Forces of status quo bound to fail
About 5 million inhabitants of Fata will soon be given democracy, respect, the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution, the right to get rid of the alienating title of “elaqa ghair”, and the right to call themselves Pakistanis proper. The decision by the federal cabinet to merge the impoverished region with the province of KP following the report submitted by Fata Reforms Committee is a major step towards realising the dream of democratic governance. It marks freedom from the black law that is FCR.
It has been a long and arduous journey for the tribal region. Fata has been governed by Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), formulated by the British in 1901, that almost invariably gets qualified by the adjectives such as unconstitutional, draconian and discriminatory.
There are provisions in FCR that simply do not belong to this age and time: basic human rights such as right to appeal, right to legal representation and right to present reasoned evidence are not available; the clause of collective punishment under which any member of the tribal area is held responsible for a crime committed by his relative, spouse, family member or any other person from the same tribe and area; the political agent or his deputies enjoy unchecked executive and judicial powers; all the members of a village are considered responsible for a murder if a dead body is found in their village. FCR is a plethora of abominations, unfolding clause after clause. It is an outdated, anti-democratic and discriminatory law that reeks of colonialism.
FCR was designed to serve the interests of the ruling British and to keep the volatile Pashtun community in check. KP got rid of it in 1956, Baluchistan, Malakand and Dir were released from its clutches in 1973. Fata is the last swathe of tribal land to be freed from the dreaded code. Such laws have no place in a modern state that respects its citizens. It is a pleasant development that those at the helm have decided to do away with this relic of the past and a bold step has been taken towards embracing Fata into the mainstream.
Article 247 of the Constitution excludes the tribal areas from the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and High Court. Fundamental rights in the Constitution extend to the whole of Pakistan and that includes Fata but these rights are enforced through courts and the courts have no jurisdiction over there, hence the residents of the restive land are practically devoid of their fundamental rights.
Implementation of FATA reforms and mainstreaming of the region will extend the jurisdiction of the higher judiciary and the lost dignity of the people of the region shall be restored – at least, that is what we hope.
There are still many roadblocks till the reforms realise their objectives. One such challenge is to abolish all the discriminatory laws. FCR is being replaced by the Tribal Areas Riwaj Act but some stakeholder are already raising alarm that Riwaj is FCR repackaged. They demand full extension of the 1973 Constitution to the region – a legitimate and just demand.
Riwaj Act is also a discriminatory law and reforms cannot fully achieve their objective unless the colonial-era law is fully abolished and the supreme law of the land enacted in the entire land including the north-western tribal belt. While the efforts of the government to respect the local laws, riwaj and customs of the land is praiseworthy but it should be noted that it’s still a discriminatory law and the tribal society must be weaned out of it by the process of education and imparting awareness.
Economic experts believe that merging FATA with the KP will also bring economic benefits for the region as well as for the country. FCR had helped the expansion of undocumented economy in FATA and the whole area was known for smuggling and drug trafficking. There was no growth of industrialization, as land was owned collectively and no land settlements had ever taken place. Gradual taxation should be introduced in FATA and the revenues be used for development. Establishment of Chamber of Commerce and industry is also in order. The decision to merge Fata with Pakistan proper is an undeniable success that must not be lost in the implementation phase. The political will to reform must be stronger than the desire of some political elites to maintain the status quo.