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October 1, 2016

Don’t blame them, talk to them


October 1, 2016

The writer is a former ambassador.

The five-member committee on Fata reforms has presented its recommendations to the prime minister; they are now being debated in parliament. Let me state at the outset that this is not the first committee to have been formed for such a purpose. Since 1976 more than a dozen committees have been appointed by different governments on the subject of the mainstreaming of Fata but so far nothing concrete has been done.

It is interesting to note that not even one of those committees was headed by a person from Fata who could make worthwhile contribution to the deliberations. In his wisdom, the current prime minister too decided not to include a single member from Fata in the present committee.   

On one pretext or another Fata has always been deprived of having the slightest say in matters relating to the area. Decisions on even crucial matters are taken by outsiders and imposed on Fata – irrespective of whether these are in their interest or not. This is the crux of the problem and that is why Fata has suffered for so long.         

Coming back to the reforms, the committee has recommended integration of Fata with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and for that it has proposed a five-year transitional period. The FCR and the political administration will remain central to this effort and the reason for this, according to the report, is “to enable the tribes to interact positively in the reform process”. This negates the very concept of mainstreaming. The implication being that the tribes will not interact positively, thereby rendering the integration difficult if not supported by the FCR and the political administration.  

The report further states that Article 247 of the constitution “will be used as an enabler to bring about the suggested changes”. To ensure acceptability of the reforms the best means will be taking parliament into confidence, says the report. There is a constitutional anomaly here. Article 247 imposes restrictions on discussing Fata in parliament. Until such time that the article is amended Fata remains the exclusive domain of the president of Pakistan and cannot be discussed in parliament. Debating it in parliament without first amending the said article would be tantamount to violating the constitution. Therefore, the proper thing to do would be to amend Article 247 first.

In the five-year transitional period line the agencies working in Fata have to prepare for takeover when it is integrated into KP. Although the administrative responsibility would then shift to KP, the developmental aspect of Fata will remain with the federal government for ten more years. An amount of Rs90 billion per year is to be allocated out of the NFC for development of Fata and for ten years Rs900 billion (90 x 10= 900 billion) in addition to its regular budget of 21 billion. A special committee of high level experts and officials will be formed under the KP governor to priortise the preparation of a 10-year comprehensive development plan before the end of 2016.

Whether this will be done in the remaining three months of the year is difficult to believe. It is not given anywhere in the report that this committee will include anyone at all from Fata. Here again the wishes of the people of Fata with regard to their specific development aspirations are being thrown down the drain.

A post of ‘chief executive’ (BPS 22) will have to be created under the governor of KP to assume responsibility for the implementation of the 10-year development plan. The report does not indicate if the chief executive will be from Fata. An advisory council of Fata senators and MNAs has been proposed to assist the governor but it does not say anywhere if its advice will be binding on the governor or that the council will have any say in development and administrative functions in Fata.

While recommending jurisdictions of the Supreme Court to Fata the committee has at the same time proposed replacement of the FCR by the ‘Tribal Area Rewaj Act’. How the two systems are to work side by side is not clear.

The committee seems to have gone overboard when recommending the integration of Fata with KP by recording that it was a choice of the majority of the people and also the best option. That is not at all correct. The committee did not conduct any referendum nor did it resort to any other mechanism for determining the wishes of the majority. Its members only met selected groups of people chosen for them by the political agents of each tribal agency. Not by any stretch of definition can such pre-selected groups be called a representative body of the entire population. The fact remains that the people there are still divided on this issue. Some want its merger with KP whereas others wish to see Fata made a separate province. In the absence of a referendum one cannot say with authority which option enjoys the support of the majority.

There is no doubt that both options are viable but it would be in the fitness of things if the wishes of the majority are ascertained through a referendum before implementing any decision on such an important issue. This would not only show respect for the tribespeoples’ democratic rights, it would also be in the best interests of the country. Denying them their right to express their wishes in the matter would lend further credence to their longstanding complaint that decisions taken by outsiders are imposed on them and could lead to outright rejection of the merger, with all the ramifications such rejection carries.        

If elections could be held for the National Assembly seats there why can’t referendum be held there? Furthermore, the committee itself has recommended party-based elections before the end of 2017 for local bodies system. What stopped it from proposing a referendum on the most important issue of Fata?

But what can one do when they are determined to project Fata in a wrong manner. The area’s many positives are disregarded        and only its negative points are overly       highlighted. This reminds me of an article about Afghanistan which closely mirrors the situation in Fata. I reproduce a small excerpt from the article where it says that it wasn’t until 2012 that a US Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Davis disclosed that “senior ranking US military leaders have so distorted the truth when communicating with the US Congress and American people in regard to conditions on the ground in Afghanistan that the truth has become unrecognizable”. This is exactly what has happened in Fata since the creation of the country in 1947.

A glaringly example of this can be seen in the opening paragraphs of the executive summary of the committee’s report where the blame for militancy has cleverly been shifted to the people of that area instead to those actually responsible for it. There is hardly any mention of the sacrifices rendered by the people in the war on terror. And by the time history reveals facts a lot of water will have flown under the bridge.

Now that an effort is being made to bring about changes in the existing system of administration in Fata it would only be prudent on the part of those taking decisions to enter into serious consultation with the people of that area, make them shareholders in policymaking and give them the power to handle administrative matters for the area that they live in. It is a matter of life and death for them and in that they must be taken on board. Otherwise, the consequences would be catastrophic.      

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