FATA: Reforming in exclusion

Spearhead Analysis – 24.10.2017

By Hira A. Shafi
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

Several initiatives have been taken in the past to reform FATA. Despite that, those measures were left in doldrums often owing to political divergences or a supposed lack of broad based consensus on the way forward. The people of FATA suffered and the area became exploitable by outside elements.

However, several vulnerabilities in the administrative, political and social structures of the pre-conflict FATA were revealed in the wake of the militancy crisis of the recent past.  Following successful counter terrorism operations in the region, serious discourses and deliberations on FATA reform resurfaced. The gravity of the issue was highlighted when the FATA reforms agenda became part of the National Action Plan. It is thus evident that in order to preserve the security gains– preventing a relapse to the former socio-political setups that assisted in emergence of militancy is necessary.

As a means to move forward the FATA reforms committee after serious deliberations issued a report in 2016 that offered four key options. These included: 1. maintain the status quo but introduce judicial/administrative reforms and increase focus on development activities 2.  create FATA Council on the pattern of Gilgit Baltistan 3. Turn FATA into a separate province 4. integrate FATA with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.  In depth study and broad consultations were carried out with the local elders that culminated in agreeing upon the Merger option. It is imperative to note the key reasons that led to the scrapping of the other options.  The first and the second options essentially foresaw no significant break from the core issue of power nexus in representation. The third option was further added with the burden of exacerbated socio-economic deprivations through a categorical disconnect from KP. The fourth option provided a wholesome vision of betterment. It is noteworthy that this was also the only option that in principle sought to remedy the key issue of legitimate and authentic representation and justice.

The intentions:

The proposed measures for the initial stages laid out a rather clear course of action. Amendments were to be made to Article 247 and other relevant clauses. The Jurisdiction of the Peshawar High Court was to extend to FATA alongside the proposed Rewaj Act also stipulated harmonizing Jirga rulings with Pakistan’s civil and criminal law.

The party based local bodies elections were to be held in FATA by the end of 2017. Building upon this measure of true representation, the FATA seats were then to be compensated in KP Provincial Assembly.     

It was decided that a 10-year Development Plan for FATA would be prepared by the end of 2016. It was agreed that 3% of the available resources in the federal divisible pool would be earmarked annually for FATA’s development. The annual PSDP (Public Sector Development Program) fund allocation was also to increase. Another important provision envisioned allocation of 30% of the development funds through elected local bodies.

However, over a period of time serious differences of opinion have emerged.

The ensuing events:

May 2017 witnessed an unfortunate roadblock in the implementation of the merger strategy, when certain political parties opposed two critical reform initiatives — The 30th amendment Bill; which sought to reduce the more or less toothless representation of FATA seats in Senate by adding 23 FATA seats to KP assembly. Whereas, the second Bill sought to reform the judicial status of FATA.

Unfortunately, amidst the high profile legal battles this critical matter took a backseat at the legislative end.

However, some movement at the top levels has once again been noticed. The SAFRON (The Senate’s Standing Committee on States and Frontier Regions) members in conjunction with FATA lawmakers recently applied some pressure on the issue. The National Implementation Committee on FATA Reforms has also convened two important meetings in a span of two months. Some noteworthy aspects of the 17th of October National Committee meeting included: deliberation on the appropriate transition mechanism, expediting passage of the Supreme Court and High Court Extension Bill (to be amended to Peshawar instead of Islamabad) and seeking completion of the overdue 10-year comprehensive development plan.  

Despite these recent positive movements, the general discourses on KP-FATA merger have been spiraling into confusion and seem to have reverted to the very basics of assessing the viability of the various options. Certain political power nexuses also use the confusion to their advantage.

Those who suggest that a referendum would prove otherwise are perhaps correct-but for other reasons. The issue of inadequate accessibility naturally denies proper understanding both ways. For ‘the others’ any claim of peoples’ true desires become plausible. Similarly, for the people of FATA any suggested approach also creates waves of hopes and doubts.

Over the years, dedicated field research has been carried out by certain local organizations and journalists -with a core aim of amassing raw opinions. Till date one notices an element of indecisiveness over the ‘correct option’. However, on the parallel one also notices an absolute surety over demands for a better future in shape of true representation, justice, economic opportunities and social progress, in various local opinions till date

This trend requires introspection and clarity of the fact that the various options are merely means to a very coherent and unanimous end. However, we are still at the initial stage of contouring the means to that end. This process needs to be carried out effectively.

The Glitches:

During one commentary, Mr. Sartaj Aziz rightly pointed out that mainstreaming FATA is a complex process and thus the sequencing of these reforms would be important. But while the deliberations on the sequencing is carried out. It is important to hear the underlying demand of the people, that voices itself through either opting for a merger or by remaining unsure of the means to a better future.

Both cases revolve around concerns of genuine inclusion. Currently, the administrative aspect of the transition mechanism appears to be under debate. However, the contours of the Reform Report suggest checks and balances to be conducted by a Cabinet Level Committee. The more important policy and decision making aspect according to the report is to be handled by ‘FATA legitimate authority’–primarily involving Governor Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the FATA Secretariat. —“Advisory Council consisting of all FATA Senators and MNAs may be set up to assist the Governor in carrying out development and administrative functions”. This point may require some broadening and clarity. It does not clarify the contentious issue of how these representatives are elected and perpetuates risks of prevalence of power nexuses and exclusion.

Sequencing a way forward:

The transition mechanism from the onset could be made more inclusionary. For that, it is imperative to speed up reforms to Article 247 and the related descriptions in Articles 1 and 246.

Last year witnessed a sporadic push to do something about the long lost FATA Local Government Regulation. It was also thought that Local Body elections would be carried in tandem with the passage of the 30th amendment, so that locally elected members are represented in KP assembly. This is the second two pronged critical measure.

The third gigantic task is of carrying out judicial reforms. This aspect absolutely necessitates broad based inclusion of the relevant locals. It is believed that the Rewaj Act would soon be removed and as of now the Peshawar High Court extension Bill is in the works. There are also discussions of a national wide judicial reform on Alternate Dispute Resolution Mechanisms, since the phenomenon is not just limited to FATA. However, it is yet to be seen how Pakistan’s laws and traditional rulings would be harmonized.   

At the socio-economic development sphere, there is widespread talk of corruption at the hands of a few. To start off with, the provision of delegating 30% of development funds to the local bodies needs to be implemented.

Above all, it is worth remembering that at this point, the issue is about managing a post conflict zone and as part of ‘nation building’. Rehabilitation in the shape of trust and inclusion is necessary otherwise skepticism and hindrances might prevail.