By Afrasiab Khattak
Ultimately the 31st Constitutional Amendment bill, providing for merger of Federally Administered Tribal Area ( FATA ) and Provincially Administered Tribal Area ( PATA) with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, has been passed by the National Assembly of Pakistan on May 24. The bill is now to be passed by the Senate and also the provincial assembly of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for becoming a proper law. It is certainly the most important step taken so far, for the implementation of the FATA Reforms Committee’s recommendations in terms of mainstreaming FATA. PATA had been partially merged in Pakhtunkhwa in 1969 after dissolution of the so called One Unit but the rulers subsequently forgot to fully integrate it into the state system. By doing away with Article 247 and by amending Article 246 of the Constitution, the National Assembly has done away with a colonial administrative construct that was aimed at excluding more than fifteen millions Pashtuns from proper state system for using them and their land for the imperial great games. Article 247 provided for vesting the executive and legislative powers over FATA & PATA with President of Pakistan ( instead of the Parliament), similar to the powers of the British viceroy of India under the colonial rule.
The colonial system, that has been existing even after the departure of British Raj from South Asia, practically resulted in keeping the tribal society there frozen in history. FATA Pashtuns have lived under the draconian Frontier Crimes Regulation ( FCR ), basically a procedural law, for more than a century, the longest than any other people in South Asia. By maintaining the colonial status quo and by using FATA as a launching pad for the four wars fought in Afghanistan during the last four decades, the vicious policies of Pakistani state have brought large scale death, destruction, displacement and prolonged agonies and suffering for the Pashtuns living in the area.
Demand for reforms in FATA for mainstreaming it has the universal support of all political parties although there have been some differences over the method of determining the final administrative status of the area. The mainstream Pashtun nationalist movement has been consistently demanding the merger of FATA in Pakhtunkhwa as a step towards ending colonial lines. Mainstreaming FATA is also the unfinished agenda of democracy in Pakistan. There has been a lot of international pressure for reforms because the wide ungoverned swaths of territory in the area have been used by regional and international terror groups for their activities in every nook and corner of the world, particularly in Afghanistan. It merits mention here that far from being perpetrators the local people of FATA have been the main victims of terrorism, a fact that hasn’t been fully understood by the outsiders because of the double games played by Pakistani state. The 20 points National Action Plan ( NAP) for eliminating extremism and terrorism passed by an All Parties Conference ( APC) on December 24, 2014 had also promised to introduce reforms in FATA for mainstreaming it. But this point of NAP wasn’t implemented. The main resistance to reforms did not originate from within FATA. It came from Islamabad and Peshawar. Islamabad ( or Rawalpindi, to be more accurate) was reluctant to open up FATA as it is still being used as launching pad for Taliban’s war in Afghanistan. Hence the need for FATA being kept as the black hole. Bureaucracy in FATA Secretariat Peshawar (with some noble exceptions), representing one of the most non transparent and unaccountable governance system on the planet, has been fanatically opposed to reforms in FATA. The political agents and military commanders based in FATA and ruling it in collaboration with a small local elite, having a strong vested interest in the huge black economy, have obviously opposed reforms under one pretext or the other. Two political parties opposed FATA’s merger in Pakhtunkhwa for their petty partisan interests. But the recent revolutionary upsurge of FATA Pashtuns ( PTM), led by the young people has forced both the state and society to overcome the hurdles on the path of reforms as failure in implementing reforms would have opened ways for expansion of revolutionary uprising in FATA. The most recent popular sit-in in Mir Ali, North Waziristan despite curfew imposed by the army indicated that strong arm tactics can not silence FATA Pashtuns anymore. So without any doubt PTM’s pressure has been the most decisive factor in forcing all players to stop blocking reforms.
Be that as it may it’s important to note that the support for 31st Constitutional Amendment soared once the proposal was adopted by the National Security Committees on May 18. The security establishment which was initially hesitant about merger of FATA in Pakhtunkhwa reconsidered its position in view of the ever deepening alienation among Pashtun youth of FATA. The security establishment was afraid of the possible emergence of secessionist demands in the area as backlash to the flawed state policies. So ultimately it gave a final push to the reform and merger process. But there are still serious challenges on the path of implementation of reforms. One, the security establishment was/is not in a hurry to open up FATA as Afghan Taliban pockets are still using the area. The recent reports about the return of Taliban to North Waziristan can be explained in that context. FATA wouldn’t see peace and stability as long as long as Pakistan doesn’t revisit it’s policy of supporting Afghan Taliban. But the recent developments have proved the fact that FATA Pashtuns wouldn’t put up with this bankrupt policy and would actively oppose and resist it. Two, the bureaucracy isn’t prepared to give up its fiefdom like rule. It’s playing games with the weak Parliament. For example the extension of higher judiciary’s jurisdiction has been withheld, despite the approval of law in this regard by the parliament, through a dubious clause in that law which makes its implementation subject to a notification of the federal government. As there has been no such notification so there is so far no court ( or for that matter the institution of judiciary) in FATA.
Without judiciary FATA people wouldn’t have access to fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution. As if this was not enough, the civil and military bureaucracy is about to spring another surprise on the Parliament by imposing the so called Interim Governance Order 2018 which is a new form of the despicable FCR. So while the deletion of Article 247 brings the legislative power to the Parliament but the interim law is authored by bureaucracy. Three, special packages for FATA in terms of proper representation and development should be firmed up in more crystallised form. The reduction in number of NA seats in FATA in future will not go down well. So while celebrating the achievements we shouldn’t drop our vigilance and struggle to guard against authoritarian schemes. No to FCR in a new form.
As if this was not enough, the civil and military bureaucracy is about to spring another surprise on the Parliament by imposing the so called Interim Governance Order 2018 which is a new form of the despicable FCR.
(The writer is a retired Senator and an analyst of regional affairs.)