The Fata administrative system needs urgent reforms to curb militancy and improve socioeconomic conditions of tribesmen
The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) has a unique constitutional status as a semi-autonomous region. The current administration in Fata, divided between formal state actors and informal societal traditions, was indeed not designed for the current extraordinary situation imposed by outside actors after 9/11. These actors took advantage of the situation and exploited both administrative and tribal system of Fata to their advantages.
Though, for centuries, this system was lauded as a success and guarded jealously by tribesmen, however, presently the system is perceived authoritative, both in form and essence, resulting in socioeconomic and sociopolitical stagnation of the region. It has serious problems relating to governance, social change, human rights and democratisation.
The system is not based on the principal of separation of power. A study recently conducted by a think tank FATA Research Center namely “Extremism and Radicalization: A study on the state of governance in FATA” reveals that the governance system bestows enormous powers on Political Agent (PA), both executive and judicial, which are often abused. Besides that absence of check and balance, lack of accountability (NAB Ordinance is yet to be extended to Fata), lack of monitoring mechanism, lack of audit, absence of meritocracy, lack of public ownership of the developmental projects and lack of awareness among people about their rights also result in corrupt practices.
Similarly, the law and order situation in Fata has gone from bad to worse. Sense of being protected by the government is at the lowest ebb among tribesmen. Tribesmen are either migrating out of Fata to safer places or have put in place their own security arrangements due to ever-eroding writ of the government in Fata.
With the consideration that tribesmen deserve peace, which is prerequisite for any sustainable social, political, cultural and economic development, I am putting forward following recommendations which will help considerably in restoring peace and addressing the lacunas in the Fata administrative system.
Security vacuum often gives impetus to violence. Therefore, the government shall develop efficient conflict-prevention and conflict transformation tools in Fata in order to fill the current security vacuum in the region. Conflict transformation initiatives are often characterized by long term interventions at multiple levels, aimed at changing perceptions while addressing the roots of conflict, including inequality and social injustice. Besides conflict transformation, there should be parallel conflict prevention mechanism through functional governance in the area which should be actively functioning in all its three faculties i.e. rule making, enforcing rules, and delivering services.
Secondly, the current administrative system is law and order-oriented, exploitative, non-participatory and unaccountable in nature. It lacks all ingredients of good governance. Even Fata does not come under the jurisdiction of Supreme Court of Pakistan. Therefore, it shall be reformed to make sure rule of law, transparency, accountability, responsiveness, and common man’s participation in the decision-making process.
Thirdly, the people of Fata shall be given ownership and a say in all major decisions relating to the region. The current status of Fata (both administrative and political) kept the people of Fata largely apolitical and marginalised. The fact that legislature from Fata cannot legislate even for their constituencies is a chilling reminder in that regard. Similarly, tribesmen seldom get access to their political representatives which compel them looking the other side (means seeking relief from the non-state actors). Therefore, political parties and political representative shall play proactive part in resolving the issues of Fata. They shall truly represent the aspirations of tribesmen. This would indeed help in curbing militancy in the area and will help improve socioeconomic and sociopolitical conditions of Fata.
Similarly, Fata has rich culture and has inbuilt mechanism of conflict resolution and mediation. Currently, traditional institutions such as Jirga, Hujra, market and masjid have been hijacked by current fragile law and order situation in the region. No doubt the prevailing extraordinary situation in the region has provided space to militants in the area to perpetuate their supremacy. However, the above mentioned institutions have excellent image among tribesmen. These institutions can play an important role in mobilization of public to act collectively against social evils. Therefore, the government shall chart out a policy to revitalise the above mentioned platforms.
Last but not the least, media shall play its positive role in peace-building efforts by drawing true picture of what is happening in Fata. The government shall provide security to journalists and they shall be annually briefed on the state policy regarding Fata. Similarly, the government must also take policy input from civil society organizations. This will help boost the acceptability and endorsement of any state policy by the tribesmen.
There is no room for complacency and the policy makers should, therefore, take the first step by initiating a consultation process which shall not be limited to the experts sitting in capital, but should also the tribesman on board. The views of the ordinary tribal people, their fears and reservations should also be taken care of in any such reform process.
The writer is a political analyst and expert on the region and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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