffic light is useless when the electricity goes out.

James Owen is an economist for The Asia Foundation in Myanmar, and Heesu Chung is a master’s student at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. They can be reached at james.owen@asiafoundation.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors, not those of The Asia Foundation.


Indonesia: Hearing Women’s Voices in Managing Natural Resources

The flash flood that hit her village in 2006 unexpectedly propelled Dewi Sartika, 38, from low income into abject poverty. The district government relocated some 170 affected households, including hers, to nearby land owned by the state plantation company, but granted them only four hectares each, roughly 400 square meters, from which to scratch out a livelihood. They hold no title to these parcels, and their eviction is imminent.

Mining cutting into an area of forest and farmland. Photo/ Wawan Muhaddadiyah.

The Voices Unheard

Because of their customary roles and responsibilities, women in traditional communities are often the first to bear the brunt of destructive resource exploitation. At the same time, they are often the greatest repositories of the history, boundaries, and ownership of lands in their communities and the knowledge of how to manage those lands sustainably. Yet, patriarchal culture pervades land and forest management in Indonesia, where even CSOs often forget to include women’s voices.

A woman stands by an abandoned open-pit mine at the edge of her farm. Photo/ Armin Hari

In 2015, Indonesia launched its national Social Forestry program (Perhutanan Sosial) to improve the well-being of people with traditional forest-based livelihoods and to protect forests through sustainable management. But the program works through heads of households, designated by Indonesian law as husbands, which deprives households of benefits if the wife is a divorcee or the husband has migrated for work. Research on gender justice in land and forest management conducted by the Center for International Forestry Research in 2018 found that even though inclusive policies have increased women’s participation in forestry institutions, male perspectives and prerogatives continue to dominate land and forest governance.

A Gender-Responsive Approach

The Asia Foundation’s environmental justice program in Indonesia, SETAPAK, supported by the UK’s Department for International Development, promotes regulatory and law enforcement reforms to protect communities whose livelihoods depend on traditional forest resources. The program has 65 partners, ranging from westernmost to easternmost Indonesia. While SETAPAK from the start encouraged its partners to emphasize gender issues, the second phase of the project, SETAPAK 2, begun in late 2015, has implemented a more aggressive gender-responsive approach to ensure that women’s voices are a central part of our partners’ advocacy agenda.

In March 2018, SETAPAK 2 facilitated a dialogue with the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MoEF) that resulted in three commitments by the minister: first, to include gender in environmental impact assessments; second, to allow women to be recognized as heads of household under the Social Forestry program; and third, to strengthen women’s role in traditional forest management. On this occasion, SETAPAK 2 gained some experience connecting local gender-justice champions with the mainstream media and with national women activists who have influence with the MoEF in Jakarta.

Celebrating the Local Champions

SETAPAK’s investment in women and environmental governance soon began to produce results. Our partner on eastern Borneo Island, JATAM, which promotes accountable management of abandoned mining sites, had inspired several women leaders to bring lawsuits demanding reclamation of open pits in Samarinda and to report the cases to the Samarinda mayor. When the local government took no action to repair the environmental damage, women’s groups and JATAM reported the case to the MoEF, which resulted in monitoring by the ministry’s law enforcement unit. They also reported the situation to the National Commission on Child Protection, which forwarded information to the president.

Minister Siti Nurbaya Baka of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry with SETAPAK’s local champions.

The president took notice, resulting in closer site monitoring and a commitment to the reclamation of Samarinda’s open pits by the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, the installation of 459 danger signs at open-pit mines, and a joint monitoring agreement with the East Kalimantan Police Department.

These women’s efforts were not without setbacks. At first their husbands objected, but they now support their wives. Several women received threats, but they have continued their advocacy and encouraged more women to joint their study groups in the village.

Another story of women making change took place in Aceh, the westernmost province of Indonesia, where SETAPAK 2 has been working with the local NGO MaTA to strengthen community rights in land disputes with the state plantation company PTPN 1. In 2016, MaTA met a kindergarten teacher in the Aceh village of Batu Bedulang. In the course of several MaTA trainings and meetings, she became active in the land dispute, using a formal Public Information Disclosure to gather evidence and launching a community mapping project to document claims against PTPN 1.

SETAPAK 2 is also working to promote Indonesia’s national, community-based forest management scheme. Elia Fitri, a woman from the forest village of Nagari, attended several trainings and village meetings conducted by SETAPAK partner Qbar (the People’s Coalition for Justice, Democracy, and Human Rights), which works to expand community-based forest management in West Sumatera. The matrilineal Minang people are a significant presence in West Sumatra, but even among the Minang, men still control natural resource decisions. Though she at first found it difficult to work predominantly with men, Elia eventually became a member of the village forest-management team in Padang Tarok Village, where she helped prepare a village forestry proposal for the MoEF. In 2017, the village received a permit to manage their traditional forest lands.

