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Children of the FATA: Heirs of Colonial Legacy

AngelinaThe on-going suffering of the people of FATA seems never ending. The injustice and discriminatory ill-treatment served upon these people by past and present governments, religious militants along with the actions of military authorities of Pakistan have led to a relentless onslaught of misery, hardship and impoverished living conditions in this region. Continued imposition of a set of draconian laws designed by British colonial administrations, in place since 1901, not only serve to keep the region locked in a time warp, but deny the people of FATA equal citizenship in effect. Extreme poverty, poor infrastructure, high illiteracy, unemployment, lack of education and health facilities, underpin the economically under-developed region as well as marginalize and reduce its people to near destitution. The geographic location of the FATA, considered significant from a strategic standpoint along with continued implementation of the arbitrary draconian regulations known as the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) have been the root cause of untold miseries in the FATA.

The colonial encounter with the FATA is traced back to 1849 when the Punjab was formally annexed by the British administration. The aggressive policy known as ‘forward policy’ was introduced due to fears of Russian expansion in Central Asia, and ‘their rapid advancement towards Afghanistan’ (Shah, 2012:4). In order to hermetically validate their empire, the British colonizers created the geographical border known as the Durand Line in 1893, which arbitrarily divided the Pashtun community, leaving some in Afghanistan and some in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (known as ‘North West Frontier Province’ at that time). The FATA, as a result, assumed the status of ‘buffer zone’ between Afghanistan and British India and has since been maintained as such by subsequent actors and governments.

In an attempt to formulate laws befitting what they understood to be analogous with Pashtun tradition and social organization, the British conjured and established a set of laws (FCR) which enforced the authority of a political agent and their assistant arbitrators, and middlemen, the local chiefs (Maliks). The Maliks act as intermediaries between tribes and authorities in order to administer government policy. ‘The political officer was essentially the go-between of his day, functioning as a conduit for the two-way flow of information between the government and the inhabitants of the tribal areas.’ (Tripodi,2008:126).

Shah states ‘the political agents are given huge funds, not auditable since colonial days, to use at his own discretion, and a major share of these funds go to the tribal Maliks. The leading Maliks were selected by him (PA) and graded according to the importance of their tribe(Shah, 2012:3).

In addition to the FCR regulations, article 247 of the constitution poses a major stumbling block as it places a bar on parliamentarians to legislate for the tribal areas of Pakistan, therefore none of the Acts of Parliament are enforcible in the FATA.
see  http://fatareforms.org/2014/05/07/article-247/

Furthermore, the colonial legislation, which is inherently oppressive, cultivates the continuation of human rights violations in many areas. ‘After the departure of the British from South Asia, (1947), the Pakistan government endorsed all old treaties and pacts signed with the tribesmen and ensured they should enjoy the same facilities granted to them by the British authorities’ (Shah, 2012:3).

Moving forward to the 1980′s, the FATA witnessed the rise of militancy when it was ‘used as a base from which to wage the mujahideen war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan’ (Ijaz Khan:2014). The withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan (1989) witnessed the launch of the Taliban regime (1996), eventually overthrown by American and NATO troops in the wake of 9/11 attacks. It is widely known that as a result, many members of the Taliban absconded and relocated to the tribal areas of Pakistan from where they continued to plot and launch attacks. Furthermore, Ijaz Khan states: ‘any agreements reached between religious militants /insurgents and the Pakistani government have failed, resulting in the expansion of the militants’ territorial control. There has thus emerged a continuous pattern of state erosion and growing militant influence spreading out of the Fata into the settled districts of KPK’ (Ijaz Khan: 2014).

The June 2014 ‘Zarb-e-Azb’ operation by the Pakistani military/government was launched in an effort to flush out all foreign and local militant groups hiding in North Waziristan. The campaign furthermore received widespread support from the US as well as the Pakistani political, defence and civilian sectors. However, it was the tribal people who paid the price, some with their lives, which involved the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of families from their homes at short notice, additionally forced to endure and suffer diabolical conditions at ‘displaced peoples’ camps, while others fared better in finding temporary accommodation provided by Pashtun families in the settled areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

After many months, the long awaited government (military) announcement (March 2015) arrived stating the ‘successful’ operation was complete, and displaced people could now return safely to their homes. However, much to the horror of the people of Waziristan, the return home for these long suffering people would come with a harsh price tag: permission to repatriate would depend upon the signing of a ‘social agreement.’ This despicable precondition can only be described as blackmail styled tactics and a further attempt by the Pakistani authorities to keep the tribal people in a constant state of oppression, through the reinforcement of a severe colonial law system which in effect condemns the people to a life of misery with little rights and zero autonomy.

The social agreement calls for the residents to swear loyalty to the Frontier Crimes Regulation, thus barring them from ever being able to object to an unjust colonial law that denies them full citizenship. Further, the agreement stipulates harsh collective punishments for entire tribes in case of infringement of the agreement by individuals members’ (Aasim Sajjad Akhtar, AWP Statement: 2015). Another ludicrous stipulation is that the tribes are “collectively and individually” responsible for any breach of peace emanating from the return of militancy. The agreement, therefore, puts the onus of securing North Waziristan on the tribal people, absolving the state of responsibility.(Ibid).

Is it not the duty of State to provide safety and security to its citizens? Being allowed to return to their homes on the condition that they fight militants and maintain the peace is senseless, as the agreement also states that the people must give up the arms they will need for defending themselves against the Taliban. This mind-boggling idea and approach by the government (military) not only demonstrates failure to protect or even show any semblance of concern for citizens, but furthermore proves the incompetence of the government in finding solutions to this ongoing detrimental and life-threatening situation in the FATA. The (supposed) clearance of militants from the tribal areas would have been the ideal opportunity for the government to implement reforms and abolish the FCR for once and for all, but alas, once more, another opportunity has slipped away, I would dare to say not unwittingly!
Watch; http://fatareforms.org/2015/03/31/struggle-for-equal-rights-in-fata-video/

Works cited:
Aasim Sajjad Akhtar, AWP Statement: 2015
Christian Tripodi. ‘Peacemaking through bribes or cultural empathy? The political officer and Britain’s strategy towards the North-West Frontier, 1901-1945,’ Journal of Strategic Studies,2008.
Ijaz Khan. ‘Challenges facing development in Pakistan tribal areas ‘
Syed Wiqar Ali Shah, ‘Political Reforms in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan (FATA): Will it End the Current Militancy? Heidelberg Papers in Sount Asian and Comparative Politics, 2012.

Writer: Angelina Merisi

The writer hails from Ireland. She is part of the Pashtuns Times News Network. She is a PhD scholar at the University College Cork, Ireland. Her current research is focused on Islam and Pashtun male migrants in Ireland, masculinity and honour concepts. She can be reached at



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