The federal government has decided, in principal, to end the legal tyranny of political agents (PA) by abolishing the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), If it is implemented as planned, the tribal people, for the first time, will feel accepted by the state.
The tribal people will be no longer be responsible or liable for protecting the government and its interests in Fata. Rather, the equation will change in their favour. It would be a big turnaround for the tribal region’s residents, who have actually protected the state’ s interests for nearly 69 years and have been severely punished by the FCR in case of failure.
With the passage of this act – the Fata Nizam-e-Adl Act, 2016 – the state, like in other parts of the country, will take over its most important responsibility of protecting the life and property of its citizens in Fata. Additionally, the proposed bill aims to dilute the judicial powers of PAs by not only extending the jurisdiction of the superior judiciary to Fata, but also establishing Fata-specific lower courts. And most importantly, the proposed act has given protection to the local dispute resolution mechanism, which is a very effective way of settling tribal disputes.
This is an incredible development, and will go a long way in bridging the trust deficit between the state and local tribes. Likewise, it will also improve the ever-eroding human rights credentials of the state vis-à-vis Fata. However, the proposed act has left many structural flaws untouched. These structural flaws need to be urgently addressed, without which meaningful reforms will remain a dream.
In the current reforms agenda, it seems that the government still looks at Fata from a ‘law and order’ perspective, rather than focusing on service delivery. The thought process needs a paradigm shift and the government needs to introduce a stronger accountability and monitoring mechanism, both at the lower and upper levels of government, making them transparent. At the agency level, no doubt, this act will strip the PAs of the exclusive judicial powers vested in them. However, political agents can still collect and impose taxes, besides exercising executive authority. These powers still make the office of the PA powerful enough to overstep authority, making it prone to corruption and nepotism. The proposed act also does not mention audit of the revenues collected by the political agents in the tribal agencies.
Similarly, at the top level of the governing structure, the government needs to introduce reforms to enhance the performance of the Fata secretariat. Although the Fata secretariat was established to take over decision-making functions vis-à-vis planning and development and to improve service delivery in the tribal areas, it has yet to make any visible impression against the functions assigned to it and, if social indicators are any guide to go by, the Fata secretariat has failed miserably on all fronts.
One reason for this could be lack of public oversight, which the Fata Secretariat technically doesn’t come under. Although the Ministry of State and Frontier Regions (Safron) represents the Fata secretariat in parliament and responds to questions and resolutions regarding policy execution on its behalf, Safron has virtually no control over the Fata secretariat, as it is under the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government administratively. The additional chief secretary of Fata handles all policy execution concerning Fata and he is not bound by the service rules of the federal government, reducing Safron’s role to merely that of a post office, through which queries are routed.
At present, the Fata secretariat is run on the basis of a self-defeating arrangement, which was initially supposed to be for just a transitionary period, by which it is made subservient to both the federal and provincial governments. Because of this, it is financially dependent on the federal government, whereas administratively it is under the provincial government of KP. This arrangement results in red-tapism, hampering growth and progress.
The Fata secretariat, due to structural flaws, cannot even recruit its own officer cadre, and depends on the KP government for its human resources. Officers are brought in from the KP secretariat, and that too without any deputation allowance, making them least interested in serving Fata. Except for the offices of the political agents and some other lucrative posts, Fata is the scariest destination for the officers, who grab every opportunity that helps them avoid serving in Fata.
On account of these structural issues, Fata is lagging behind the rest of the country in every sense. Therefore, it is essential for the government to address all the structural flaws in the governing structures, so that the tribal areas can catch up with the development trajectory of the country. Changing its constitutional status, as a follow up of the proposed act, would be the best way of addressing all these structural problems in one go.
The writer is from North Waziristan and hosts a Pashto TV talk show on tribal