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April 21, 2016

Options for the tribal areas


April 21, 2016

The people of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) have suffered enormously over the past fifteen years, for no fault of their own. For the internally displaced persons, the deprivations have been even greater. Despite the present unstable environment, or perhaps because of it, there is considerable debate about the future status of the territory.

Of the three options mentioned – the formation of a separate province; the retention of the status quo; and a merger with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province – I believe that the last option is the only appropriate one. It is of course recognised that only the representative ‘jirgas’ of the tribes will decide which of the options they prefer.

Article 247(6) of the constitution explicitly mentions that “the President may, at any time, by Order, direct that the whole or any part of a Tribal Area shall cease to be Tribal Area, and such Order may contain such incidental and consequential provisions as appear to the President to be necessary and proper.”

A referendum on the subject is not mentioned. In any case, a referendum would severely polarise the people, even if the results are 70 percent in support of one option and 30 against. There are many factors that favour the merger of Fata with KP, but the merger should give Fata a special status, such as the ‘Provincially Administered Tribal Areas’.

There is little historical, geographical or administrative affinity amongst the seven tribal agencies and the frontier regions. There have been instances in the past when the major tribes have acted in unison to attain common objectives in wars, but seldom for other purposes. A narrow stretch of the mountainous territory from Bajaur to Waziristan, right on the international border, would have many functional and strategic implications that would best be avoided. The economic and social affinities of all the tribal areas have always been directed laterally, not vertically, towards the adjoining districts. The tribespeople need only to travel to the nearby district towns or divisional headquarters to fulfil their economic needs and resolve their administrative grievances.

Till the disjointed devolution setup was thrust upon the people, there was a functional defacto merger of the tribal areas with the adjoining settled districts. The divisional offices, like those of the commissioner and directors for instance, were responsible for the security and line departments’ duties, for both the agencies and the districts.

Even before the ongoing militancy and disturbances, the majority of the tribespeople had started living more or less permanently in the settled areas of the four provinces. The tribespeople have, since then, acquired extensive land, properties, transport, industries and businesses in the settled districts, and it is only fair that they also be represented in the KP Provincial Assembly.

Incidentally, they were represented in the West Pakistan Assembly. They have rights and even a quota in the service sector of the province. In addition, it needs to be noted that large swathes of the districts of Peshawar, Charsadda, Kohat, Hangu, Bannu and Dera Ismail Khan have informally become tribal areas during the last 70 years. Reclaiming these stretches of a few hundred square-kilometres as ‘settled’ areas would be problematic.

Although there is considerable hydel power and mineral potential in the tribal areas, little has been developed. One reason for this lapse is the absence of a provincial lobby for the tribespeople. The Warsak Dam was first initiated by the NWFP government. The Gomal Zam Dam was also an initiative of the NWFP government in the late 1990s. More recently, the Kurram Tangi and Munda-Mohmand Dams were not processed by the federal government or the Fata secretariat institutionally, but they were patronised in individual capacity by Wapda.

In order to safeguard the constitutional and human rights of the tribespeople, there is a need to expand the jurisdiction of the higher courts to the area. However, it is of crucial importance that the conventional (and failed) police, revenue administration and the civil and criminal courts, as they are operating in the settled districts,are not transferred to the tribal areas. In order to develop a broad consensus amongst the leaders of public opinion in the tribal areas, I feel that the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) would have to be replaced.

The FCR, like the jury, is basically a civil and criminal procedural law, which does ensure prompt and cheap justice and should be retained under the new ‘riwaj’ procedural code. The controversial parts are the preventive and security sections, which could be replaced by a more acceptable law. Officers required to administer the new levy, police and judicial functions should be selected by the Public Service Commission from among the tribal areas’ genuine residents, who have had some years of schooling there.

The federal government would remain responsible for all the revenue and development expenditures of the merged areas, as they presently do not yield any revenues apart from a limited net hydel profit. The area’s needs would be provided by a revised National Finance Commission (NFC) award. A financial package of Rs100 billion, spread over four years, in addition to the existing Annual Development Programme, needs to be provided for drinking water, roads and the health and education needs of the people.

Allocations for hydel power development by Wapda for the Munda-Mohmand, Kurram Tangi, Warsak Two, Tank Zam, Bara, Qadam and Shalozan projects should be funded separately. The first three projects would benefit the entire country, while the latter four are no different from the small dams that the federal government has been funding in the provinces.

The writer is a former Khyber political agent and has served as chief secretary GB, AJK, NWFP and Sindh.

Email: [email protected]


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