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Lost in the federation


April 13, 2018

Democracy is all about having multiple opinions on a particular subject and the minority’s level of respect for the majority’s decision is the yardstick for how democratic a society is.

Whether the opinion of the majority results from an emotional discourse or a logical one is a secondary debate. Pakistan is, apparently, a democratic country – though on a scale of one to ten, it might be hovering somewhere between zero and one in terms of democratic values. We also have a constitution in this country that has been interpreted by so many people in such different ways for such different purposes that it has become difficult to believe that we have one at all. Nonetheless, that book bound in a green cover still exists.

Having said that, people like me still look up to both the democratic forces and the constitution for all the ailments that this country is suffering from because if hope is lost, everything is lost. One ailment that has turned out to be cancerous of late is the status of Fata in our republic. The region is neither here nor there. It seems as though time froze for Fata after it became part of Pakistan. We often forget to treat the tribal belt like it is part of the country. For the rest of our citizenry, Fata became ilaqa-e-ghayr – the area of the ‘others’. Since 1947, these ‘others’ are believed to be dubious elements from Pakistan and other countries who are seeking a safe haven.

Whatever baggage they brought with them seeped into the country right under the nose of the state, which never managed to say: ‘enough is enough’. Now, the people of Fata have themselves said that enough is enough. In doing so, they have put the very fabric of our democracy and constitution under question. Fata needs to be brought under the ambit of all the articles and sections of the constitution rather than just Article 247. If Article 247 had a name it would be called the ‘article of enslavement’ – and not just any form of enslavement. Although the British colonisers may have left the Subcontinent a long time ago, Fata remains enslaved by a set of draconian laws. These laws served two ends: crush the tribes that had the potential to rebel against the Raj; and create a buffer that would provide a cushion to the Soviet influence from Central Asia through Afghanistan.

Such treatment has had severe implications on Fata. With each passing day, the presence of these draconian laws are likely to become all the more pronounced. To the people of mainstream Pakistan, more people will leave the ‘region of the others’. More people from Fata will want to educate their children; more young people will want access to a decent lifestyle; and more students will want to become doctors, engineers, pilots and journalists after finishing high school. And the more they do so, the more they will be required to leave Fata – if they haven’t already been driven away because of militancy and military operations.

When they leave the tribal belt, they will get to know more about the importance of the right to fair trials through greater access to the media and the internet. They will finally get a taste of democracy – even if it hovers between zero and one on a scale of 10 in Pakistan. There will be even more noise and muzzling until someone breaks the wheel or it breaks on its own.

It is time for the state to break this wheel and give its five million victimised children a piece of the bread that 210 million others already have access to. Hunger makes us do unimaginable things. Feed us before we starve to the extent that we have to survive on snakes and lizards – or worse, before we are left for the snakes and lizards to feed on. It is time to provide the people of Fata with access to human rights and an efficient justice system. They must be included within the ambit of the constitution and provided the promise of development instead of endless wars.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @salarzai_

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