Stories like these remain rare in Indonesia, where women are still too often excluded from local land-management decisions. The SETAPAK 2 program is dedicated to building women’s confidence and capacity to make their voices heard, both locally and nationally, on issues of land and forest governance. Their presence is essential to meaningful reform.

Margaretha Wahyuningsih and Fadila Ayu Hapsari are program officers and Dorta Pardede is an assistant program officer for The Asia Foundation’s SETAPAK 2 program in Indonesia. They can be reached at margaretha.wahyuningsih@asiafoundation.org, fadilaayu.hapsari@asiafoundation.org, and dorta.pardede@asiafoundation.org, respectively. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors, not those of The Asia Foundation.

Myanmar Democracy: Small Steps on a Long Journey

For decades, Myanmar was governed by a small military elite, accused of acting solely in their own interests. The introduction of a new constitution in 2008 was a dramatic and significant development, creating 14 new state and region governments and parliaments and the promise of democratic participation by a more diverse range of actors. At its heart, democratization in Myanmar means transforming a top-down, autocratic regime into a system that is responsive to the needs and aspirations of democratic constituencies at many levels—local, regional, and national—and establishing effective mechanisms of public administration to achieve them. The creation of the state and region governments thus marks the beginning of a process of decentralization with vast potential for greater participation by citizens and greater responsiveness to regional and local needs. On October 31, The Asia Foundation published a new edition of its flagship report, State and Region Governments in Myanmar, reflecting on five years of progress in Myanmar’s decentralization. The report finds both challenges ahead and grounds for cautious optimism, with encouraging signs of increasing accountability, responsiveness to local needs, and greater public participation in governance.

November 8, 2016. Outside NLD headquarters in Yangon, party supporters celebrated as preliminary results begin to spread on social media after polls closed on Election Day. 

State and region governments that are accountable, participatory, and transparent can give people more power and influence over the laws and policies by which they are governed, deepening democracy in Myanmar. They can lead to more efficient and responsive public services and infrastructure in a country where economic growth has been slow. And they offer hope for an end to Myanmar’s long-running internal conflicts. While the system established by the 2008 Constitution will not be sufficient to establish a lasting peace, there is a consensus among signatories of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement that a future system will be based on some form of federalism. Decentralization can thus provide the building blocks for a future federal structure and give subnational actors the experience and capacity to govern democratically.

The positive effects of decentralization are not guaranteed, however. For decentralization to deliver these benefits, state and region governments must be both capable of, and accountable for, executing their greater responsibilities. The starting point for all actors in Myanmar’s subnational governance system must be an understanding of how the system works and where the opportunities and challenges lie. It is this understanding that the Foundation’s latest report seeks to strengthen. Arriving five years after the report’s first edition, it provides analysis of the key trends since the state and region governments’ creation and an opportunity to examine the issues that will shape the policymaking context for years to come.

Five years after the Foundation’s original report, it is clear that Myanmar’s 14 state and region governments are assuming more responsibility. They are increasingly taking the lead in identifying and addressing regional development priorities and are now making efforts to promote the rule of law, most noticeably in their work to resolve land-rights issues. Several have launched initiatives in new policy areas that respond to local needs.

Statue of a dragon in front of government buildings, Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar

The capitol in Nay Pyi Taw. Myanmar’s civilian government inherited a deficit of crucial administrative capacities, especially in the realm of policymaking, from five decades of military rule.

The growing importance of these subnational governments can be seen in two important developments. First, their budgets have grown to nearly three times their original size. Last year, state and region governments spent over USD 1.8 billion—an amount that guarantees influence. Second, government departments in the states and regions, although they are part of national ministries, are becoming more accountable to the state and region governments, increasing the involvement of state/region ministers in decision-making, coordination, planning and budgeting, and policymaking.

The 2008 Constitution also established parliaments in each of Myanmar’s states and regions. These parliaments have become important and diverse political forums, with 21 different political parties represented and close to one-third of elected seats held by regional or ethnic parties. The number of women MPs has tripled—an important development, though further progress is needed.

For more than five decades, government financial information was not accessible to the public in Myanmar. As a consequence, the majority of the people in the country are not familiar with the budget process, how priorities are determined, or how much the government spends.

Over the past five years, these parliaments have grown increasingly assertive in their oversight of their executive branches, particularly in some states and regions, such as Yangon and Rakhine, and in relation to certain issues, such as the annual budget. They have passed legislation with important implications for local people, and they have worked especially energetically with other government actors to ensure that the needs and concerns of their constituents are heard and addressed.

