By Tariq Rizwan
Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) region is a narrow strip comprising the seven Agencies; Bajaur, Mohmand, Khyber, Orakzai, Kurram, North Waziristan and South Waziristan, besides the Frontier Regions of Peshawar, Kohat, Bannu, Lakki Marwat, Tank and D.I.Khan Districts. There is a highest rate of endemic poverty and lowest development indicators, with its people facing huge deficit of human rights. Investment is flying under the prevailing security environment in the area. Having negligible democratic rights, the present population of FATA is much higher than the earlier estimates of seven to eight million according to 1998 census. The recent few political reforms of adult franchise and extension of political act to FATA are considered the achievements of former PPP governments. Being an open field without any writ of government, FATA remained a hub of militants during last one decade. Taliban mostly Afghan and Uzbeks escaped from Afghanistan and entered our tribal region without any check in the wake of 9/11. It became a source of terrorism for the country itself and the world in large. The locals have been suffering the heat and remain stuck up between the devil and deep sea till today.
After the successful military operation ‘Zarb-e-Azb’, a strong need was felt to stabilize the military gains in the region and replace FCR with a new law. FCR is the so called black law, introduced by the Britishers in the past to punish the unruly tribes of the area. FATA reforms are also considered vital in the light of CPEC. Therefore, bringing reforms in FATA was made part of National Action Plan (NAP), to see CPEC plan implemented in letter and spirit. A Reforms Committee was formed to prepare a new law for the region according to the wishes of the peopled of the area. The Committee is being headed by Advisor to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz while its members were Minister for SAFRON Abdul Qadir Baloch, Minister for Law & Justice Zahid Hamid, National Security Adviser, Lt. Gen (retd) Nasser Khan Janjua, Governor Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), and also Secretary SAFRON. Committee members toured almost all the major parts of FATA, discussed pros and cons and prepared a comprehensive report and putting it in the Parliament. The report was thoroughly debated in the Senate and National Assembly. Suggestions and recommendations were included in the report to make it more effective. Later, it was sent to the Prime Minister Office and was discussed in a meeting of National Action Plan where it was agreed to make its finding public to elicit further debate and develop national consensus.
Out of the four options of transformation of FATA into the mainstream including maintaining of status-quo with minor changes, granting special status to FATA like Gilgit-Baltistan, creating a separate province and merger with KPK province. Keeping in view the close horizontal linkages of agencies and FRs with adjacent KPK districts coupled by cultural and economic linkages with the adjoining settled areas of KP province, the option of merger with KP was declared as the most feasible and viable option. Most of the Committee members favoured repealing the existing Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) with new Tribal Areas ‘Rewaj Act’ and the Jirga system. The subsequent discussion and consultations with all stakeholders of the area supported the ‘Rewaj Act’, terming it part of their age-old tradition. The Jirga system will remain prevalent in criminal and civil disputes, while it was also proposed to codify the “Rewaj” in each agency.
The Committee held meetings with parliamentarians from FATA, tribal elders, religious leaders, leaders of major political parties in FATA, the business community, civil society representatives and youth organizations. The provisions relating to collective responsibility in the FCR will be omitted in the new Act, thereby making an individual responsible for his own acts. The Committee has also proposed to carry out land settlement in FATA so that this land asset can be capitalized to release locked up funds with ten years investment formula to bring the area at par with rest of the settled areas, covering all the sectors. There is a proposal of holding local bodies’ elections in 2017 to execute the proposed 30 per cent of the FATA 10-Year Development Plan.
The Committee report was presented in the cabinet on Dec 15, 2016 for final approval and onward voting in the Parliament. Federal Minister for SAFRON Lt Gen (retd) Abdul Qadir Baloch and Minister of State for Information, Broadcasting and National Heritage Marriyum Aurangzeb explained the report in detail. To the bad luck of our tribal brethrens, Federal Minister for Housing Akram Durrani from JUI F and PKMAP opposed the move on the plea that their recommendations should also be included in the report. Their recommendations include holding of a referendum and option of separate province. Akram Durrani informed the cabinet that his party would be holding a Jirga in coming few days to finalize their recommendations.
It is unfortunate and absolutely ridiculous that despite lapse of some eight months JUI F and PKMAP were not able to consult their people. It is an open secret that religious clerics were thoroughly consulted in the Committee during the long tour of Committee members to FATA. More than a dozen Jirgas were held having representation of the notables of the FATA, religious clerics, media persons, students, business community, lawyers and political parties and overwhelming majority supported the idea of integration of the FATA. All the FATA members of the parliament including eleven MNAs and eight senators (including JUI F MNA and Senator from South Waziristan, Mehsud area) had given written approval for merger with KPK.
JUI F insistence on referendum is beyond comprehension. Moreover, FATA is a narrow strip bordering Afghanistan which is not feasible to be declared a separate province.
Earlier, a jirga was held by these two self interested leaders with some FATA Maliks. These Maliks, mostly from North Waziristan, were reportedly launched and financed by the corrupt Political Administration in FATA. Consequently, both the leaders were brainwashed and launched by the self interested few tribal Maliks and played their cards well to leave the people of FATA in darkness for another few decades.
There are also reports that as usual Moulana Fazal-ur-Rehman had sent a ‘Perchi’ of demands including more share in ministries, projects and employment for his men which had been turned down by the Prime Minister. Their move is considered an effort to let the ‘Haves’ in FATA enjoy the status quo. Haves include the Moulvis and Taliban leaders who are mostly government teachers but not attending schools, Maliks and corrupt mafia of Political Administration backed by the mafia in Governor House at Peshawar.
PKMAP has no presence in FATA in any shape. It is an irony that Mehmood Khan has played a very negative role at this crucial stage. Analysts are not ruling out an involvement of some foreign hand; India or Afghanistan. JUI F has at least some vote bank which is likely to be lost in the wake of this move. Hence there is a chance for the ruling party to ensure strong presence in FATA by bringing the area into the mainstream.
Ultimately, the Cabinet has deferred the final decision on the proposal as the Prime Minister had said that he wanted to take all allies along and hoped that JUI F and Pakhunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PKMAP) would support the proposal. FATA is likely to remain a security risk in future. If the Reforms get delayed, people of FATA will never forgive the two so called Pashtun leaders who are using ‘Pashtun Card’ for their vested interests. People of FATA would not see the light of the day in near future they have been waiting for since ages. Moreover, the move will deprive the people of FATA from the benefits of Zarb-e-Azb operation as if the areas taken back from militants were not stabilized, the effort would prove fruitless.
The writer is a freelance journalist