News & Views
LAST month, the committee formed to decide the fate of the tribal areas concluded that option to merge the region with Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is the only viable route to mainstream the areas. A five-year plan has been devised for this purpose. The 51-page report of the FATA committee, submitted to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, reads that without reforms, the Army may have to stay in FATA for an indefinite period, thus affecting strategic military balance on the Eastern front. The report stated: “A security vacuum after Pakistan Army’s withdrawal would create more space for terrorists and undesirable elements.” It was proposed that in order to sustain the successes achieved by the military, law enforcement agencies and political administrations, legal and security reforms are essential. Importantly, it was recommended that the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and the high court be extended to the tribal areas by amending Article 247 and other relevant laws.
The nation has been listening to the rhetoric about reforms for the tribal areas, but without any progress. There are 19 elected representatives from FATA who have been demanding that fundamental rights of the residents should be guaranteed. Unfortunately, even the amendments to Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) made in 2011 have not been implemented. The FCRs were remnants of British Raj framed in 1890 by which the tribal areas were administered through political agents. Under this system, if an individual of a tribe commits a crime, the entire tribe is penalized, which negates the very concept of justice. Apart from judicial reforms, it is imperative to introduce political reforms in tribal areas, as the people of the tribal areas are very much citizens of Pakistan. And under the Constitution they are entitled to the same rights and privileges enjoyed by the people living in other parts of the country.
If political reforms are introduced to bring tribal areas in the mainstream politics, political parties could reach the voters, circulate their manifestos and create political awareness among the residents. The political leaders of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) were allowed to join political parties with the extension of political parties order in 2011 for the first time in its history. Had they been part of mainstream politics, it would not have been possible for the extremists’ outfits to aid or abet foreign militants to create problems for Pakistan. Of Course, development in FATA should be undertaken on war footing. The US had taken the responsibility to set up industrial units in FATA and earthquake-hit areas of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa as part of Reconstruction Opportunity Zones. But, the project was abandoned by the US, as after withdrawal of US and NATO forces it has lost interest in the project.
Anyhow, it is the responsibility of the federal government to take substantive initiatives to expedite the development of the region, which will provide job opportunities to the people of the area. Minister for States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) Lt. General (R) Abdul Qadir Baloch said FATA Reforms Committee recommended enforcement of Rewaj Act by abolishing colonial era black law FCR and merging of tribal areas with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in next five years. He said the committee also recommended holding of local government elections in 2017 and repatriation of internally displaced peoples (IDPs) to their by December 2016. Speaking in the National Assembly on the recommendations given by FATA Reforms Committee, the minister said hefty amount of Rs 500 billion would be spent on the development of Federal Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA) in next five years before its merger with KP.
Century old black law FCR was being repealed by introducing new law which would be in accordance with tribal traditions, customs and culture. The government vows to bring FATA at par with other provinces. He said the committee proposed four basic options for reforms: a) maintain status quo but introduce judicial/administrative reforms and increase focus on development activities, b) create FATA council on the pattern of Gilgit-Baltistan, c) create a separate province of FATA, or d) integrate FATA with KP. Reportedly, majority is of the view that FATA should be merged with KP; reconstruct the destroyed infrastructure and extend writ of the high court and the apex court. The 10-year development program would include major infrastructure and irrigation projects, mineral development program and integrated plans for health, education including establishment of university, medical and engineering colleges, vocational training and industrial zones with special incentives.
Last month, Advisor to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz had made public the recommendations aimed at bringing FATA into the mainstream to end poverty, and focus on its development to make up for years of neglect. In his capacity as Chairperson of the FATA Reforms Committee had told reporters at a press conference at the Foreign Office that the region faced Pakistan’s highest rate of endemic poverty and lowest development indicators. Anyhow, people and lawmakers of FATA vociferously demand merger of their territory with KP. In April 2016, FATA Lawyers Forum President Rahim Shah while addressing a press conference organized by ‘Centre for Governance and Public Accountability (CGPA)’ demanded of the parliamentarians to pass the 22nd amendment to the Constitution to make FATA part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In principle, government is inclined to accept their demand.
Reportedly, the government is drafting the bill that seeks to repeal the infamous Frontier Crimes Regulations, and extend the jurisdiction of Peshawar High Court to Federally Administered Tribal Areas, which will be welcome by the people of tribal areas. But judicial reforms would not be enough, and FATA should be brought in the political mainstream at an early date. When elected representative of FATA demand merger with KP, and KP is willing to take FATA in its fold, there is no reason to examine the other recommendations given in the report. Secondly, if option of creating separate province of FATA is considered, it will open the Pandora box, and people of Hazara and Karachi would also demand separate provinces. Thirdly, KPK and Sindh would not pass resolutions for a separate province, which is prerequisite to create new provinces.
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.