While the 2008 Constitution created the state/region governments and parliaments, it did not create a third tier of government below them. By default, this left in place the existing arrangements for local administration, limiting public participation and democratic accountability. Despite this, both the national and the state/region governments have worked to make local governance more participatory and responsive to local needs. The transitional government of the Union Solidarity and Development Party focused on increasing the role of local committees, fostering public participation, financing local development funds, and reforming the ward and village-tract administrator role, a critical conduit between local people and the state, to make it an elected position. Its successor, the National League for Democracy, has pursued greater participation and accountability by encouraging the involvement of state and region MPs in local affairs.

In spite of this significant progress, there are still substantial obstacles to an accountable, responsive, and participatory state in Myanmar. There is a need to build the capacity of all actors in the country’s subnational governance system, to ensure that government budgets direct spending where it is needed most, and to strengthen local governance in the absence of democratically elected local governments.

The Asia Foundation’s Myanmar Strategic Support Program, a collaboration with the Renaissance Institute funded by DFAT, DFID, and Swiss Development Cooperation, is working with state and region governments to address many of these challenges. Much of this work centers on government accountability, including support for the state/region Citizen’s Budgets and other transparency initiatives and helping those governments build their core capacities.

Regardless of the challenges ahead, over the past five years Myanmar’s state and region governments have demonstrated that they matter, that they can play a critical role in supporting Myanmar’s democratization, and that they can have a lasting impact on the lives of people across the country. Their importance will only continue to grow in the coming years.

A full copy of State and Region Governments in Myanmar can be found here.

Richard Batcheler is a researcher and policy analyst for The Asia Foundation in Myanmar, and the author of the latest edition of State and Region Governments in Myanmar. He can be reached at richard.batcheler@asiafoundation.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author, not those of The Asia Foundation.

This Land Is Our Land: How Drones Can Advance Property Rights in the Philippines

The Philippines has a real estate problem. Half the real property in the country—approximately 12 million parcels of land—has no legal title. Like many countries in Asia, the island nation is experiencing rapid urbanization, and a large proportion of these urban residents in particular lack official titles to the plots of land they live on, which have often been informally subdivided.

Without legal proof of ownership, these citizens can’t get loans to make improvements. They can’t pass down their property to their heirs. Classified as “temporary settlers,” residents who may have lived on their parcels for generations can be driven out of their homes with little notice and no compensation.

According to a World Bank survey conducted with the Philippine government in 2017, addressing the nation’s growing informal settlements is a critical step to strengthening land administration and management. Land-management systems and government policies have not kept pace with the growth of urban centers, and this lack of effective policy infrastructure has held the country back from inclusive growth that could create more jobs and reduce poverty.

Beyond its cost in individual well-being, the Philippines’ land-titling problem exerts a significant drag on development more broadly. Restrictions on untitled land prevent agricultural land from being sold, leased, or mortgaged, blocking development and stifling the land market. The constricted market further inhibits investment, employment, and economic growth.

To properly title an untitled parcel of land, applicants must submit a subdivision survey for approval by the government, but a professional survey can itself be the single greatest obstacle for many citizens, making up about 61 percent of the total cost of titling a residential lot. Now, a project by The Asia Foundation and its team of partners has demonstrated a way around this development logjam with the clever deployment of a new survey technology, aerial drones.

The Asia Foundation’s Technology for Property Rights project works with government and the private sector to develop policies that reflect and respond to the challenges of a rapidly urbanizing Philippines. A partnership with the Omidyar Network and the Foundation for Economic Freedom, the project is pursuing both technological solutions and policy reform to improve land administration in the Philippines.

An example of a traditional survey map in Cebu Province, Philippines, and a drone-generated map of the same parcel.

It was Peter Rabley of Omidyar Network who first suggested that unmanned aerial systems—drones—could be a cost-effective tool for land surveying. Tapping into an emerging movement in the developing world, this Philippines pilot project would join Rwanda, Kenya, and Ethiopia in testing the use of drones for land administration. Working with scientists and policymakers from the Geodetic Surveys Division of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)—the Philippines’ national land-management agency—Technology for Property Rights initiated a series of tests to establish the capabilities of survey drones. Additional partners included U.S.-based Micro Aerial Projects, a pioneer in the Drones for Surveying movement; SkyEye Analytics, a leading Philippine drone service provider; and the municipality of Cordova in Cebu Province, where test flights were conducted.

The flights began in 2016. Working with the Technology for Property Rights team, community members and parcel occupants in Cordova volunteered their time to help collect data for maps of their land. Unlike traditional, blueprint-style survey maps, these high-resolution photographic maps gave citizens an intuitive tool to visualize and verify their lots and structures.

