According to reports a section of media carried last week the draft of proposed Local Government Regulation in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) has been finalized. In this connection a meeting, chaired by Governor Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), Barrister Masud Kausar, who is an ex-officio head of FATA’s administration, was held in Peshawar last week to have an overview of the proposed local government regulation.
The finalization of the draft regulation is a welcome development that may ultimately lead to the formation of elected local bodies in the tribal areas, however, the finer details of the regulation and the system it envisages have not been revealed so far. However, according to the available information the local bodies in the proposed regulation would comprise of elected municipal councils. Each of these municipal councils would be headed by a “Chairman” to be supported by “Vice Chairman”. Nevertheless, it is still unknown how these municipal councils would be structured; in other words on what territorial and population bases they would be organized. Most probably they would be organized on the basis of tehsil level. Administratively Tehsil is the subdivision(s) of a tribal district or as it is called “agency” in which FATA are divided.
The draft Local Government Regulation for FATA proposed municipal councils to be elected on the basis of adult franchise with each person having one vote. The tenure of these local councils would be four years. Regarding the duties of the councils they would be entrusted with the task of not only ensuring provision of potable water and food supply to the communities but would also be responsible for providing public health and social welfare services. The finances of the local councils according to the proposed Local Government Regulation would be raised through funds and grants received from the federal government and taxes collected locally. The finances would be spent according to the direction of the governor for special purposes. Under the draft regulation property and other taxes plus levies and fees would be imposed as per recommendations of municipal councils.
In so far as the spending of the finances is concerned, it should not be at all at the direction of the governor. Because the governor KP, himself cannot pinpoint what kind of civic problems, social services and development needs a particular part of FATA may have. Therefore, if the proposed Local Government Regulation is enforced, the governor ought to be advised by bureaucracy to have public spending on projects etc.
The civilian bureaucracy always has a vested interest in FATA as in the absence of local government there, FATA have been bureaucracy’s virtual fiefdom. Against this backdrop, it seems that this clause(s) of getting the governor’s direction for using up the funding of municipal councils have been included at the behest of the civilian bureaucracy. The apparent purpose is to somehow have its stakes in the new system. One is apprehensive that the full regulation would have many clauses which would ensure the bureaucracy’s supremacy and means to meet its vested interests. Therefore, the proposed FATA Local Government Regulation should be placed before the tribal elders, civil society leaders particularly lawyers belonging to FATA as well researchers and experts on FATA for having their input. It is important to note that the success of any proposed local government structures in the tribal areas would depend upon curtailing the powers of bureaucracy and empowering the people and communities to make their own decision and set their developmental priorities.
It is important to note that the idea and demand of having elected local government councils in FATA came up in early 2000 when the then military ruler General Pervez Musharraf framed the Local Government Ordinance of 2001 under which district and local tiers governments were formed in the entire country. The same system was not enforced in the tribal areas. The event of 9/11 and the FATA becoming a base of national and international terrorist groups like disparate Pakistani Taliban factions and Al Qaeda made it more exigent to have local government bodies in the tribal areas to transform the stateless nature of the region.
In the face of massive demand from the tribal inhabitants as well as independent experts President Musharraf and ex governor KP (then NWFP), Iftikhar Hussain Shah, promised the tribal areas municipal system. Moreover, the government had also hinted at to form an elected unified assembly of all the agencies and frontier regions of FATA. However, this never materialized and instead the subsequent Governor Commander Khalilur Rahman, appointed nominated tribal agency councils. These councils never had the powers of the local government. They turned out to be advisory bodies and lost appeal with the passage of time.
Arguably in FATA hitherto there has not been not any unified government structure apart from the person of Governor KP, who is the head of all the administrative structure of FATA, and he runs the affairs of tribal areas without the help of any council of tribesmen but only through a governmental bureaucratic body called ‘FATA Secretariat’ in Peshawar.
From the available information it is clear that the proposed Local Government Regulation for FATA would not put into place a system of local government, however, it would lay the foundation of the system. Keeping in view the objective conditions prevailing in the tribal belt which is marked by low-intensity insurgency; breakdown of social and civil order and displacement of nearly a million people out of the four million inhabitants of FATA, even laying down the base of an elected local government system is indeed a significant achievement. However, the civilian government should not be self-satisfied with this development as sooner rather than later it will have to introduce a full-fledge local government system in the tribal areas. Because the roots of problem in FATA are in the long-existing political, legal and systemic vacuum and elected local councils could go a long way in plugging that vacuum.
(The writer is a political analyst and researcher: firstname.lastname@example.org)