A woman eats her lunch of bread and curry outside her makeshift tent near a fruit market in Karachi, Pakistan January 18, 2017. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro
A woman eats her lunch of bread and curry outside her makeshift tent near a fruit market in Karachi, Pakistan January 18, 2017. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

Just 420 kilometers away from the cold, calm, and beautiful capital of Pakistan — Islamabad — lies one of the most dangerous terrains of the world — FATA (Federally Administrative Tribal Areas). Located on the northwestern region of Pakistan, FATA, constitute an area of 27,224 square kilometers, which is spread over seven agencies — Mohmand, Khyber, Orakzai, Kurram, Bajaur, South Waziristan and North Waziristan — and; six Frontier Regions (FR) — FR Peshawar, FR Kohat, FR Bannu, FR Lakki Marwat, FR Tank, and FR Dera Ismail Khan — and has a population of over 4 million.

Since the era of British colonialism in early 20th century, its wretched inhabitants are suffering from all kind of human miseries. The unfortunate area is hit by poverty, marginalization, discrimination, tribalism, feudalism, religious extremism, terrorism, unemployment, deteriorating law and order situation, gender inequality, and lastly, it’s also a hub of drug and illegal arm trafficking.

Considered as the epicenter of terrorism, FATA was declared as one of the most dangerous place of the world by the then American President, George W. Bush, in an interview with ABC news in 2008. He explained the tribal region along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border as one of the most dangerous areas in the world, where “Al Qaeda had established safe havens and was plotting attacks against the United States”. Moreover, its tough terrain, long and porous border, and cultural proximity with Afghanistan has further made the place an ideal habitation for terrorist across the border.

Currently, Pakistani army is indulged in one of the massive internal counter-terrorism military campaign in FATA. Apart from security, the contemporary socio-economic dynamic of the region are also alarming. The reality can be gauged by looking to the report of Pakistan’s first ever Multidim­ensional Poverty Index (MPI), launched in June 2016. According to its findings, over two-thirds of people in Fata (73pc) live in multidimensional poverty. Likewise, Fata Development Indicators Household Survey 2013-14, also shared miserable realities. Based on social indicators including education, health, and employment, the survey came up with haunting findings. According to the survey, the overall literacy rate in Fata is 33.3 per cent, in which female literacy rate is just 7.8 per cent. Likewise in Health sector, FATA has its own burden of wounds, where, the maternal mortality ratio for Fata stood at 395 per 100,000 persons, it also found that 27.9 per cent of children aged 0-59 months had experienced illness in the preceding 30 days, and the total fertility rate for Fata is 5, Moreover, the unemployment among Fata youth is particularly high at 11.8pc.

Prior to Pakistan’s birth, FATA was controlled by the British colonial masters, and they made it a stretched buffer like Afghanistan, against the giant Russians. In 1901, the British introduced the draconian Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) law to settle down the various tribes.
The notorious law has multiple flaws, for instance; its clause of collective responsibility, where, the political administration enjoys the power to punish a whole tribe owning to a crime of an individual. Likewise, section 40 of the FCR, again empowers the political administration to put any individual behind the bars for three years without assigning a reason. Despite legal imperfections, and inhuman bases, this century old, law of Jungle is still being practiced with true letter and spirit.

Historically, it was in 1948, when the father of the nation — Muhammad Ali Jinnah — in first Jirga with tribal people decided to not change the administrative nature of FATA. Later on, under article 247 of Pakistan’s constitution of 1973 — “No Act of Majlis-e-Shoora (Federal Parliament) shall apply to Fata” — and thus, FATA’s status remained unchanged. Moreover, the area was put under the executive authority of the President, and its financial affairs were to be managed by the Governor of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KPK).

However, since the adoption of 1973 constitution, the buzz word — FATA Reforms — had been a common electoral promise of all major federal and provincial parties. Historically, the practice was initiated by the charismatic Prime Minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, in 1976. Accordingly, a committee was formed under General Naseerullah Baber, for sketching a framework to merge FATA in Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) — The old name of KPK province. However, 1977 military coup put brakes on the process.

