Scrumming around FATA reforms

Khan Zeb

In the age of liberal democracy, the debate from human rights has moved forward to ‘human security’ and ‘human development’. In this quarter of the world, Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), more than five million people are shorn of even the basic rights of life, property and liberty. The human rights scholars believe that violation of Human rights can escalates conflict and violence. The state where human rights are not respected are prone to conflict. The question of FATA is not only limited to human rights abuses but other factors, such as centralized administration, violent legal and security structure, absence of responsible and accountable governance system have been contributed directly and indirectly. Violence in the region persisted in various shape and construction. The recent wave of terror and counter terror has the most devastating impact on the tribal areas.
To reduce space for non-state actors, ensure government presence, and address the local administration issue, restructuring of administrative and governance system were suggested in National Action Plan. In the light of national action plane PML(N) government formed a FATA reforms committee for mainstreaming of tribal areas, after sessions with political parties and security establishment. The committee headed by Sartaj Aziz was criticized for having no member from the tribal areas. However, the committee visited the tribal areas where the political agent blue eyed maliks, and representative of political parties and civil society members were consulted. The committee came up with comprehensive but perilous report which favors merger of FATA with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). The pros and cons of separate province and merger are discussed in the report, with recommendation of merger plan as dominant voice in the consultation process.
The plan envisages the extension of courts, tribal representation in KP assembly, Chief Executive (later renamed as chief operating office- a 22 grade bureaucrats to administer developmental activities) and structural organogram for transition period. The package came under severe criticism not only that it embodied flaws, but the merger was challenge by two political parties and a group of local people.
An apprehension with Chief Operating Officer (COO) is that it would militarized further the region if COO come from military, and will undermines the role of governor. The other inherent flaw is the empowerment of the notorious FATA secretariat and Political agent during the transition period. The question arises that either the political agent and secretariat will agree to cut their wings and will try to make reforms process successful? I don’t think so.
They will not tolerate to be powerless, that may result in failure of the reforms. If reforms get reverse how devastating repercussion it would have? what would be the role of the representatives of FATA in the assembly till it gets merge (after 5 years)? Does the government deliberately confusing things or it is as uncertain as we are?
From the tribal land the proposal received mix responses. The pro-merger group dominated by educated youth welcome the proposal while the group see a better future in separate province rejected the proposal. The two political leaders Maulana Fazal Rehman leader of JUI and Mahmood Khan Achakzai argue that the local populous should be properly consulted. The pro merger group is influenced by the rhetoric of Pakhtun nationalism, argues that FATA is already connected to the main land Pakhtuns brothers, KP have already well-established infrastructure, most of the FATA affairs are streamlined through KP and many more. So, in greater Pakhtun province tribal interest can be best served.
while the anti-merger/pro-province is inclined to protect tribal identity intact, rhetoric of empowerment of the locals where tribal would have their own political (assembly, ministers, chief minister, governor) and administrative machinery, more job opportunity and economic share, greater voice in federal politics, self-rule to avoid further exploitation and so on. What is missing in their debates is a concrete plan. The future of FATA should be what the people on the ground want. Does the tribal population need separate province, merger with KP or something different? Let us look into past experiences in the country. The colonial law, FCR had been practiced in various part of the present Pakistan such as Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit Baltistan. The last part where FCR was kicked off (in 1974) was Gilgit Baltistan, promised mainstreaming within 10 years. It took almost 35 years that GB got its legislative assembly in 2009 but still striving to through off federal executive control. My question from those who want separate province is, do they have strength and people support to get separate province from the reluctant federal government? How the new province would be, Centralized or devolved? Any organogram and power distribution formula? At present one cannot see such mechanism. Instead of counting the benefit of the province study why GB failed to get it legitimized right of self-rule.
On the other hand, we have example of merger of princely states of Qalat, Bahawalpur, and Swat etc. How they experience merger? A curse, when I spoke to the people of these states, especially Bahawalpur and swat. Swat was more developed under wali than Pakistan. Progress remained stagnant when it got merged with Pakistan. Bahawalpur demanding separate province as human suffering prevailed largely. Merger solutions are not appealing. It may lead to another conflict. We should look at the present deprivation and services delivery status in the periphery of KP. Can merger will meet the war ravaged tribal areas need? does extension of mainland judicial system will not be resisted by those who are blame for war crime in FATA?
Internationally, indigenous mechanism is getting its currency and acceptability in many field especially in governance and conflict resolution. Both the parties have no alternative to the government proposal which has inherent flaws. They are trying to have big gathering instead of providing a reforms plan to the people. No doubt that the reforms debate has initiate political awareness among the tribal and new leadership is emerging.
But the issue is that reforms are coming from the centre and is not a proper indigenous approach as evident from the whole process. The government did not involve the local to gains acceptance for implementation of reforms package. The suggestion for my tribal brothers is that it’s not late even today, to sit together, deliberate the need and demand of the tribal areas and frame a feasible and practical reforms package which better addresses the requirement of the tribal society. It will be an unending political tension if both groups continue to stretch rope on their sides., tweets @kzburki