FATA: RELUCTANT REFORMS

FATA has once again failed to gather the sympathy of Pakistan on its appalling state of affairs .The present government initiative of holding talks with TTP to bring peace to urban Pakistan has nothing in store for 7 million tribal people inside and outside Pakistan. The government prerogatives regarding FATA and its people seem to be stuck in the time frame of 1901, and in the meantime offering only piecemeal solutions to the area. The backwater of Pakistan has only been offered erratic solutions from 1996 to 2011 without seriously analyzing the root cause of the problems.

Pakistan continued with those laws and policies by keeping FATA under a special semi-autonomous status. The first democratic government of new Pakistan (after the Bangladesh separation) led by the PPP failed to streamline FATA under the 1973 constitution. Although Article 1 of the Constitution clearly states the tribal areas to be part of the country, the same constitution under article 247(7) bars the Pakistan parliament from making any legislation regarding the area, negating its own spirit. Moreover, Pakistan’s judicial system does not apply to an ‘integral’ part of Pakistan.

Inclusion in the political process:

The reforms of 1997, which extended the adult franchise to the tribal belt could have developed into something more substantial but they did not. In 2011, after a gap of fourteen years, another set of reforms introduced the political party act, a bit too late and with too little to offer. We saw the outcome of these reforms in the elections of 2013 without any substantial changes to the status quo as most liberal political parties failed to carry out their political campaign, since the belt is literally under the thrall of militancy, fear and insecurity. The irony is now that FATA elected representatives although they draw all the benefits of being the part of the legislature, are unable to legislate for their own respective constituency, nor can they be held accountable to their voters. All this makes a mockery of the whole exercise.

An important milestone in the democratic and parliamentary history of Pakistan took place with the passage of the 18th amendment to the Constitution, which gave greater provincial autonomy to the provinces — but nothing was mentioned for the tribal belt. FATA representatives voted for this historic amendment. However, they completely missed out this opportunity to bring change for their own people. Likewise, the local bodies’ election seems a distinct reality too under the 2011 reforms.

Legal reforms:

Societies function only if ordinary people are able to exercise their right to justice. This process is more crucial for people who are deeply impoverished or belong to marginalized communities.

The judicial tribunal which was established initially under the 1997 reforms to dispense justice to the local people and check transgressions committed by the political agent was further amended and supposedly strengthened or made functional by the 2011 reforms. But both of these reforms were deeply flawed as far as the judicial system was concerned. They failed to create an independent tribunal as it is headed by one retired bureaucrat sitting on its panel of three. Appointment of retired bureaucrats as members with no legal and/or judicial background is against the principle of independence and competence of the judiciary and contradicts dispensing justice to the people. A total of 156 members was recommended for the tribunal. However due to financial constraints and other administrative issues, currently there are only about 39 people working in the tribunal. Of these, only three are regular employees while the others are working on a temporary/contractual basis supported by different entities such as the FATA Secretariat and other donors. Even the tribunal is being run under the aegis of an international NGO that has not only rented the building, but is also paying the salaries. No funds are specified for the tribunal by the government.

The people of FATA now have access to either the justice of one bureaucrat sitting in their agency as the political agent or another one sitting in the FATA tribunal in Peshawar. Not much of choice from the whim of one bureaucrat to another! Another important feature of the reforms was by giving exemption to the elderly and children from arrest under the FCR collective responsibility clause, however it is still happening as per my knowledge. The political agent with his wide discretionary powers from executive to legal and economic, supported by the FCR, is a central figure to the whole administration. He can still carry out the collective responsibility clause with impunity. The current scenario lacks awareness among the people and along with the psyche not to challenge his authority.

Conclusions:

Militancy has made even these minor reforms irrelevant to the lives of the people. In 2006 the Pakistani government in collaboration with U.S. and other international organisations initiated a sustainable development program to enhance the socio-economic condition of the tribal regions, and for this purpose around US$2.5 billion were pledged with an aim to improve the literacy rate of FATA from 17% to 30-40% by 2015. All these economic developmental programmes have become irrelevant and redundant. Only a certain quarter of the bureaucracy is getting benefits from it with no concept of accountability.

The successive government in Pakistan has failed to mainstream FATA owing to a number of well- entrenched myths and narratives. These cliched narratives often circulate through our mainstream media. Intellectuals acting as establishment proxies, in particular, popularize such myths. Fact of the matter is, one of the biggest beneficiary of FATA’s vague constitutional status has been the powerful military establishment. The jihad industry, created 1948 onward s, has largely been anchored by FATA. The military establishment has successfully blocked successfully any initiative, particularly by the PPP government, to introduce radical reforms. Maliks, in the pay of establishment, often toe the ‘official’ line.

Establishing FATA people’s fundamental rights as citizens of Pakistan lies not in piecemeal solutions introduced to date but in comprehensive reforms. This has become even more important once peace is established in the area and the writ of the state is established. The first step for such reforms would be that the president of Pakistan should pass a simple order (for which provision already exists in the constitution) by striking down article 247 and establishing the supremacy of parliament the way it is in the rest of the country. By creating an egalitarian society based upon the principle of modern democratic institutions with the extension of the Pakistan higher court to the area. Those advocating CONTINUATION of the old set up and its merits for tribal society, should try advocating the same system for the rest of Pakistan with all its merits if that’s such an ideal system. Laws, institutions, and customs, no matter how well they are arranged must be abolished if they are unjust.

Pip in Great Expectations [by Charles Dickens] says, “There is nothing so finely perceived or finely felt as injustice”. A common man living in FATA would tell you about the ordeal he or she has to go through to get even simplest legal certification done in the area. A visit to our national institution (National bank or NADRA etc.) can be a humiliating experience for many tribals, for the want of credible evidence. Arbitrary arrest of elders is still a common occurrence in the area. And this is just without considering the hardship they suffer from raging militancy.

When will this all end? I’m not sure.

first published in viewpointonline Thursday, 22 May 2014

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