The pilot project demonstrated that drones, under the proper conditions, could provide survey data that was just as accurate as traditional methods, meeting or exceeding the Philippines legal standard of 95 percent accuracy. A second round of tests was conducted with the University of the Philippines Department of Geodetic Engineering in 2017 to increase the rigor of the study, this time using various drone types and surveying a mix of different terrains and population densities. Again, the results confirmed that drones could be a highly effective alternative survey tool, leading the Philippine government to become one of the first countries in Asia to issue an official policy allowing the use of drone-assisted surveys for titling.

The Asia Foundation’s Jaime Faustino (right) with pioneers in drone-assisted surveying in the Philippines. Photo/The Asia Foundation

The Technology for Property Rights drone-survey team is seeking to reduce the cost of urban subdivision surveys and redress long-standing problems with agricultural land tenure. Already, the project has held training courses on land titling for individuals and organizations, including banks, geodetic engineering firms, civil society organizations, and real estate brokers’ associations, promoting the use of aerial imaging for tenure security and exploring the potential of new, more streamlined administrative systems such as tablet-based title applications. The tablet-based application system will improve on the current, error-prone, manual process and allow DENR staff to easily document claims and monitor the progress of applications. The drone-generated image maps can be smoothly integrated with local government and DENR data to facilitate titling.

Together with a core group of advocates from civil society, academia, and the government, The Asia Foundation is now exploring policy options that would allow government to embrace and integrate the new technologies. With renewed support from Omidyar Network, the next phase of the project will promote other new technologies like mobile applications for land applications, train DENR leadership and geodetic engineers in the use of drones for surveying, and build awareness of the value of drone-assisted surveying, all with the goal of improving the security of property rights in the Philippines and establishing the tradeable and bankable land titles critical for increasing investment and employment.

An easier and simpler land-titling process and reduced land-titling costs will help citizens resolve boundary conflicts and conflicting land claims and ease access to credit by making titled property available as collateral. By forming connections with the public and private sectors and utilizing breakthroughs in technology, innovative collaborations such as Technology for Property Rights can help to tackle multifaceted development challenges, ultimately helping to reduce barriers to well-functioning land markets and encourage greater investment.

Lesley Wynn is a project grants associate for The Asia Foundation’s Resource Development Department in San Francisco. Jaime Faustino is director of The Asia Foundation’s Economic Reform and Development Entrepreneurship Program in the Philippines. He can be reached at jaime.faustino@asiafoundation.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors, not those of The Asia Foundation.

Mongolia: Increasing Citizen Participation in Local Decision-Making

As rural Mongolians continue to move to the capital, Ulaanbaatar, in record numbers, the city has struggled to provide needed services, especially in the rapidly growing ger areas. The Municipality of Ulaanbaatar, under new leadership since 2016, has sought to improve public-service delivery and better target available development funds by increasing public participation in local spending decisions.

Mongolia’s Integrated Budget Law, which came into effect in January 2013, was the first law to prescribe public consultation in government decision-making. The law was arguably the country’s first attempt to decentralize development planning to local government. A major outcome of the law was the creation of the Local Development Fund (LDF), which provides the only forum for citizens to directly voice their opinion on local expenditures.

Approximately 60 percent of the city’s population lives in Ulaanbaatar’s peripheral ger area, a mass of informal settlements that surrounds the urban center. Photo/Miroslav Hodeček

Although budget management remains highly centralized in Mongolia, the percentage of the national budget dedicated to the LDF is significant—five percent in 2014. LDF projects are prioritized by citizens through an annual, paper-based survey and selected through a process of community consultations. Historically, LDF projects have included sidewalks, playgrounds, citizen halls, street lighting, waste collection points, and water wells.

The LDF presents Mongolian citizens with an important opportunity for participatory democracy, but its impact has been blunted by widespread unfamiliarity with the law and its provisions. In a 2015 baseline survey conducted by The Asia Foundation’s Urban Governance Project (UGP) in 33 khoroos, the lowest administrative unit of the Municipality of Ulaanbaatar, a disheartening 82 percent of respondents were unaware of the LDF.

The LDF also has a worrisome design limitation. Khoroos administer the community consultations that are the central mechanism of the LDF, collecting opinions and submitting this information to district administrators. But the districts, which make the final decisions on LDF allocations, have the authority to select projects based on their own development policies and priorities, creating a loophole that can potentially thwart the LDF’s public-participation provisions.

Since 2015, the UGP, funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, has been working with the Municipality of Ulaanbaatar to improve the LDF project cycle, streamline the management of citizen input, and increase the transparency of LDF decision-making. Among the practical measures has been the development of LDF community maps, which pinpoint the location, budget, and contractor of LDF-funded projects.

