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Fata committee: outlining the future


March 28, 2016

The Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) has been termed by the intelligentsia as a diabolical and colonial law imposed on the people of Fata, depriving them of their rights. The assertion is correct to the extent that most provisions of the FCR are a grotesque travesty of justice. In this backdrop, thw formation of a committee by the prime minister to ascertain the future of Fata after consultation with the stakeholders has been welcomed by the people of Fata.

The committee was constituted on November 8, 2015 by the prime minister; the committee was to submit proposals outlining the future of Fata. The committee is headed by Sartaj Aziz and has four other members: National Security Advisor Gen (r) Nasir Janjua, Governor of KP Mardar Mehtab Abbasi, Minister for Climate Change Zahid Hamid and Minister for States and Frontiers Region Abdul Qadir Baloch.

The committee was supposed to commence work immediately and propose a ‘concrete way’ forward for bringing Fata areas into the political mainstream after consultation with stakeholders. Given a choice, I would have added making an assessment of the will of majority tribals and devising a roadmap for socio-economic uplift of the people of Fata to the mandate of the committee. Let us not forget that the main objective of all political reforms is to improve the socio-economic status of the common citizen.

I had expressed reservations in my previous articles that it would be very difficult for members of the committee to spare time for regular meetings and for consultation with stakeholders. I have been pleasantly surprised that the committee has proved me wrong to a certain extent. The meetings of the committee and visit of members to two agencies – Bajaur and Mohmand – are reflective of the serious efforts being made by committee members towards Fata reforms. The committee has not shied away from making consultations with tribes in both the agencies which is a welcome step. However, the committee has lost its inertia recently, and meetings in the Kurram, Khyber and North Waziristan agencies have been postponed.

Despite these strengths, there are some concerns plaguing the process undertaken by the committee members. Foremost are the loopholes in the process whereby the will of the people is ascertained by the committee members. The ubiquitous office of ‘political agent’ is being used as a conduit to the tribes and political parties to present their point of view before the committee. The process is, therefore, susceptible to the whims of the political agent thereby undermining transparency. Instead of making such meetings restrictive it would be advisable to conduct them as open forums.

The committee should instruct the political agent to ask the tribes to nominate members for each meeting. This mechanism has been used since forever – whenever a select group of people is required to negotiate with government for any reason. I have had an opportunity to glean through the unofficial version of the minutes of the meetings held in two agencies. The minutes reflect a lack of coherence, divergent views without any real identification of people who spoke at various occasions. Involving tribal elders and seeking nominations from them would streamline the presentation of views as well as help ascertain the origin of different point of view. Due to fluidity of views, the real outcome of determination of the will of the people remains unquantifiable from these unofficial minutes of meetings.

Also, political parties and tribal representatives should be invited on separate dates or times to express their point of view. Political parties have become an essential feature of politics in Fata and their importance cannot be underemphasised. However, political parties have their own agendas for multifarious reasons. A combined meeting would make it difficult to draw lines between vested interests, politically motivated statements and true tribal aspirations.

The age-old cliché of ‘don’t see who is saying but see what he is saying’ in these meetings would have to be changed to ‘do see what is being said, who is saying it and above all why it is being said’. In all the meetings held to date, a lot of hue and cry has been raised by representatives of political parties; this has vitiated the proceedings.

Fata’s population is approximately 10 million. Ascertaining the will of ten million people through a mechanism restricted to a few selected people might appear absurd. However, this seems to be the most plausible option where the people of the region have been kept uneducated over the years and have been rendered incapable of making policy choices with long-term repercussions. I would propose yet another safety valve to make the process truly reflective of people’s aspirations.

The committee members should stay for three consecutive days in each agency – meeting the people of the tribes as well as political parties. This would lengthen the process but where the stakes involved are so high, slight delays in the process should not be taken as an impediment as long as these delays produce fruitful results.

After these meetings in all agencies, there should be a grand tribal jirga – tribal elders from all the agencies – extending from about one to two weeks to countercheck individual results obtained by visits to single agencies. This approach would go a long way in verification of initial findings as well as coming to a concrete and coherent final solution.

Let us appreciate that the way forward for the committee is not easy. It has to guard against going astray in a myriad of opinions, agenda-setting by vested interests and unreasonable delays. It needs to come up with a solution that is implementable and truly reflective of the will of the tribal people. But there are also great opportunities simmering underneath this intricate maze of thorny issues and it is up to the committee members to exploit the opportunities in accordance with the will of people of Fata.

The writer is a former federal minister and hails from the Khyber Agency.