Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) have long been a victim of turmoil. If on one side, the terrorists killed thousands of innocent people, the military operations too added to their woes, on the other. The generous, hospitable and hardworking people of Fata have been deprived of their basic human rights. However, a ray of hope emerged on Nov 8, 2015 when the prime Minister of Pakistan, Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, announced the formation of a Fata Reforms Committee headed by his Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz. This is highly important because point 12 of the National Action Plan sets the goal of introducing “Administrative and development reforms in Fata with immediate focus on repatriation of IDPs.” This, indeed, is a golden opportunity to give a meaningful life to those citizens of Pakistan who lead largely insignificant lives in Fata.
What is Fata?
Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) span 27,200 square kilometres and consist of seven tribal agencies: Bajaur, Mohmand, Khyber, Orakzai, Kurram, North Waziristan and South Waziristan, and six small frontier regions which host about four million people. These frontier regions are transition areas between Fata and the adjoining districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Its shares a 379-miles-long porous border with Afghanistan.
Quaid’s Views on Fata
Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah met the first jirga of tribesmen in Peshawar as Governor-General of Pakistan on 17th April 1948. Speaking to the jirga, the Quaid said:
“Pakistan has no desire to unduly interfere with your internal freedom. On the contrary, Pakistan wants to help you and make you, as far as it lies in our power, self-reliant and self-sufficient and help in your educational, social and economic uplift, and not be left as you are dependent on annual doles…”
Fata’s Politico-Administrative Structure
The Fata is directly administered by the federal government through the governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, while each agency is administered by a political agent (PA). According to the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), a political agent would handle the administration of the area while tribal elders would work as intermediates between the government and local population. The PAs and tribal leaders can deliver prison sentences without any right of appeal under the FCR.
What Constitution of Pakistan says?
Articles 246 and 247 of the Constitution of Pakistan deal with the ‘Tribal Areas’. Article 247(7) enunciates that: “Neither the Supreme Court nor a High Court shall exercise any jurisdiction under the Constitution in relation to a Tribal Area, unless [Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament)] by law otherwise provides…”
1. From 1947-1971
At the time of Pakistan’s independence, the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) was applied to the whole area. In 1956, the settled districts of NWFP and in 1973 the province of Balochistan, were exempted from the FCR and brought into the country’s mainstream. However, Fata continued to remain under the FCR regime. Successive governments’ policies to introduce reforms in matters related the Fata from 1947 until 1971 were negligible, to say the least.
2. Bhutto Era
In the 1970s, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto initiated the reform process in the region. He was the first to extend the executive authority of the federation to Fata in the 1973 Constitution. After being sworn in as country’s prime minister, Bhutto immediately visited the remote, backward and neglected tribal areas. In 1976, Bhutto formed a committee under Gen Naseerullah Babar which included Hafeez Pirzada, Rafi Raza and Dr Mubashar Hassan as its members, to create a framework so that Fata could become a part of NWFP for general elections in 1977. However, it could not be done.
Bhutto focused on the area’s economic uplift and human development by constructing schools, colleges, hospitals, improving road networks, providing jobs and setting up industrial units in all the seven agencies of Fata. Bhutto brought the Fata administration under the new federal Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) and established the Fata Development Corporation (FATADC). Nevertheless, all these reforms failed to effectively alter the region’s administrative and legislative system.
3. The Afghan Jihad
With the exception of the introduction of adult franchise in 1997, no major initiative was undertaken in the 1980s or 1990s. The introduction of adult franchise, however, was not accompanied by the government’s permission for political parties to operate in the region.
The dynamics of the area changed when, for the Afghan Jihad, the US and Pakistan concentrated jihadi camps in the area. However, the Afghan Jihad adversely affected the region. The rise of militants with foreign support and proliferation of local militias drastically altered the dynamics of society and political relations.
4. The 9/11 Strikes
In the wake of 9/11 attacks, the Fata again became the centre of global attention. With international prodding and support, the Pakistani government initiated a number of developmental schemes and policies. But, the Taliban who had took hold of many of its areas and had weakened the structure of the tribal elders by murdering them one by one. They also put in place their own parallel government to the one in Islamabad. Consequently, the Pakistan Army entered these previous no go areas in 2002 and started its operation. The relocation of Taliban to Fata after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan necessitated the reform of administrative setup here. It not only required to prevent the militant yahoos from entering into the tribal areas in the first place but also to strengthen the state capacity to ensure at least the fleeing militants’ compliance to state laws.
5. Musharraf Introduces Reforms
During Musharraf regime, in the year 2000, a Fata Reforms Committee was constituted which, after eight months of brainstorming, prepared a comprehensive reforms package. Besides the representation of tribesmen in the Frontier Assembly, the package — approved by Musharraf in 2002 — proposed the inclusion of local council elections on the basis of adult franchise, the separation of the judiciary from the executive, the establishment of a FATA Secretariat, amendments to the FCR, the provision of basic human rights, the permission of political activities and tribal policing reforms.
Four years later, in 2006, President Musharraf formed the Sahibzada Imtiaz Committee on Fata Reforms. After meticulous deliberations, the committee proposed that the best option for mainstreaming Fata was its inclusion in NWFP (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), however, it should happen after the war in Afghanistan was over.