Figure 1. The Citizen Input mobile app allows the Mongolian public to vote for development projects and monitor the government’s performance on existing projects. Photo/The Asia Foundation

To put these maps to use and improve public participation in the LDF process, the UGP has developed the LDF Citizen Input Application. Using their mobile phones, citizens can fill out their district’s LDF questionnaire directly in the app. They can also use the app to view the LDF community maps, giving them a comprehensive overview, by community, of previous LDF projects (figure 1), and allowing them to easily see when their districts make LDF project allocations that diverge from the public’s recommendations.

In collaboration with the municipality, the mobile app was piloted in March and April this year in all nine districts of Ulaanbaatar. The pilot, supported by training events and a comprehensive social media campaign, drew 13,000 citizen responses (figure 2).

Figure 2. LDF Citizen Input Application pilot results. In Baganur, the application collected over 6,000 citizen votes, compared to just 2,333 for the paper-based questionnaire.

Baganuur district, where all five khoroos participated in the pilot, used both the paper-based LDF questionnaire and the mobile app to collect citizen input. “Although the paper-based questionnaire received 2,333 responses this year, the application collected 6,019 responses,” said Ms. L. Ariunjargal, Baganuur’s planning and LDF specialist.

“The mobile application improves citizen participation in the LDF,” says Ulaanbaatar’s policy and planning officer, Ms. G. Erdenechimeg. “It’s easy to use and gives us real-time responses from citizens throughout Ulaanbaatar.”

The encouraging pilot results suggest that the political and fiscal accountability of the LDF process in Mongolia can be substantially improved. If effectively used, the Citizen Input Application can streamline the LDF process and improve its transparency, with the promise of tangible benefits for government, civil society, and, most importantly, the urban residents of Ulaanbaatar.

Philippe Long is a program manager in The Asia Foundation’s Urban Governance Program in Mongolia. He can be reached at philippe.long@asiafoundation.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and not those of The Asia Foundation.

No Silver Bullet for Women Entrepreneurs

Women’s entrepreneurship is a top regional concern in Asia, where women own more than half of the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in some countries. Even where women are starting businesses at relatively high rates, however, their profits and growth are constrained relative to their male counterparts. In Cambodia, for example, less than 1 percent of businesses with more than 10 employees are owned by women, and women’s entrepreneurship rates in South Asia are among the lowest in the world, with less than one in 10 SMEs owned by women. What explains this persistent gender gap in entrepreneurship across the region, how can it be overcome, and does it matter?

First, it absolutely does matter. Asia and the Pacific stand to gain 70 percent in per capita income within roughly two generations by eliminating gender disparities in employment, including in the area of entrepreneurship. Increasing women’s entrepreneurship is good for national banks and citizens’ wallets alike.

But when it comes to how, the answer isn’t so simple. When researchers in the 1980s first began studying women’s entrepreneurship, their analyses hinged on comparisons between the individual characteristics of male and female entrepreneurs, attributes such as age, education, and attitudes that were assumed to explain why men appeared to be “naturally” more entrepreneurial than women and thus more successful in business. These studies were later criticized for committing the “individualistic fallacy,” assuming that individual outcomes are solely the result of individual characteristics while overlooking factors in the environment. More recent research has adopted the concept of an “entrepreneurial ecosystem,” which is the social and economic environment that fosters or frustrates entrepreneurial activity. The picture of women’s entrepreneurship shifts dramatically when socioeconomic factors like legal rights, access to education, national family-leave policies, and cultural and religious norms enter the equation. From this angle, the central question pivots from “what’s wrong with women” to “what’s wrong with the system?”

A growing body of research is now exposing how gender inequality is a ubiquitous feature of entrepreneurial ecosystems around the world. This is certainly the case across Asia, where women entrepreneurs in every country face multiple—and often very different—layers of gender-based barriers to starting and growing their own businesses. In a new report, Emerging Lessons on Women’s Entrepreneurship in Asia and the Pacific, the Asian Development Bank and The Asia Foundation examine the growing body of data and information to better guide governments, investors, NGOs, donors, and development partners to effectively support women’s entrepreneurship. It concludes by proposing eight areas for further research on women’s entrepreneurship.

Some of the challenges highlighted in the report, such as access to credit, seem almost universal, with women in virtually every country citing lack of financing as a key barrier to their success. But the remedies required are far from universal. A woman in the Pacific Islands may need to travel over a day to reach the nearest bank, while an aspiring female entrepreneur in Pakistan cannot apply for a loan without listing her father or husband’s name in the presence of a witness. Dramatically expanding mobile banking could be a game changer for women’s access to credit in the Pacific Islands, but it would have little effect on women’s entrepreneurship in Pakistan.

