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The FATA status quo

Afrasiab KhattakYet another report on FATA reform has appeared and religiously repeating the past practice once more, the state has “delayed” it’s implementation for “further discussions” on the report. This decision was taken by a high level meeting convened by the Prime Minister on August 24 in Islamabad to consider the implementation of NAP. It is pertinent to note that the report itself suggests a five-year transition for bringing about the constitutional, legal and administrative transformations in FATA but even then the federal government refrained from starting that protracted time line now. Since 1976 when a committee appointed by the then PM Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto came out with suggestions for reforms in FATA a plethora of reports have been published during the last four decades by successive governments only to be subsequently buried in the files of the President House in Islamabad. Mainstreaming FATA was one of the most important points in the 20 points of NAP approved by an All Parties Conference on December 24, 2014. But like most of other points in NAP the government wasn’t doing anything about the point on the FATA reforms. However the situation dramatically changed in September 2015 when for the first time in Pakistan’s history, 19 FATA parliamentarians brought a bill in the Parliament to amend Article 247 of the Constitution for merging the area inhabited by tribal Pashtuns into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and expanding the jurisdiction of judiciary to the area. Shocked by the bold initiative of FATA parliamentarians the federal government decided to create a reform committee for taking matters in its own hands. Ironically the so-called reform committee didn’t have any representation of tribal Pashtuns in it. But again it is not that ironical if we see it like so many other things this exclusion is also continuation of the colonial tradition. Be that as it may, it would be instructive to have a cursory glance over the contents of present report before discussing the purpose of the status quo in FATA.

The broad thrust of the 49 pages report is to maintain the status quo under new nomenclature. For example the report suggests keepingtwo fundamental characteristics of the Colonial structure. One, the notorious Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) is to be retained after some cosmetic changes under a new name, the FATA Good Governance Regulation/Act 2016. Interestingly FATA Political Parties Alliance that also includes PML (n) calls FCR a draconian law and recommends its abolition but the ruling party is more inclined to accept the diktat of the ruling establishment rather than fulfilling its democratic commitment. Two, the report also refuses to transfer the legislative and governance powers from the Presidency to the elected parliament. The absurdity of this arrangement has acquired scandalous proportions after the 18th Constitutional Amendment under which the President is a mere symbolic head of state and is bound by the advice of the Prime Minister in every thing else. But in the case of FATA the President remains to be not only the overlord for governance but also the lawgiver in continuity of the Vice regal tradition of the British raj. Although it will be only fair to add that practically the aforementioned powers are used by the civil and military bureaucracy but the seal of the Presidency is used to keep the Parliament out. So if implemented in its present form the legislation for FATA will continue to be shaped by Presidential decrees and not the acts of the elected Parliament and the civil and military administration ruling FATA will continue to remain totally non-transparent and unaccountable as before. It goes without saying that the retention of the aforementioned two colonial instruments of governance will effectively seal the future prospects of political and socio economic development of the area.

There are some positive things in the report. One is the recommendation for holding local government elections in FATA next year. These elections have been avoided so far under the lame excuse of “security situation”. Elections for National Assembly seats from FATA have been regularly held as part of general elections in the country but according to the ruling officialdom local bodies elections can’t be held in the same area. Can there be a more ridiculous and laughable excuse than this? Secondly the report has recommended that the jurisdiction of higher judiciary of the country should be expanded to tribal area and the proposed lower judiciary of the area should work under its superintendence. This suggestion if implemented will not only lead to the establishment of proper judicial arm of the state but higher judiciary can also play an important role in further development of the reform process, particularly in ensuring the access of FATA Pashtuns to fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution.

It is disappointing to see the high level Committee using the same old bogus data about the FATA population, which has been thoroughly exposed by the head count of the IDPs. But insistence on sticking the bogus data reflects colonial arrogance. The historic context given in the report is also based on the colonial era and postcolonial era concoctions rather than basing it on the real history.  Similarly the long report has studiously avoided any mention of the ethnic and cultural identity of the people under discussion. The word Pashtun is not mentioned even once in the operative parts of 49 pages report about the past, present and future of an area where the population is 100 per cent Pashtun. But the most glaring omission has been the total exclusion of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa from the consultation process about FATA reforms. It is totally unjustified in view of the fact that the report suggests gradual integration of FATA with Pakhtunkhwa. For the Punjabi dominated Pakistani rulers FATA can be seen only from the Lahore and Rawalpindi end of telescope and never from that of Peshawar’s end.

The most important reason for delaying reforms in FATA is the country’s unchanged Afghan Policy. As long as Pakistan’s security establishment continues to support Taliban’s war in Afghanistan it requires FATA to remain a black hole and a no go area as Taliban are still using it. The so-called border management and policy about refugees is also driven by the same strategy. Of course as usual the formidable vested interest in the strong black economy continues to be a yet another dangerous roadblock on the path of reform. But Talibanization of Afghanistan remains a priority.

Writer: Afrasiab Khattak

The writer is a regular contributor to THE PASHTUN TIMES. He is a retired senator and a leader of Awami National Party (ANP). He tweets    @a_siab 


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