Monday July 22, 2024

The time is now

By Saleem Safi
January 10, 2018

The Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) is a black law and a living legacy of British imperialism. It has enslaved millions of helpless people in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata). The FCR is a dark spot on the face of democracy and a big question mark on the scope of Article 25 of the constitution. Tired of this draconian law, the people of Fata have tried to merge into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Unfortunately, the hypocrisy of the government and the vested interests of a few individuals have led to delays in this process.

Imposed on Fata since 1901, the FCR has become a source of medieval absolutism and a cause of political and economic backwardness. While the forces of the status quo want to preserve this absolutism and keep Fata isolated from the mainstream political system, it seems that the days of this black law are numbered. Fata’s younger generation has become aware and has come out into the streets, demanding the FCR be abolished and the tribal areas be merged with KP. All the major political parties, the military leadership, sensible intellectuals and celebrities also support this just cause.

The administrative structure of Fata is like a pyramid which is headed by the president of Pakistan – a person who is unaware of, and indifferent to, the miseries of the people. He is assisted by the governor of KP, someone who cannot be a resident of Fata, thanks to the 18th Amendment. The governor runs the various agencies of Fata through political agents, who are like kings without crowns and accountable to none. The FCR empowers them with absolute power under which they can pass orders to demolish a house, bomb an entire village or arrest a whole tribe for the crime of an individual.

Due to this unbridled absolutism and unaccountability, Fata has become a hell for many, a heaven for a few, and a safe place for corruption. It is rumoured that some so-called political parties and forces of the status quo are financed from ill-gotten money collected from Fata.

It is indeed unfortunate that the president of Pakistan has no interest in the region, despite the fact that he has the constitutional responsibility to be so – according to Article 247. His apathy can be seen from the fact that he has never visited the region. Fata reforms have become a burning issue but the president has maintained complete silence.

For the political mainstreaming of Fata, the current government constituted the Fata Reforms Committee in 2015 under the chairmanship of Sartaj Aziz. The committee drafted a comprehensive report after visiting the seven agencies of Fata and holding broad consultation with all stakeholders. The report was also discussed in both houses of parliament. The resolution of the 19 parliamentarians of Fata was also made part of the report in which their very first demand was the merger of Fata with KP. Unfortunately, the report got stuck at the cabinet level.

The government is not interested in implementing the reform committee’s report. To divert the blame, the ruling party has launched its time-tested political proxies, Maulana Fazlur Rahman and Mehmood Khan Achakzai. Both these leaders have placed hurdles in the implementation of the report, all on the pretext of defending the rights of the people and preserving tribal traditions.

The fact, though, is that both leaders are pursuing their vested interests by using the Fata card. Not only are their actions prolonging the suffering of the people, they are also providing an excuse to the government to suspend the matter in the name of creating a consensus. If history has any value, then it has taught us that both these leaders failed to defend Fata or promote its interests at very decisive stages. In fact, at every stage, they cashed in on their political position to bargain for their vested interests.

When Fata was burning in the war of terror, Maulana Fazlur Rehman was bargaining with Musharraf during the 17th Amendment process. At that decisive stage, the Maulana did not raise a voice for the people of Fata or for a separate province. Even throughout the PPP era, he did not ask for a separate province. Similarly, Achakzai also did not demand any such thing for Fata then. They let the 18th Amendment be passed, which deprived the domicile holders of Fata from the chance to become the governor of KP.

After the 2013 election, the Maulana and Achakzai jumped on the bandwagon of the PML-N and became its trusted allies. During the cabinet formation, Maulana Fazlur Rehman managed to get two members of his party into the cabinet, and get the coveted Ministry of Housing and Work. But he did not bother to demand representation of Fata in the cabinet. Similarly, Achakzai got governorship for his brother in Balochistan but did not utter a single word in favour of Fata representatives. The Fata Reforms Committee worked for one year but these leaders did not object to the formation of the committee, nor did they challenge its mandate or make any demand for a separate province.

According to the Fata Reforms Committee, the report was drafted after consultation with all the stakeholders of Fata, a claim that wasn’t challenged by Achakzai or the Maulana. It is on record that members of the JUI-F were present and involved in the consultation process. The report was discussed in parliament and presented to the cabinet in which two ministers of the JUI-F were also present. At no stage did they raise any objection about the reforms or make any demand for a separate province. But now surprisingly, both the Maulana and Achakzai have voiced opposition – right when the implementation stage of the report comes.

Maulana Fazlur Rahman considers the Fata merger an American agenda while Achakzai links it with the Durand Line issue. If it is part of an ‘American agenda’, then why is the Maulana still with the government, which started the reforms process?

The fact is that the Fata reforms and demand of merger are not part of some American agenda. They are the demands of a voiceless people who have been enslaved. They are resistance against the rotten status quo which has denied them their constitutional rights and a life of dignity. Their demands are a march towards the mainstream political system that ensures stability, accountability and rule of law.

The American agenda would be quite the opposite. Political stability and economic prosperity in Fata do not suit America’s interests. To be successful, the American agenda needs the current status quo of lawlessness, chaos and instability which paves the way to alienation and resentment in the region.

I believe that Maulana Fazlur Rahman and Achakzai’s use of the Fata card for their own reasons is detrimental to the country’s integration and stability. The Fata Reforms Committee Report gives us a golden opportunity to address the grievances of the people of the tribal areas and mainstream the region. We cannot afford to miss this golden opportunity. We don’t know when we may get another chance.

The writer works for Geo TV.