Though women comprise just under half of the total population in Bangladesh, their participation in the formal labor market lags far behind that of men, and the rates of business ownership by women are even lower. Photo/Geoffrey Hiller

This example illustrates a central argument of the report: to close the gender gap and open the door for significantly more women to pursue entrepreneurial ventures, we must better understand the diverse ecosystems in which they work. No single fix will erase the entrenched and often unconscious systems of gender bias across all of Asia—rather, there must be many fixes, tailored to the specific conditions that prevail in each country and each region. To achieve the nuanced understanding of these conditions that will lead to effective solutions, we need more data—data that is both sex-disaggregated and gender-sensitive.

Large global data sets now feature sex-disaggregated data, including Global Findex; Women, Business, and the Law; the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor; the Female Entrepreneurship Index; and the Global Women Entrepreneur Leaders Scorecard. These resources are helpful at a macro level, but more detailed data would give policymakers and practitioners more insight into the local contexts affecting women entrepreneurs. At a very micro level, for example, mixed-gender business associations in Cambodia have no data on women’s membership, which has contributed to a dearth of programs that respond to women’s priorities. At a larger scale, some central banks in the region have started to track, analyze, and publish data on entrepreneurship lending trends, reporting the numbers of men and women who access which financial products and in which industries.

Perhaps more importantly, increased availability of sex-disaggregated data is enabling the development of targets that can push existing boundaries toward necessary reforms. The Bangladesh Bank, for example, now requires all financial institutions to allot 15 percent of their funds to women entrepreneurs and report on their progress toward that goal. Regardless of their size and reach, institutions and programs promoting entrepreneurship, market access, and financial inclusion should automatically track, analyze, and report how their efforts are (or aren’t) serving the different needs of their male and female clients and members.

Women's Business Center in Mongolia

Women entrepreneurs receive training at the new Women’s Business Center. In the first two months of operation, a total of 721 services were provided.

While sex-disaggregated data will help improve how entrepreneurial ecosystems are evaluated, we still need more sophisticated methodologies for determining what to measure. At a very basic level, definitional challenges complicate our ability to even count the number of women entrepreneurs. The new report notes at the outset that there is no universally accepted definition of a “woman-owned” or “woman-led” business, much less a “woman entrepreneur.” Definitions matter when we’re trying to piece together such puzzles as why women tend to own smaller businesses. Is it because they actively choose slower growth, for example, or could it be that growth is typically accompanied by a loss of control to males, so that women’s businesses that do grow successfully get counted as men’s businesses?

Asia Foundation case studies from Mongolia and China, recounted in the report, also illustrate the current inadequacy of measures such as “success” and “empowerment” in the field of women’s entrepreneurship. Both studies demonstrate that business incubator services and networks can help women start their own enterprises. But even those women who didn’t start or grow a business as a result of the trainings often reported increased influence over household decision-making, improved social status, and higher self-esteem as a result of their participation. Developing more gender-sensitive indicators of success that extend beyond strict financial measures to capture the full impact of entrepreneurship on women’s lives will help ensure that we fully value and invest in policies and initiatives to create a holistic enabling environment in which women can turn their great ideas into successful businesses.

Kate Francis is coauthor of Emerging Lessons on Women’s Entrepreneurship in Asia and the Pacific and specializes in women’s empowerment, child protection, and business and human rights. She can be reached at kate.francis@asiafoundation.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author, not those of The Asia Foundation.

Internet Inaccessibility Plagues “Social Media Capital of the World”

The Philippines has been called the social media capital of the world, as millions of Filipinos spend an average of almost four hours a day on social media sites, particularly Facebook, the highest social media use in the world. Filipinos are known to be early technology adopters and are internet savvy, especially when it comes to communicating online. Yet the country still lags behind its ASEAN neighbors and the rest of the world in terms of internet speed, cost, and accessibility. One reason for this lagging performance is the nation’s geography, an archipelago of 7,107 islands that poses a challenge for basic connectivity. But a new report from The Asia Foundation has found that outdated laws and policies have blocked the deployment of technologies that could bring the Philippines fully into the digital age.

According to the international wireless analyst OpenSignal, the Philippines’ 4G speed is the fourth slowest among 88 countries. Fixed broadband service costs 7.1 percent of Filipinos’ average monthly income, well above the 5 percent recommended by the International Telecommunications Union. While the densely populated urban areas have internet service, many poor, rural areas remain un- or underserved. Forty-five percent of the population of 103 million, and 74 percent of all public schools nationwide, are unconnected to the internet.

