This blog was contributed by Inam Ullah and Saddam Hussein, research associates, CRSS.
The government of Pakistan, on Thursday, finally approved the much awaited recommendations presented by the PM constituted reforms committee to mainstream the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The recommendations propose necessary constitutional amendments be made that will qualify the people of FATA to elect their representatives to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly for 2018 general elections and will gradually be integrated with the province over a period of five years. Moreover, the widely contested and criticized Frontier Crimes Regulations 1901(FCR) will be abolished and replaced with new ‘Tribal Areas Rewaj Act (TARA)’ (Traditional Code of Conduct).
The news generated mixed reactions throughout the country, especially on the social media. Some people termed the move as historic one, which will see the end of FCR, whereas other argued that Acts such as the Tribal Areas Riwaj Act had no place in modern democratic values of the 21st century. The legislative process required for the much-awaited FATA reforms may have been instigated, but senior civil and military officials believe that the most challenging phase will be execution of these reforms.
The tribal areas of Pakistan have always remained synonymous with terms such as the Wild West, lawless region, the most dangerous place of the world and a poorly governed area of the state. The people of FATA have been deprived of their basic human rights for decades including the freedom of expression and the right to seek justice. Also, FATA has been governed under draconian law of Frontier Crime Regulations (FCR) – originally a British colonial law enacted in 1901, as a response to the rigidness of Pashtun tribes, on the now Afghanistan Pakistan border, against British raj in tribal regions.
Through FCR, the British Raj utilized patronage politics by planting political agents (an officer of the imperial civil administration, as opposed to the military administration, usually operating outside imperial territory) in the region to ensure economic and political interests of British rule. The same regulation in its original form was adopted by dominion of Pakistan. After the constitutional reforms in 1973, FATA was brought under the control of the president order. The constitution of Pakistan empowers president to deal with the issues of FATA. No successive government has ever made any serious attempt to change the destiny of the unfortunate tribesmen after that, though President Zardari, during his Pakistan Peoples Party’s reign, initiated some change through the Political Parties Act in 2011. These changes, again, were not enough to give the people of FATA equal rights of citizenry and access to justice.
The process of reforms in FATA started when twenty legislators from FATA in the federal parliament, twelve in National Assembly and eight in Senate submitted a draft to National Assembly’s secretariat on September 2015, seeking integration of FATA with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. This was a first ever move which sought constitutional amendments for FATA through parliament. This draft was backed by student movements and Pashtun nationalist parties, coupled with the social media, which finally put enough pressure on the Nawaz led PML government to constitute a committee for introducing reforms in FATA.
Civil society organizations have also played an instrumental role in bringing education and awareness about the FCR to the tribal people and providing several forums for discussions on the subject. Consequently, a number of critical debates were also arranged throughout the country discussing and criticisng the political status of FATA. The FATA Lawyers Forum (FLF) remained the main stakeholder during the whole process that prepared the initial draft of reforms for their law makers. Even last year, they took the oath of its new cabinet at the hands of their own FATA law makers instead of KP governor so as to express trust and pride in their own parliamentarians.
Although internal displacement in FATA, resulting from the ongoing military operations, has caused a lot of suffering to the tribal people, it also had some positive impacts on their lives as well. During displacement, they interacted within diverse environments, observed and experienced facilities at urban centers, got familiar with the rule of law, availed the facility of education and were exposed to the mainstream media. They have often protested against FCR in urban centers such as DI Khan, Peshawar and Bannu, which might not have been possible and effective in their own tribal areas.
These protests and movements gained momentum and different debates were triggered on the subject. The Government in response, established a committee headed by Sartaj Aziz, advisor to the Prime Minster of Pakistan on foreign affairs. This committee made consultations with stakeholders including FATA parliamentary members, Maliks (Tribal leaders), Pashtun elders and representatives of political parties, traders, journalists, youth and civil society organizations. These consultant finally resulted in four possible solutions or recommendations to bring FATA into the mainstream. These solutions included; 1. Maintaining status quo, but introducing judicial/administrative reforms and increasing focus on development activities, 2. Creating FATA Council on the pattern of Gilgit-Baltistan, 3. Creating a separate Province of FATA, and 4. Integrating FATA with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, while each Agency will become a separate district and FRs (Frontier Regions) will be integrated with the respective districts.
The committee recommended that the “Integration of FATA with KP” was a highly desirable option among major stakeholders for having far greater benefits and fewer disadvantages. The tribes were not in favor of having a separate province for FATA as their economic and cultural links were deeply integrated with the adjoining districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Moreover, the vertical links between Agencies in FATA were non-existent. Furthermore, if FATA was to be become a separate province, it would not be able to generate the required resources for meeting minimum requirements.
The prevailing situation and public opinion about the issue is in favor of integration. The leaders of all the major political parties agree to the proposed merger of Fata in KP, except Moulana Fazal-u-Rehman and Mehmood Khan Achakzai who are opposing this option. Surprisingly, Achakzai, who is considered the so-called ‘champion of greater unity of Pukhtuns’ is opposing the unity of Pukhtun tribes. The case of Moulana Fazal-u-Rehman is also confusing; his demands in this regard are supporting the delay of the process of reform as a conventional approach of Pakistani establishment.
After months of efforts and struggles, the people of FATA and the civil society have successfully achieved the mainstreaming of FATA. Having said that, the process would take at least five years, and thus only time will tell whether the government in Islamabad stands firm in its promise and commitment towards the FATA reforms. Therefore, the current and following governments should now be given proper time and opportunity to implement these reforms, and the institutions should be allowed to evolve over time for the sustainable economic and human development in long-ignored tribal areas of Pakistan.