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Editorial

September 14, 2017

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An encouraging start

An encouraging start

The government has taken the first step in its long-delayed plan to bring Fata into the mainstream after the federal cabinet decided to extend the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and Islamabad High Court to the tribal areas. This represents a change of tack for the government, which had previously presented wholesale reforms to merge Fata with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Now it appears to be aiming for a gradual transition. This may have been politically necessary because of opposition to its reforms from allies like the JUI-F. Since all political parties are agreed on the need to give citizens of Fata access to the regular courts, this legislation should easily be approved by parliament and begin the process of repealing the Frontier Crimes Regulation. Among the many aspects of the FCR that make it so objectionable, none is more unfair than the concept of collective punishment and the denial of constitutional rights to Fata’s residents. The government hasn’t explained, though, why Fata has been given access to the Islamabad High Court rather than the Peshawar High Court. This would indicate that the original plan to make Fata part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa may have been shelved. Some think that if that is the reason, it could be because the JUI-F, which has little electoral strength in Fata, is worried about being less competitive in the province.

As important as giving Fata’s residents the right to appeal to regular court is, the government needs to remember that this is still just one measure in a long process. That Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has decided to appoint a chief operating officer to implement the Fata reforms on a fast-track basis shows that his government is ready to take action; but the role of parliament should not be ignored either. The entire country needs to buy into the decision to finally make Fata a full part of Pakistan. For that our representatives need to be on board. The question of what share of the federal divisible pool will be given to Fata is sure to be contentious since till now the tribal areas have received funding separately from the federal government. After decades of neglect and years of war, Fata deserves a greater share of resources to rebuild its society. All the other provinces will need to be brought on board to agree to affirmative aid for Fata. After this encouraging start, the government should not lose sight of all the work that is yet to be done to make Fata an equal stakeholder in the federation.        

 

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