The internet is widely recognized as a key driver of economic growth and equal access to information, opportunities the Philippines is missing out on. SMEs cannot take full advantage of e-commerce, and BPOs—business process outsourcing companies—which generate local employment, also suffer from slow internet speeds.

There are promising technologies currently being tested and used in other countries that could significantly improve internet connectivity in the Philippines. On October 18, The Asia Foundation and the Better Broadband Alliance (BBA) released a new report, From Analog to Digital: Philippine Policy and Emerging internet Technologies, which assesses the feasibility of these new technologies in the Philippine policy context. Based on the assessment, three technologies seem appropriate for the Philippines:

1. Fiber to the premises with gigabit passive optical network (GPON). Already available in parts of the Philippines, GPON technology allows for inexpensive, high-speed fiber-optic connections directly to the end user, at a cost the report found could be cheaper than current telco offerings. GPON is the simplest and most cost-effective wired technology available for providing broadband services in densely populated areas.

2. Fixed mobile substitution with 5G. Enthusiastically supported by equipment vendors, network operators, and device manufacturers, 5G is a new mobile standard that could substitute for fixed connections to deliver high-speed internet access. The report notes, however, that 5G will require new radio spectrum and high-speed fiber to cell towers to meet faster speed requirements.

3. Low earth orbit satellite networks (LEO). Orbiting at just 400–900 kilometers above the earth, LEO satellites promise low latency, and LEO networks are the only satellite systems that provide complete coverage of the earth, including the north and south poles, making them a key area of innovation for achieving universal access.

These promising technologies are all being tested or deployed in other countries, but according to the report, they cannot easily penetrate the Philippines, due to analog-era laws and policies that are ill suited to the digital age.

Roadwork in the Philippines, with a sign reading "Slow down deep excavation"


Under the Public Telecommunications Policy Act of 1995, only a public telco with a congressional franchise and authority from the National Telecommunications Commission can build transmission and switching facilities, offer local landline service, or operate interexchange backbone service or an international gateway facility. Entities that wish to operate an international gateway or a mobile network are required to roll out local exchange services or landlines. This technology-centric policy has hampered competition in traditional telecom services and effectively bars new players such as internet service providers from building new, data-only networks, even in areas where the large telcos won’t go.

The Radio Control Law of 1931 requires a legislative franchise to build or operate a radio station, which has been interpreted to mean that only 60 percent Filipino-owned companies can use the radio spectrum. This law is still used to govern wireless internet technologies. It needs to be amended to allow value-added services such as internet service providers to deploy emerging wireless technologies without the need for a franchise.

The Public Service Act of 1936 provides that telcos be regulated as public utilities, which restricts foreign ownership to 40 percent. Amending the Act to loosen the restrictions on who can operate a network and allow foreign-owned companies to enter the market would spur investment and help expand both fixed and wired broadband services.

Considering the mismatch of analog-era policies and digital technologies, the report suggests reforms to allow providers to deploy the most appropriate technologies to improve internet connection in the Philippines. Recommendations include:

1. Amend the Public Telecommunications Policy Act of 1995 to remove landline installation as a requirement for entry into the telecommunications and broadband markets.

2. Amend the Public Service Act of 1936 to relax foreign ownership limits and encourage investment and competition by both domestic and foreign operators.

3. Pass the Open Access in Data Transmission bill to distinguish data-only services from basic telecommunications and remove the landline requirement, lowering regulatory barriers to entry; reform spectrum management; and establish rules for sharing infrastructure.

If these reforms are realized, the Philippines can finally join the rest of the modern world in the digital age.

From Analog to Digital: Philippine Policy and Emerging Internet Technologies was funded by Google.

Mari Chrys Pablo is senior program officer for economic reform and development entrepreneurship with The Asia Foundation in the Philippines. She can be reached at marichrys.pablo@asiafoundation.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and not those of The Asia Foundation.

Dismantling Pakistan’s Tribal Areas

On May 31, 2018, Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA, formally ceased to exist. Home to five million people, and covering more than 27,000 square kilometers, these seven tribal districts have attracted enormous international attention in the last two decades due to their shared border with war-torn Afghanistan. The government of Pakistan has now brought an end to FATA’s century-old special status by merging the tribal agencies with the neighboring province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).

Prior to the merger with KP, FATA was governed by a special set of laws known as the Frontier Crimes Regulations, enacted in 1901 by the British Empire to confront Pashtun insurgents. Poor governance and decades of warfare in neighboring Afghanistan had rendered the region vulnerable to continuing insurgency and deprivation. This in turn had a spillover effect on health, education, and livelihoods and caused the dislocation of a substantial portion of the tribal population to other parts of the country. UNDP’s 2017 Human Development Report ranked FATA lowest in the country on its human development index (HDI). The merger of FATA with Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa represents an opportunity and a new hope for peace and prosperity.