Subsequently, in 2006, military man, General Pervaiz Musharaf, constituted another committee under the leadership of Imtaiz Sahibzada for FATA reforms. The committee recommended FATA’s merger with NWFP, as the best possible way out. Nevertheless, the recommendations of the committee could not materialize owning to Pakistan’s deepening indulgence in War against Terrorism.

The recent call for FATA reforms managed to resurface in the post Army Public School Peshawar attack in December 2014. Consequently, administrative and developmental reforms in FATA and early return of IDPs (Internally Displaced People) was made a leading clause in the 20 point counter-terrorism strategy- NAP (National Action Plan). Thus, FATA reforms were considered as an integral part of NAP.

Successively, after a period of eleven months, since the formulation, and then adoption of NAP, PML (N) led government formed a Committee on 8th November, 2015. Under the leadership of Sartaj Aziz, foreign policy advisor, the committee comprised, Safron Minister (retired) Lt-Gen Abdul Qadir Baloch, Safron secretary Muhammad Shehzad Arbab, National Security Adviser (retired) Lt-Gen Nasser Janjua, Governor KPK, Iqbal Zafar Jhagra and Law Minister Zahid Hamid. The committee was widely criticized for neglecting local representation.

However, the committee took 14 months in purposing administrative and developmental reforms. It recommended FATA’s political integration to KPK over a transitional period of 5 years. Additionally, it called for Rehabilitations and Reconstruction; Socio-economic Development; local bodies Election; Legal reforms; Capacity Building for Law Enforcement Agencies (LEA); and lastly, Computerized Land Settlement.

With these set of recommendations, although few eye brows were raised but at a larger spectrum, people from different political parties, non-governmental organizations, and members of civil societies and mostly importantly army has welcomed the reforms.

All major political parties — Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN), Pakistan Tehreeka-a-Insaf (PTI), Jamat Islami (JI) and Awami National Party (ANP) are supporting the reforms and merger plan, however, two parties — Right wing Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and Pakhtun nationalist party Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) — reportedly had reservations over the merger plan. Both these parties have called for a referendum to pursue the opinion of tribesman.

Although initially, the federal government announced, that it has persuaded both these parties, but, after at a recent meeting of federal cabinet, where the agenda of FATA reform were dropped allegedly at the last minute, proves government reluctance owning to the reservation of government political allies — PkMAP) and (JUI-F). Nevertheless, it’s also important to mention here, that, both these parties do not have sufficient parliament representation form FATA, where, JUI-F has one member from South Waziristan, and PkMAP has no representation.

Responding against the government, the PML (N) FATA Chapter, has called for protest against government intentional delay, and apparently it has the support of all major political parties. The government has to priorities common interest of natives than it political allies. It has to persuade its allies to side their political interests, and pursue the larger interest of FATA inhabitants.

Apart from political reasons, the delay of FATA reforms also has a security angle. As rightly put on by Afrasiab Khattak, a retired Senator and central leader from Awami National Party, “The most important reason for delaying reforms in FATA is the country’s unchanged Afghan Policy. As long as Pakistan’s security establishment continues to support Taliban’s war in Afghanistan it requires FATA to remain a black hole and a no-go area as Taliban are still using it. The so-called border management and policy about refugees is also driven by the same strategy. Of course as usual the formidable vested interest in the strong black economy continues to be a yet another dangerous roadblock on the path of reform. But Talibanization of Afghanistan remains a priority”.

The situation proves that FATA reforms are not mere administrative and developmental reforms, but it has its own set of political and security complications. Nonetheless, it is the utmost Job of the Federal government to surmount these obstacles and materialize the proposed reforms, and thus, liberate FATA from the Shackles of marginalization and discrimination. Likewise, both PkMAP and JUI-F, must revise their reservations and should prioritize the interest of local people than their political interests. Otherwise, our own history has proved, whenever, grievances and marginalization is prolonged, it causes rebellion and disasters. Thus, the tragic episode of 1971 (Separation of East Pakistan) is enough to learn from our mistakes.

Hammal Kashani is a Graduate of International Relations from National Defence University Islamabad and a freelance researcher based in Balochistan, Pakistan. He can be reached at @Hamalkashani.

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