Spearhead Analysis – 15.02.2017
By ShahBano Khan
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research
A small tract of land in a larger union, FATA or the Federally Administered Tribal Areas stand at a junction between Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan to the east and south, and borders Afghanistan’s Kunar province to the west and north. While the territory is almost exclusively inhabited by Pashtuns, it is also exclusively administered under a special set of draconian laws called the Frontiers Crimes Regulations (FCR). Enacted under the British raj, the FCR was used to prosecute crimes in British India and has its origin in the Murderous Outrages regulation, once used to counter Pahstun opposition to British rule.
The pre-partition system of governance was based on an archaic and outdated cultural assumption that minimizes if not negates basic civic rights, the region has not fared well under the Pakistani state either. Under the brutal law, not only is it impossible to request a change to a conviction in any court, right to legal representation, and the right to present reasoned evidence, but it was also only 20 odd years ago that the inhabitants of FATA were veritably granted the long requested “adult franchise”, under which every adult has the right to vote for their own representatives in the Majlis-e-Shoora.
The political and constitutional status of FATA has not only become relevant in recent years, but is also being questioned. FATA is seemingly governed under an ‘autonomous’ self-governing framework that utilizes the services of ‘political agents’ to administer law and justice in the current constitutional setup. These political agents have no regard for the rule of law and often rule the agencies with an ironclad hand. And an added absence of legal, judicial, and political institutions leaves no recourse to appeal, petition, or challenge of this arrangement. In addition, the Jirga which is seen as an alternative for local bodies, is an age-old institution that merely serves the interest of a few Malaks and the state. The Jirga has no real authority and even if it does, its not a democratic nor a fully representative structure. But more than the constitutional role of FATA, its status in the current security structure of the country has politicized its role in political, social, and economic development. In June 2014 a joint military offensive conducted by the Pakistan’s armed forces was launched in North Waziristan as a renewed effort against militancy. While the operation that cost $1.9 billion greatly improved the security situation of the country where attacks dropped to a six-year low since 2008, it also displaced millions of people and disrupted economic life, socio cultural relations, infrastructure, and whatever form of law and order that did exist.
But while the military operation was successful in sweeping the area clean of ‘foreign infestation’, it was the lack of will on the political government’s part that has left FATA bereft of not only a basic governance structure but has also delayed its immersion into the Pakistani state as a constituent. But as the operation nears its end, question marks on the status of FATA has become even more important in light of the massive investment that will pass through KPK as part of the CPEC. The economic thrust aims to change the very fabric of Pakistan and if rightly executed, the fate of the federally administered territories. FATA had in the past also become a central point for drug smuggling and and an exposition of arms and ammunitions. It is only in the ‘opening’ of the tribal areas and involving the local population in the process of socio political change that any real and meaningful development can take place.
Now for the first time in the country’s history, an evolving discourse regarding the merger of FATA with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is taking shape, and the result of that decision could affect the lives of millions, now and for the time to come. The raging debate was splintered into two opinions: those supporting the merger with KP and the other striving for FATA’s status as a separate province. But the reforms committee which proposed the integration of FATA with KP did not fully ascertain the wishes of the majority of the people of the area and proceeded without any kind of consultation, whether that meant merging it with a larger province or creating its own constituent identity. The consultative process by the PM’s Committee on FATA reforms was rather selective in its deliberations and solely focused on the option of merging FATA witht the KP region- a questionable decision keeping in mind the political mileage PML-N will be able to gain in the next general elections. Headed by Sartaj Aziz, the five-year transition period for introducing the reform package and and 10-year comprehensive development plan through the FATA Development Authority although outlines broader themes but have no recommendations for the operationalization of that process. In addition, the financial allocations within a merger with KP have not been fully traced, leaving room for future conflict; tribal dynamics that should have been kept in mind by the federal government. Three percent of funds from the divisible pool was recommended to be utilized for the development of FATA.
While the merger with KP has been contentious, popular opinion seems to be inclined towards going ahead with it- and they’ve found an unexpected ally in the military. During a visit to South Waziristan, Chief of Army Staff said the military will support the government’s efforts to ‘mainstream’ FATA in keeping with the wishes of the people. ‘Mainstreaming’ has now become a nomenclature for ‘merger’. While this is as explicit as the military will get in relaying its will to the public, the statement is being seen as a go-ahead by the merger faction- and there is a vast majority that supports it. The people of FATA, their representatives, all major political parties like PTI, PPP, ANP, and JI are asking for the immediate merger of FATA with KP. Yet the issue is one that is perpetually sabotaged; at the last moment it was dropped from the agenda of the cabinet meeting, apparently because of the government’s reluctance to allocate the proposed fund; citing the three percent share as not enough to rebuild FATA. So much so, the Opposition members recently staged a walkout from the Senate to register their protest over delay in introducing reforms in the tribal areas.
But where do things stand now? While the demand for a separate province is not only unfeasible but also impractical because of geographical complexities, tribal dynamics, and scarcity of financial resources- at the same time it has become necessary to expedite the process of merging FATA with KP. In truth, to solidify the gains of the military operation and to root out extremism, it has become essential that the loosely administered land needs to be brought into the folds of modern democracy. The government’s delay in streamlining the process is becoming a roadblock to this integration. It is not only time that the government initiates the implementation process of this merger, but should be careful in setting up a political framework where any decision is approved and executed by the people and the representatives of FATA, choosing the right kind of development projects and earmarking the right funds from the bigger pool.