The process of FATA reforms has now entered into implementation phase. Before the promise of reforms comes to fruition, there is still a long – and intricate – road to travel. FATA’s happy future requires stewardship of the highest order, given the complexity of the looming challenges, sensitivity of the issues involved, and the far-reaching implications of the policy options at the disposal of the policymakers.
Mainstreaming FATA is easy in the sense that there is broad consensus among various stakeholders. However, it is also a challenging task as there is a lack of unanimity about various steps, priorities and pace of the reform process. This is quite natural, given the complicated nature of the subject that entails political, social, economic, constitutional, legal and security-related dimensions, in the national, regional and international contexts. But, since FATA reform process has entered a new phase following the federal cabinet’s endorsement of the proposed reform package, there is even greater need for fostering consensus among the stakeholders, building an environment of trust, disseminating information, as well as sequencing and prioritizing the reform steps. In the backdrop of a chequered history of reforms in FATA, the possibility of vested interests, both domestic and foreign, sabotaging the proposed reforms, cannot be ruled out as a mere hypothesis. This is perhaps the most opportune time for the people of FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) to frustrate these vested interests and steer the process of integrating FATA into mainstream Pakistani state and society through consensus-building, political commitment and diligently-structured, phased approach.
The foremost issue in this regard is to ensure that the reform programme conforms to the constitutional requirements. This will not only forestall the plethora of unnecessary litigation that is usually witnessed against such momentous reform initiatives, but will also help policymakers and political leadership to show much-needed commitment and to have confidence to move forward with the reform. The constitutional issues must be taken care of, and a well-wrought procedure be laid down to proceed further to avoid any constitutional bottlenecks. These measures will substantially alleviate the misgivings and questions being raised by some elements about the constitutional validity of the proposed package.
In institutional dispensation, the key challenge would be how best to balance and secure the legitimate interests of the people of both FATA and KP through such an institutional setup during the transition. It is imperative not only to reasonably strengthen the capacity of the existing institutions, with FATA Secretariat at the centre-stage, but also to develop a smooth and efficient system of coordination between them. Extension of the jurisdiction of the Peshawar High Court and the Supreme Court of Pakistan to FATA would be conducive to safeguarding the fundamental rights of the people, and building their trust in the mainstreaming process.
Moreover, the people of FATA should get a fair deal in terms of resource distribution in the wake of FATA-KP merger. Concomitantly, the people of KP should also not feel that they are being meted out an unfair treatment in this regard. Not only is it indispensable to ensure that the resources meant for the areas now comprising FATA are spent on those areas but that the KP government is also enabled to cater for the additional burden on its resources during and after the merger. This entails allocation of a greater share in the NFC Award for FATA and KP than what is envisaged in the package. These measures will be instrumental to winning and maintaining the trust and goodwill of the people of FATA and KP, and will be crucial to securing a win-win outcome for both of them as a trade-off of the merger.
Another important issue is how best to proceed with effective border management and durable security arrangement, with special emphasis on addressing the key factors responsible for the ongoing insecurity. Furthermore, the grievances and sense of frustration prevailing among the local populace due to the collateral damage and hardships caused by the military operation must be adequately addressed to transform a sense of inhibition and despondency into a lasting sense of ownership, commitment and contentment. Winning hearts is indeed difficult but it is most critical to the success of the proposed reform and mainstreaming, especially following a sustained military operation with its obvious consequences.
Regarding Rewaj Act, there are fears that it may be a replica of the FCR, perpetuating the discrepancy and misuse of authority by the civil administration. After all, what people of FATA need is not old wine in a new bottle, as they say, but a justice system that is modern in substance yet attuned to the local socio-cultural milieu and traditions at the same time. To address these concerns and to reduce the trust deficit and ambiguities, it will be very useful to make the draft Rewaj Act public for debate before its promulgation. At the minimum, involvement of the people’s representative in the drafting and processing of the Rewaj Act would lend a greater sense of ownership to the people of FATA for the proposed Act. Indeed, such an active involvement of the people of FATA is sine qua non for all major policy initiatives and administrative measures during FATA’s mainstreaming programme.
The mechanism of distribution of powers between the Governor and the Chief Minister, or the Federal Government and the provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the reform process is still not clear enough. This vagueness should not retard the process and there must be no tug-of-war between the two governments. Roles and responsibilities should not only be clearly spelled out but also equitably distributed for smooth and successful implementation of the reforms package.
Most importantly, the need for sustained political will for and durable commitment to FATA’s reform package can hardly be exaggerated. As election 2018 is drawing closer, the possibility of FATA’s reform getting overlooked, or even substantially compromised, cannot be ruled out. More seriously, in the absence of a constitutionally-or legally-binding instrument, there is no guarantee that the next government may carry forward the process of reform in the same spirit and with the same speed. Nothing would be more unfortunate for the dwellers of FATA and KP. Such an eventuality would be dangerous for the peace and stability of the region. This necessitates that the prevailing consensus and commitment to FATA reform package is consolidated and protected through an Act of Parliament.
The reforms should neither be too abrupt that they cause social and administrative disruption nor too lethargic that they allow the spoilers derail the whole process of reforms. It needs to be reminded that the process of integration entails constitutional, legal, administrative, political and economic readjustments. The whole process, while keeping the public confidence intact, is sure to take some time. So, where unnecessary delay is uncalled for, haste and rush too would lead to further complications. If the promise mode with the people of FATA is not translated into action on ground, the resulting frustration would be disastrous. The people of FATA want and deserve a better future through a multi-pronged, comprehensive reform programme.
A series of initiatives, including those envisaged in the Report of the Committee on FATA Reforms 2016 and highlighted in the preceding lines is indispensable to help the people of FATA see their dream for a happier and prosperous tomorrow come true.
The writer is working on FATA and Afghanistan at Institute of Policy Studies, Islamabad.