6. PPP Regime (2008-2013)
On August 14, 2009, the then President Asif Ali Zardari announced political, judicial and administrative reforms in Fata. The reform package entailed allowing political parties to function legally in the area, curtailing arbitrary powers of the Political Agents, granting the right to appeal and bail in cases involving the FCR. The package also included audits of funds used in the region and would have exempted woman and children from territorial responsibility cases. The reforms also would have set up an appellate tribunal for the Fata.
Most of the political parties and tribesmen welcomed the package. But despite a debate on possible reforms to integrate the Fata into Pakistan’s political structure, the government forgot its promises and the issue was again buried beneath judicial, political, economic, energy and security crises jolting Islamabad, and the government chose inaction over embarking upon drastic changes in the governance of the tribal regions.
7. Incumbent Government Efforts
With regard to Fata, the ruling PML-N in its manifesto promised the “Integration of the Federally and Provincially Administered Tribal Areas into the country’s political mainstream, by extending to its people the political rights enjoyed by the citizens of Pakistan.”
a. The Fata Reforms Commission
On May 20, 2014, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Sardar Mehtab Ahmad Khan set up a 5-member FATA Reforms Commission (FRC) under the chairmanship of former chief secretary KP Ejaz A. Qureshi. The Commission was tasked to frame strategic objectives for the volatile tribal areas for the next 25 years.
The proposals in the commission’s report covered several areas including peace and security, temporarily dislocated persons, the justice system and legal framework in Fata, local governance, quick impact projects for socio-economic revival and institutional frameworks.
However, in April 2015, lawmakers from Fata and various political parties rejected the recommendations.
b. The 22nd Amendment and Sartaj Aziz Committee
On 08 November 2015, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, constituted a high-powered committee under Sartaj Aziz, his adviser on foreign affairs, to finalise reforms for the tribal areas. The Committee is tasked to determine whether Fata should be merged into Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa as a provincially-administered tribal area (Pata) or made a separate province of the country.
The Committee will review drafts of reports of past commissions on the subject, including the FATA Reforms Commission (FRC). It will consult all stakeholders including lawmakers from the tribal areas, chiefs of various clans, youngsters and other influential individuals.
Although there have been a lot of discussion among country’s political circles and the media alike on the said issue, the options that are available right now are:
(a) Fata joining the KP;
(b) the creation of a separate province;
(c) converting Fata into a provincially administered territory (Pata), like Malakand division
(d) continuing with the status quo but with some reforms.
(a) Merger into KP
It will be appropriate to merge Fata with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; and both the Malakand and Gilgit-Baltistan models are flawed. Moreover, there is a broad national consensus on the 22nd Constitutional Amendment Bill, already passed unanimously by the Senate and currently awaiting approval by the National Assembly. The Bill, while deleting Articles 51, 59 and 247 that had kept the region under the direct executive authority of the president, envisages its merger into KP. Most of the political parties that have roots in Fata have demanding that the region be merged into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. However, this proposed merger is an issue that needs to be debated in the open, and not behind closed doors.
(b) As A Separate Province
Prof Rasul Bakhsh Rais in his article “Why can’t Fata be a province?” published in Daily Express Tribune on November 10, 2015 wrote:
“The regions, agencies and tribal communities of the borderlands, the historic Sarhad or the frontier, can and should be converted into a separate province. For that matter, the Gilgit-Baltistan regions have equally valid historical claims and a natural right to form their own province with all the powers vested by the Constitution.”
However, an important fact that weakens Prof Rais’s stance is that Fata is not one homogeneous territorial unit and does not have an agreed upon central location within the tribal areas which can be easily accessible to the people, and where the supposed provincial headquarters can be located. If the headquarters is in Peshawar, why should Fata be a separate entity at all?
(c) Conversion into PATA
A section of tribal leaders and political representatives want Fata to be declared an autonomous province, while some want its inclusion as a provincially administered tribal area (PATA). Some Fata lawmakers have demanded the merging of Fata into Pata. They also want that the jurisdiction of high courts and of the Supreme Court of Pakistan be extended to Fata, and also basic human rights be given to the inhabitants of the tribal areas.
These parliamentarians from the region are of the view that by making the region a part of Pata, they can help to bring peace in Pakistan.
(d) Maintaining the Status Quo
Maintaining the status quo is not a good idea and cannot be an option as the prevailing system deprived the Fata people of their basic human rights. They have been deprived of budgetary funds, which is the biggest reason why these areas and people are still underdeveloped. These tribal areas would get sufficient budget if given status like other provinces or merged into a province. However, people of tribal areas must be taken on board while deciding the fate of the region
What Fata deserves is the sustained economic and administrative assistance of the state — and an iron-clad commitment to ensuring that at the end of the darkness that has engulfed the region, there will be light for its people. Whether Fata is merged with KP or made into a separate province, two things must be considered: the changes should be well-thought-out and they cannot be put off indefinitely. What is essential is that Fata’s MNAs, the national parliament as well as the KP Assembly work in tandem to arrive at a solution that is acceptable to the tribal populace. Central to the final settlement should be the extension of the Constitution and fundamental rights as well as Pakistan’s judicial system, to the region.
Moreover, the changes ought not to be merely cosmetic; the region needs the education, health and economic infrastructure that can help bring it at par with the rest of Pakistan. These changes must not be abrupt, and more importantly, should have the input of local people. Much of the tribal region is currently witnessing counter-terrorism operations by the military. The state needs to plan ahead so that once the military succeeds in permanently uprooting militants from the region, a viable system of civilian governance can be put in place.