The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan have been the centre of attention for many years. The region is considered volatile and a source of armed unrest having global consequences, and the hot bed of global and regional terrorism. However, the mountainous area has a great economic potential as it is rich in natural resources. It also has a dynamic culture, rich history and extraordinary people who take pride in their values and traditions. All this can be blended into an everlasting shift into positive and peaceful development.
FATA is still governed by Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) of 1901. The Governor of Khyber Pakhtonkhwa (KPK) is the chief executive and acts as the agent of the President of Pakistan. There are three main administrative setups: the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON), FATA Secretariat and FATA Development Authority (FDA) which run under the direction of the Governor. Business of each agency is run by the office of Political Agent who is answerable to the Governor through FATA Secretariat.
FCR has remained an effective administrative tool so far; but lately it has lost its utility for many reasons. The first and most important reason for its failure is apathy of the government. No efforts had been made since Independence for organic growth of FCR and no reforms were introduced, which resulted in the decay of all the institutions that played important roles in making the regulations potent enough to establish the government’s writ. Another major cause of FCR failure is gradual but consistent decay of the civil bureaucracy and corruption that made the Political Agent’s office a money making enterprise. This not only deteriorated the government functioning but also corrupted the institution of Maliks which has an important role in maintaining harmony in the tribal society.
Similarly, the emergence of new actors, such as the Mujahideen or Taliban in the tribal belt created new power centers in FATA. These developments eroded the vitality of FCR to a large extent. Therefore, it became imperative to introduce major reforms to FCR.
The present government made some real efforts in this direction soon after Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani took the vote of confidence from Parliament in March 2008. Realizing the need to repeal the FCR, he cautiously took steps to introduce reforms in an incremental way to safeguard FATA from social rupture. On August 11, 2011, President Asif Zardari signed the Extension of Political Parties Act (PPA) to FATA.
Under Article 247 of the Constitution of Pakistan only the President of Pakistan has the power to extend part of the constitution to FATA. This implies that the Members of National Assembly and the Senators representing FATA can legislate for the rest of Pakistan, cannot exercise their legislative powers for the areas they represents.
However, the extension of PPA to FATA was hailed by its people who termed it a positive step in the right direction; a step which would hopefully bring peace and prosperity in the region. They hoped that the new reforms would bring dynamism to the politics of FATA and improve the people’s vision. It is believed that this step will also lead to administrative and judicial reforms. So far, administration and judicial powers are vested in the office of Political Agent.
Access to media, some believe, is likely to improve as a result of these reforms and a two-way information flow is likely to ensue. However, many people in FATA consider the recent amendments in FCR and the composition of FATA Tribunal highly controversial as they tend to dilute the impact of PPA. Questions on the integrity and impartiality of tribunal members have also been raised and there are apprehensions that the dispensation of justice might be highly compromised. The general perception in FATA is that not enough consultation was carried out before introducing these reforms and they are used as a tool by bureaucracy to wield more powers and to make money.
Though a common man can now contest elections and have a political affiliation, which gives a sense of equality and inclusiveness with the rest of the country. However, so far it is not supported by administrative and judicial reforms. The role of political agent is constantly being debated at different forums, asking for broader reforms. Though introduction of new reforms in FCR is the need of the time yet they should be introduced in an incremental way. The Federal Government has also, through action (in aid of civil power) Regulation 2011, provided legal cover to the armed forces for acts above the law that they committed during the military operations in both FATA and the Provincially Administered Northern Areas (PANA) with retrospect effect from February 2008. However, there is a distinct need to come up with a mechanism of accountability because, in case authority is misused, the tribesmen would be further alienated. This would indeed be serious loss.
Contrary to general perception, the people of FATA support peace, prosperity and democratic process. They want a proper judicial system and involvement in development projects in their communities. Though they want to evolve their lives according to their own culture, yet they do not want to be left at the mercy of Political Agent.
The government should respect the wishes and desires of all the stakeholders and support the people of FATA in implementing the reforms that must address people’s aspirations and wishes.
The reforms should be devised through consultation and general consensus as the tribesmen’s input is fundamental. The way forward holds great promise provided suitable changes in FCR are made. Another important aspect is the flow of information coming in and going out of FATA, and the media should play their due role in highlighting the core issues that FATA faces, with the government providing security and protection to them.
With elections expected to be held in 2013, the law and order situation has become quiet fragile in FATA. It needs to be restored to the level where social, political and economic activities could flourish. Politically appropriate representation of people in FATA should be made through the main policy and administrative units, including SAFRON, FATA secretariat and FDA. Where applicable, computerized national identity cards (CNICs) should be issued to the youth so that they could participate in elections.
The most important aspect is the role of military. It should be made transparent and accountable. It is in the best interest of the institution and the public at large.
The writer is visiting faculty in Development Studies Department at Iqra University, Islamabad, and Programme Manager at FATA Research Centre (FRC).