FATA reforms and its destiny

Rafi-ud-din Mehsud

Federally Administrative Tribal Areas (FATA) has been ruled by the British implemented law, the Frontier Crime Regulation (FCR) act for the last one century. The FCR was enacted in some parts of the then Northwest Frontier Province (now Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa), Balochistan, and FATA by the British Raj in 1901 for their own protection. In 1947, when Pakistan came on the world map, the FCR was a great challenge for the then Pakistani government. In the constitutions of 1956 and 1973, the FCR was removed from parts of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. The people of FATA, however, are still subjected to this draconian law. The FCR is a complete violation of universal human rights and contradicts the Constitution of 1973. The people of the area raised even their voices against the black law but to no avail. In the past, several committees were formed to make some reforms in FCR, but all of them failed in bringing any possible reforms.
Last year, the parliamentarians from FATA submitted a bill to the National Assembly, demanding the merging of FATA with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and the extension of the jurisdiction of courts to the area. In this regard, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif formed a five-member committee to finalise reforms in the tribal areas, on 8 November 2016. The committee, under the supervision of the advisor to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz, presented the FATA Reforms Report to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the National Assembly.
The committee finally came up with a comprehensive report, which was submitted to Prime Minister and also in the National Assembly for discussion. The committee report consists of some practical recommendations and proposals. The most important one was to merge FATA with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa within a transition period of ten years. Merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was also the demand of the majority of parliamentarians from FATA. However, the ten years period is too long and can have adverse effects on the implantation of the proposed bill. Reforms in FATA and merging with KP were a timeworn ambition of the people of the area. It is an excellent opportunity for both government and tribal people to avail this opportunity as soon as possible.
However, there are some political parties and their leaders including the JUI-F and PkMAP, who have rejected the report of the committee and demanded a referendum in the tribal areas. Both these parties and their leaders call themselves the true representatives of Pashtuns. But they still are opposing the reforms in FATA. I think in the current circumstances, the referendum is wastage of time and money. This is because half of the population of FATA is living outside FATA in IDP camps in different parts of the country. Secondly, more than 20 percent of the population has been living outside the country that has left for earning bread for their families. In the absence of half of the people of the area, a referendum is meaningless and a wastage of time. The leadership of PkMAP and JUI-F need to set aside personal agendas and support the FATA-KP merger.
Whatever are the demands of the political parties and the local people, the government should take these necessary steps before the implementation of any reforms in the tribal areas.
Firstly, without taking women onboard, all reforms and changes will be meaningless. The opinion of people should be listened to, instead of discussions with few pro-governments bureaucrats.
Secondly, without the presence of the local population in the areas, any reforms are a wastage of time. To make the reforms practicable, all the IDPs should return before the implementation of any reforms.
The government should make all possible efforts to provide the necessary facilities to the returning people including health, education and other necessities.
Thirdly, agenda should be prepared for the local body elections, and steps should be taken so that in the upcoming 2018 general elections the local people are able to elect their representatives for the KP assembly.
Fourthly, there is no need to replace the FCR with Rivaj act because the conservative nature of Pashtun society will misuse the act and there is a possibility of violations of basic human rights. A complete abolishment of FCR and direct extension of the jurisdiction of courts and constitution will be easier and a better option. All administrative machinery should be from FATA because the local people are well aware of the local customs and tradition.
Fifthly, change in the status of Fata will affect relations with Afghanistan, and in this regard, there should be a better border management with Afghanistan, especially due to the presence of the majority of the Pashtuns on both sides of the frontier.
Last but not the least, FATA should be included in the CPEC project so that the people of FATA will get the same benefits from the project as the rest of the country.
FATA reforms committee report was already presented in the National Assembly and Senate with the hope that very soon it will be passed by both houses. It is the dire need of the time that government should go ahead and get the bill passed by both houses without any further delay.


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