FATA reforms

President Asif Ali Zardari on Friday signed two decrees: Amendments to the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), 2011 and Extension of the Political Parties Order 2002 to the Tribal Areas. The reforms in FCR carry immense importance for the people of FATA to bring the tribal areas into the national mainstream. The more than a century-old FCR is a remnant of the British Raj. Since then, the tribal areas have been administered through political agents (PAs). The amendments to the FCR have brought an end to the practice of collective responsibility and collective punishment for children, women and people over the age of 65. The people of FATA can now appeal against the decisions of the PAs. Under the old system, if an individual was accused of committing a crime, the entire tribe was penalised. It was, therefore, imperative to introduce political reforms in the tribal areas, as the tribal people are very much citizens and entitled to the same rights and privileges as enjoyed by people living in other parts of the country. The Political Parties Order 2002 will allow political parties to operate in FATA. There is weight in the argument that had FATA been part of mainstream politics throughout, the extremist elements would not have been able to create problems for Pakistan. Though the amendments in the FCR can be seen as a first step towards promoting moderate trends to prevail over extremism, the next step is to abolish this traditionally conservative system. The British, facing problems during the colonial era on the Frontier, imposed a special governance and administrative system by creating tribal agencies and appointing PAs under the governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. As part of this arrangement of tribal autonomy, the maliks (local chiefs/elders) were bought off with money and asked to keep lawlessness in check.

It has finally dawned on the government after a century to correct the anomalies left by our colonial masters. Since that system worked for the British, it was portrayed as being the wishes of the tribal people whereas the truth is that the colonial authorities were indifferent to the public’s views. Maliks had a vested interest in the previous system, which is why it continued till now. There is a consensus that the FCR must be completely abolished but so far the government has done it haltingly by only partially amending the FCR.

The people of FATA do not have representation in any provincial assembly. Either they should be made part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or a new province should be formed, but only through the free and democratic expression of the people’s will, i.e. through a referendum. Other tiers of governance like local governments and the advantages of development should then be provided to the long deprived people of FATA.

Another question that needs to be addressed is that of the jihadi networks operating in the tribal belt. The cover to the jihadi networks like the Haqqanis is embedded in the tribal system. With the military going into the tribal areas from 2004 onwards, it became a very important player there as well. Whether this seemingly hesitant approach of the government is a purely well thought through incremental process of reforms or is intended to avoid ruffling the feathers of some very powerful institutions remains to be seen. There are obviously some pressures in the way of a wholesale, complete, consistent reform package. But if the Haqqanis are shifted to Kurram Agency, if they have not been already, will the military welcome these reforms is an important question. It is hoped that the government would not bow to any pressures as the people of FATA need complete mainstreaming, freedom, transparency and democratic expression.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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