Reforms agenda for erstwhile FATA

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By Asad Hussain

The geostrategic and geopolitical conditions of erstwhile FATA compelled the British to bring a particular system of administration to run the tribal affairs to handle the complexity of the terrain and the inhabitants’ nature. The British complemented the administration of the tribal areas with the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), mostly remembered as an ‘engine of oppression and subjugation’. When they failed to administer the tribal areas properly, the British started subjugating the populace by a divide-and-rule policy, intense oppression, unjust tyranny along with spreading the vicious evils of injustice, nepotism, bribery and jobbery. Therefore containing all these contours, the FCR turned into a ‘draconian law’ where there is no personal freedom or freedom of dissent. This was actually beginning of an era of agonies and suffering for the tribal people.

Pursuing this further, FATA under the suzerainty of Pakistan never prospered at the pace it was promised. The ham-fisted efforts of the successive government to streamline this significant region and their preference to choose the stick over the carrot made the region like a sheep that has no shepherd. However, the previous government had taken the initiative to merge FATA with KPK in order to bring this region completely under the control of Pakistan’s administration. Along with this, the incumbent government has passed the 26th Amendment on 13 May which increased the seats of erstwhile FATA in the National Assembly to 12 and provided 24 in the KPK Assembly. There is no denying the fact that it was a landmark decisions to integrate this divergent and perturbed region with the mainland of Pakistan’s polity.

Notwithstanding, the storm is not gone yet, and there is a lot to be done in order to achieve peace, stability and progress in the war-torn region. The government should chart now the direction to bring this war-ridden part of Pakistan back to its feet. The following reforms or directives must be considered for the long-term process of sustainability in the bloodied area.

Firstly, tribal culture is the deeply entrenched structure of governance in the heart of people. They have lived for decades with its system of administration, justice and governance. The government should device a meticulous framework to continue with the tribal structure of governance until a well-defined charter of governance is designed for the alienated people. Any sudden attack on their deep-routed customs and traditions would prove disastrous. Moreover, taking the opinion of tribal elders in the reform drive can bring ease in understanding the complex structure and would bear fruit for implementing the reforms agenda. Therefore, a committee consisting of tribal elders and government officials should be formed to take their point of view on board. It can smoothen the bumpy road of the reconstruction process.

Secondly, there is a rising issue of Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM). There is no denying the impression that a few of their demands are logical and worth considering. The incumbent government is advised to take this matter on war-footing and move forward towards its resolution. After decades, this area has seen signs of relief from the vicious evils of militancy, extremism and bloodshed. The government should gauge the gravity of this issue and propose to chalk out directives to ward off this threat which could trigger another phase of violence in the already volatile region. The PTM leaders should be told to remain under the, disrupting or hurting its national interests. The government must take serious notice of PTM’s alleged links with Afghanistan and Indian secret agencies and their funding details and facts provided by ISPR chief Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor in his press conference.

Thirdly, government has taken a plausible step to fence our 2600-km porous border with Afghanistan at the cost of Rs 70 billion. The decision was taken in order to halt cross border terrorism, money laundering, illegal trade and human and drug trafficking. Not only this, the problems of migrants and international pressure on Pakistan for giving safe havens and hideouts to terrorist would also be resolved. However, the government should solve other border problems too. For instance, the main source of tribal income is to do trade with the Afghan merchants of legal goods. Government should devise a plan to give free mobility to traders and also bringing ease to visa policies. This would not only built trust link between the government and the tribal people but also send positive vibes to our neighbouring country Afghanistan.

Fourthly, FATA has failed to evolve owing to the fact that political agents were all in all powerful under the FCR. All powers were vested in the hands of the political agent and there was no power-sharing mechanism which was actually responsible for the current abysmal and lamentable condition of people. To break this power accumulation structure, the installation of an effective local bodies system is greatly needed. The strong and effectively working district, tehsil and village councils would have the potential to bring development and prosperity for the wounded souls of FATA. This power devolution would help people to reach their elected representative easily, and would end the gap between the ruler and the ruled. No doubt only developmental scheme and prosperous future would end the elements of militancy and further heal the decades along injuries.

Lastly, a clear-eyed but purposeful approach is needed to steer the tribal people on the path of education and a healthy life, and promising a bright future. The state of Pakistan should make arrangements to declare an educational and health emergency in the tribal areas by making them educated and healthy on priority basis. Equipping them with books and throwing away the guns would be the foremost path to acquire reformed masses. Not only this, extensive healthcare facilities by initiating building hospitals and laboratories could go a long way to streamline the worsening health issues. Along with this, bringing all madrassas under the ambit of government and defining a clear-cut syllabus for them, would also need attention.

The sooner these suggestions are incorporated, the better. There are a few other long-term suggestions, such as introducing an effective policing system, overcoming administrative complexities, political and electoral integration and equitable distribution of resources under NFC award. The government needs to work on short term planning first to resolve certain primary concerns of the erstwhile FATA.

(The writer is a columnist, historian and international political and security analyst. He can be contacted at Asadhussainma@yahoo.com)