On mainstreaming FATA

  • Long time coming

Pakistan’s National Assembly passed a historic bill on 24th May 2018 whereby the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), located in the north-western region, have been merged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. With immense debate surrounding the merger, the bill, 31stamendment to the Constitution, has emerged as the going government’s saving grace.

While the bill needs to be applauded for bringing in Pakhtuns, it isn’t without its fair share of criticism.

Due process of time

The bill details that it would take about five years to bring the seven tribal agencies and six frontier regions into KP. However, the details of the process still have to be outlined. While the bill is a good start, without a detailed plan justifying the five years’ transition period, no amount of aid and strength to the state’s institutions can be assured. This primarily concerns the legislative and electoral processes.

While it can be said that these Pakhtuns are adequately politically motivated, we have to understand that the differences in their political motivations vary considerably. Competing against political parties which have dominated the scene for decades won’t only appear as foreign but would be a process that requires rigorous policing interventions. Setting time frames isn’t the only important guideline, but understanding the differences and efforts to catering to these for better integration have to be chalked out.

We have to understand that for a long time these Pakhtuns have lived in their societies, governed by their own brands of nationalism and set of ideologies. Bringing them in to follow an interpretation of Common Law is a process that would require more than just time.

The Rewaj Bill

Ever since its creation, the FATA region has been governed by Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) 1901. Under a series of discussions during last year and earlier 2018, it had been decided that the FCR would be replaced with the Rewaj Act 2017. The proposed bill hasn’t come through and presents a number of challenges now that the 31st amendment has come to be.

For these Pakhtuns, creating consensus would first come from providing them with economic relief and bettering the socio-economic welfare of this region

The proposition presents a dichotomy – two separate systems working together. For example according to Section 14 of the Rewaj Bill, the Supreme Court (SC) and Peshawar High Court (PHC) will exercise jurisdiction in the new regions, while judges will refer cases to jirgas to determine factual aspects in accordance with the tribal customs. How the two competing systems would operate to bring a cohesive system is beyond the scope of any discussion at the moment.

While focus is being given to understanding the differing customs of these people, it also needs to be understood that in a bid to integrate, we have to ask ourselves if a balance can be struck between the traditions of these people and the prevailing law and justice system. Without answering this first, howsoever we proceed with this integration process – it would be far from functional. While running parallel judicial systems in only one region won’t serve the purpose of either, failure to incorporate these ethos might be an even bigger problem as far as creating consensus amongst tribesmen is concerned.

Under the local traditions of the area, as sanctioned by the jirgas, the existing practices, and their reinforcement under the Rewaj Bill will get into loggerheads with the mainstream judicial systems. On the other hand, the Constitution states that “…any law, or any custom or usage having the force of law, in so far as it is inconsistent with the rights conferred by the Constitution, shall to the extent of such inconsistency, be void”, it would be foolish to entertain another counter narrative that can extensively hold the existing judicial system hostage.

Creating consensus

Pakistan has long struggled for creating consensus on a national identity. In 2018 a single ideology won’t work – especially when various counter-narratives dominate the sphere of social interactions. By all means, creating platform for political engagement and apolitical discourse surrounding socio-economic policies might be the way forward. The 31st amendment provides an avenue for this, if done right.

For these Pakhtuns, creating consensus would first come from providing them with economic relief and bettering the socio-economic welfare of this region. This region has been the most adversely affected by the War on Terror, displacing more than two million people from their homes. Rehabilitation of these into sustainable societies should be the top-most priority of the government. These reforms will have to come phase-wise but at the same time, soon.

The biggest challenge of the next government would be to devise a dynamic development program for the regions that aims at creating sustainable societies. An all-out regional plan might not work, considering the geographical differences, sporadic population, and the differences in socio-economic development levels of each area/agency. For example a number of development schemes have been introduced in North Waziristan, but for agencies like Orakzai no concrete plans have been formalised yet. Targeting each agency independently, under the umbrella of provincial reforms might identify the path that can be taken.

The going government has made a decision for FATA for which it has spared itself the responsibility of doing any actual ground work. With new elections scheduled in July, we have a long way of seeing how this yet another amendment will go in Pakistan’s history.