Photo/FATA Development Authority

But there is still a long way to go.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan and the Peshawar High Court have extended their jurisdictions to the tribal districts, and a roadmap has been developed to construct courthouses and set up district and session courts, but persistent insecurity in the area will make this a challenging task. There is a sobering lesson to be drawn from the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas in KP province, where nonstate actors capitalized on the grievances of citizens who suffered delays in the legal system to introduce their own, competing system of justice.

Photo/FATA Development Authority

The other unresolved issue is the old policing system in FATA. The seven tribal agencies had a different policing system, run by the chief administrator—a representative of the president of Pakistan—and deferential to local Maliks (notables). There is an ongoing debate in KP: should the FATA police (known as Khasadars and Levies) be under the command of the Central Police Office in Peshawar, or should they operate directly from the provincial Home Department? The merger of Baluchistan Levies with the provincial police force cost the national exchequer billions of rupees with no tangible results on the ground, and as we know from bitter experience there, the merger of tribal police must be conducted tactfully, and an efficient criminal justice system must be established to gain the public trust. The KP government will also need to critically assess the strategic framework developed for the police in 2014 and evaluate the performance of the Central Police Office in Peshawar over the past five years in order to chalk out areas where improvement is needed.

Restoration of peace and the establishment of durable political structures are critical for governance and rule of law to be productive. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is committed to elections in 23 newly created constituencies in the region by July 2019, and the KP government plans to extend the provincial Local Government Regulations to tribal districts and conduct elections by May 2019, but the Election Commission has not yet begun to delimit the new constituencies. Moreover, there are approximately 338,000 temporarily dislocated persons from FATA, without whose participation the election of 23 provincial assemblies and local bodies cannot truly represent public aspirations in the region.

Representative political structures will enable the provincial government to pursue socioeconomic development in the region. Islamabad has adopted a 10-year plan to develop major infrastructure, establish industrial zones, set up modern urban hubs in all tribal districts, establish universities and medical colleges, develop the mineral and agriculture sectors, create job opportunities for youth, and most importantly, rehabilitate dislocated persons. The 10-year development plan will spend 30 percent of allocated funds on efforts to counter radicalization and transform local communities, and bringing local bodies on board at the grassroots level will be of critical importance.

Two major challenges are going to confront the implementation of the 10-year development plan.

First, the KP government has no binding agreement with the federal government or other provincial governments for the allocation of funding from the National Finance Commission. This apparently glaring omission reflects the continuing political dynamic among Pakistan’s provinces, which will be called upon to sacrifice a portion of their shares of federal revenue, and the eventual outcome has yet to be determined.

Second, transparent and accountable administration will be of critical importance. The KP government will need to assess the performance of its Civil Secretariat, especially in the northern and southern districts of the province, which are demographically similar to the tribal districts, and which have a history of heavy-handed misrule by public sector agencies. The northern districts of KP—Shangla, Kohistan, Torghar, and Upper Dir—currently have the lowest HDI ranking in the province, as highlighted in the UNDP’s 2017 Human Development Report.

Photo/FATA Development Authority

Finally, it will be crucial to avoid overlapping roles and responsibilities among institutions. Currently, FATA affairs are run by three agencies—the FATA Disaster Management Authority, the FATA Secretariat, and the FATA Development Authority. Administration of the region could be managed efficiently through a single agency, whose institutional capacity could be enhanced to promote speedy development, effective coordination, and better fiscal management. For maximum accountability and transparency, yearly third-party evaluations would be an essential tool, and a strict, merit-based system for the hiring and promoting of officials will also be a prerequisite.

Meanwhile, the merger of FATA with KP and the successful implementation of the 10-year development plan will depend on the security situation. Continued volatility and insecurity will make it extremely difficult for provincial government to achieve tangible results on the ground. The Pakistan Army’s role in de-escalating security threats will therefore be significant—and delicate, due to the long history of military conflict in the region.

The current scenario offers a moment of hope to the tribal population that a century of insurgency will at last be put to rest, and that the legacy of underdevelopment and deprivation will yield to effective programs and policies under the 10-year development plan. For this change to occur, the government of Pakistan needs to take a holistic approach to longstanding structural problems and provide an environment that is conducive to the participation of all stakeholders. A good start would be to establish durable political structures in all seven tribal districts to allow them to begin to shape their own socioeconomic and political destiny.

An earlier version of this article originally appeared in Hilal Magazine.

Farid Alam is director of programs for The Asia Foundation in Pakistan. He can be reached at farid.alam@asiafoundation.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author, not those of the Asia Foundation.