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November 3, 2018

Remembering Fata


November 3, 2018

The previous government had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into accepting reforms for the erstwhile Fata that merged it with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Many of the PML-N’s allies, operating out of base electoral concerns, were opposed to the merger and the government repeatedly delayed implementation and didn’t take into account many of the concerns of the people of the tribal areas. The end result was a constitutional hodgepodge that extends full rights to Fata – but only in theory. The Fata Interim Governance Regulation repealed the archaic Frontier Crimes Regulation but replaced it with a system where deputy commissioners were given judicial powers. This system was only meant to be in place till the merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa could be completed but such interim orders have a way of becoming permanent.

The previous PML-N government, in an earlier iteration of the reforms, had anticipated this quasi-FCR existing for at least five more years. This regulation has now been declared unconstitutional by the Peshawar High Court, which says it gives the executive branch the responsibilities of the judiciary. Clearly, the interim regulation violated the principle of separation of powers and the government has now been given one month to bring the Fata region under the ambit of the regular judiciary.

The government needs to do this post haste. For the entirety of our existence, the people of Fata have not enjoyed any constitutional protection. They have essentially been treated as colonial subjects, even before the war against militancy destroyed their homes and livelihoods. To level the playing field between Fata and the rest of the country, its residents need to be affirmative helped in matters of jobs, taxes and revenue. The interim regulation did recognise that as it exempted Fata from taxation. But the new government seems to be as exploitative as those that came before it. A government panel formed to review implementation of the reforms had decided to retain the jirga system rather than replacing them with courts, although that has thankfully now been rendered moot by the Peshawar High Court. The tourism department in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has requested the federal government to hand it control of Fata House in Islamabad so that it can generate revenue. If anything, Fata should be given a larger share of the National Finance Commission Award while still getting funds from the centre in recognition of how difficult it is to rebuild after years of war. The government has not made Fata a priority, which will only allow malicious and self-interested actors to take advantage and once again make the tribal areas an afterthought in national policy.

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