National and International Issues

FATA: Beyond Merger

May 24, no doubt, turned out to be a historic day in the political history of Pakistan. The National Assembly of Pakistan passed a constitutional amendment with an overwhelming majority allowing the merger of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along with Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA) with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
After its passage from the National Assembly, the bill then easily sailed through the Senate of Pakistan and Provincial Assembly of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa before being signed by the President of Pakistan, making it a proper law. 


The 31st Constitutional Amendment is a vital instrument that is going to ensure the tribal people’s full constitutional rights are at par with other Pakistanis. To put it more simply, it’s graduating the tribal men and women to a full citizenship status in their own country after decades of life under a colonial system.

Since independence, the implementation of FATA Reforms Committee’s recommendations in terms of mainstreaming FATA is going to be the greatest development for the people of FATA. 
The colonial era structure, which existed on the tribal landmass decades after British had left the entire South Asian region, had practically resulted in keeping the tribal society frozen in time.
With its continuance after independence, the remnants of that colonial administration denied tribal people equal citizenship in Pakistan; treating them as “others” or “Tribal or qabaili” – meaning people with low political consciousness and less civilized to manage themselves – hence to be treated differently under different laws.
Passing the 31st Constitutional Amendment, the people of Pakistan collectively buried that last remaining relics of British colonialism along with the draconian regulations – known as Frontier Crimes Regulations. The law opened wide the gates for the people to compete, progress and prosper. 


The task of mainstreaming tribal areas with rest of Pakistan – also part of the 20 points National Action Plan – was by all standards a major challenge for the government. It had been persistently demanded by majority of the tribal people, intellectuals, lawyers, journalists, businessmen and civil society activists since long.


It seems that the sheer commitment of all political parties and relevant state institutions has made it possible to overcome this big challenge with minimum differences.
However, there seems to be no room for complacency or contentment as now much bigger challenges are lying ahead in the path of implementing these legal and constitutional reforms in letter and spirit and bringing this 27220 sq kilometers pocket of land at par with the rest of Pakistan. Keeping in view these much bigger challenges that are lying ahead beyond the merger, the steps taken for merging the region with Pakhtunkhwa or mainstreaming with rest of the country so far can best be described as ‘baby steps’. 


It’s a fact that the prolonged security operations against terrorists and militants’ organizations coupled with the government’s continued lack of interest for decades and poor system of governance in the region has turned FATA into one of the most backward areas in Pakistan with everything in shambles.
Of these new challenges, the one that tops the list is ensuring the physical presence of state through constructing state infrastructures on priority basis including government buildings for administration, judicial offices, judicial complexes, police stations, and prisons etc.


Currently, there are hardly a few places – like agency headquarters – where the physical presence of state is visible in some capacity within the existing infrastructure of administration. The entire region of FATA will need new buildings for housing the judiciary, schools, colleges, hospitals, police stations and other administrative departments. This is a huge task.
As usual, security is still going to be a big challenge for the government. Today, the region is cleared of terrorists, with the command and control centers of [big and small] terror networks having been dismantled. However, the remnants of militancy and pockets of Afghan Taliban might still pose serious threat to peace and security in the region.


Being merged with KP, the region is now going to be fully handled by the civilian law enforcement agencies. The government urgently needs to initiate steps regarding establishment, deployment and training of local police system. Any policing system, if it ever existed in the area, is already a story of the past now. The government has no time to waste in erecting a civilian security apparatus.
The FATA Reforms Committee – headed by Sartaj Aziz – has already proposed deployment of 20,000 police force, however, till date the government has not taken even the proverbial ‘baby steps’ to start recruiting, training police personnel or started working on erecting the physical infrastructures of the police stations.


The other challenge will be the unwilling civilian bureaucracy which opposes the reforms for being unwilling to give up its fiefdom like rule. The government needs to work on war footing to replace the existing political agents system with new administrative system without leaving any room for vacuum. The government should select and appoint the best of the officers in the new administration because the task ahead is a humongous one with failure not being an option.


Extending the writ of judiciary – both the Peshawar High Court and the Supreme Court of Pakistan – and establishment of district courts and lower judiciary is also a task of paramount importance in the implementation of reforms package. Here, too, failure is not an option. 

 

Without proper judiciary the people of FATA wouldn’t have access to fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution and ensured to them by the 31st Constitutional Amendment. 
Like failure, vacuum is also no option anywhere. We already suffered certain bad experiments in cases of Swat and Malakand Division where after formal inclusion of these areas in state, the government left a vacuum by not putting in place a proper legal system while dismantling the old ones. Decades later the region fell into the hands of militants and miscreants on the pretext of enforcing Islamic judicial system.


Months have already passed since January this year when the national parliament passed separate laws extending jurisdiction of Peshawar High Court and Supreme Court of Pakistan to these lawless regions. However, the government is yet to take steps for issuing a simple notification regarding extension of court jurisdiction.
With concern to the judicial system, the government has to start everything afresh. The judicial component of governance is totally missing here. The time is short and the government has to initiate steps on emergency basis to establish lower judiciary, district courts and allied facilities for High Court and Supreme Court.
Work needs to be immediately started on the construction of judicial complexes, judicial lock ups and district prisons and any delay in this regard will lead the people to have reduced trust in the new system.


No doubt, the government realizes that the tribal region is one of the extremely poor and backward regions. It’s lacking the basic facilities and the services delivery infrastructure is totally absent. It will need a lot of resources and efforts to bring it at par with rest of the country. Keeping this fact in mind, the government has made a handsome allocation of 3% in the National Finance Commission (NFC) amounting to almost 100 billion rupees a year for coming ten years to be spent on building infrastructure and service delivery system in the region. 


The big challenge here will be ensuring that Rs. 100 billion are released and then spent judicially and transparently on improving the communications’ networks, health delivery system and educational infrastructure. It is the responsibility of the government to come up with a mechanism and a body comprising persons with impeccable records to oversee the spending and investment of such a huge fund for the people’s well-being.


The writer is a senior journalist, analyst and anchorperson at a private TV channel.
E-mail: [email protected]
 

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