A Snail’s Pace: FATA Reforms

Spearhead Analysis – 25.08.2017

By Xenia Rasul Khan Mahsud
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

In the news:

  • PTI holds rallies against delay in FATA reforms
  • Long delay in maiden meeting of panel on FATA reforms implementation
  • JI chief asks government to implement FATA reforms
  • ANP demands immediate merger of FATA with K-P

Prime Minister seems to be raising the dead lately, earlier with his proposal to revise gun laws in Pakistan, he recently pledged to visit the tribal areas soon and announced: “change in FATA is a must and the status quo must end”. While this is a positive step, critics are of the opinion that this might just be one of the many promises where the PML-N government ‘talks the talk’ but begins to limp when it has to ‘walk the walk’. It is in fact the PML-N government that has strengthened the status quo with its lethargy regarding FATA reforms, where it has persistently refused to prioritize political, financial, administrative and legislative reforms in the region. This is evident through the failure of the special committee to hold a single meeting in the past 8 months – essentially tasked with implementing the recommendations pertinent to FATA reforms, while some members have yet to receive a formal notification of their nomination to the committee.

The reforms have also been stalled due to a change of mind in the ranks of both the opposition and the treasury. The government also decided to put on hold two significant legislations presented before the parliament, a) a bill to establish a new judicial system in the tribal belt, b) a constitutional amendment to create seats for FATA in the KPK assembly. Supposedly, this has been done to appease Maulana Fazlur Rehman led JUI-F and the PkMAP – parties that fear their power diluting through these reforms in terms of losing their seats to the quota system.

On the other hand, the definitive blow comes from the two main opposition parties, PPP and the PTI, that see the Rewaj Act as the FCR in everything but name which in essence is “against basic human rights and inconsistent with the goal of the merger of FATA and KPK”, according to Zardari’s spokesperson Senator Farhatullah Babar. Similarly, Pervez Khattak has shunned these bills as a ploy “aimed at pitching the people of FATA against KPK”; evident through its negligence towards amending articles 1, 246 and 247 which are the roots of the whole problem in the region. 

The volatility of the region is awarded by most to the negligence of the government towards education and health reforms in FATA, and a lack of employment opportunities for the people. The state’s policy of treating FATA like a buffer zone for regional proxies has created a vacuum of power in the area, leaving behind an army of insurgents and a handicapped political system run by despotic political agents far from the reach of the parliament and judiciary. This has birthed a detachment of the people from the administrative system, not only ideological in nature, but also physical, in that the FATA Sectariat office is located in Peshawar, the political compound in South Waziristan is in Tank, and most political agents reside away from their agencies – in Peshawar, Hangu, and the likes. It is this exclusion that is the fodder of militants who use the discrimination towards the people of FATA as a tool to recruit and garner support for their cause.   

Following over a decade of military operations in FATA, it is evident that long-term stability and peace can only be promised if the archaic system, running parallel to the one that exists in the rest of the country, is put an end to. Further deferment of governance reforms will only undo the gains of counter-insurgency initiatives launched to clear the area of insurgents. However, these operations will only reap short-term gains in the absence of a proper system in place that retains these efforts, and promises a proper infrastructure in terms of legislation, governance, judiciary and the likes. With Afghanistan’s unruly politics and security scene right next door, FATA should be a priority on the government’s agenda to ensure that it doesn’t slip into the hands of militants that thrive due to the existence of a vacuum of power, and lack of governance in the area.

To ensure social cohesion following years of exclusionary politics, transition programs pertinent to policing techniques, the execution of law and order through organized mechanisms, alongside a development framework, needs to be designed and implemented by the government in order to ensure political and socio-cultural integration, and avert any threat of violence and backlash.