Applying the acid test on Fata reforms

Analysts have shared a fear that proposed reforms can hardly be implemented through the mechanisms proposed in the report

Applying the acid test on Fata reforms

As they say, the proof of the pudding is in eating; the success of yet another attempt to bring peace to the country by mainstreaming the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) undoubtedly lies in the implementation of the recommendations of the Fata Reform Committee.

The committee was created by the Prime Minister in November 2015 as a consequence of the National Action Plan (NAP). Its purpose was to propose a concrete way forward for the political mainstreaming of the tribal areas and has been lauded far-and-wide as a step in the right direction, even though it was not the first one taken for the purpose.

Successive governments in the past have also introduced reforms packages for the tribal regions, however, these efforts failed when it came to the implementation of the recommendations of the different reforms committees for one reason or the other.

In 1955 during the period of One-Unit, the tribal areas were represented both in the National and West Pakistan assemblies. At that time, it would have been simple to integrate the areas to the erstwhile North West Frontier Province (NWFP) on the dissolution of One-Unit. But this opportunity was lost.

Another opportunity was lost in 1976 when former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto formed a committee under the then governor, Nasirullah Babar, that had recommended merging Fata with NWFP. Had the 1977 military coup not occurred, this initiative could have succeeded.

Similar initiatives taken in 2006 during the Pervez Musharaf regime and in 2014 by the former provincial governor were also not given the chance to succeed.

This apathy or failure of the previous governments has led to a feeling among the tribesmen that the federal government was disinterested in mainstreaming the region and that it is keen on letting it remain as a black hole.

Because of the loose administrative structure through which Fata has been governed for decades now, it is easy for various groups to take advantage of the region. Some of the 17,000 "privileged maliks" and a few anti-state and anti-social elements all seek to take advantage of the belt of land that is devoid of a strong legal and security system.

The people of Fata have time and again suffered and served for national causes. However, the prevailing belief is that the tribesmen themselves are responsible for their miseries because they committed the original mistake in 1948 when they requested MA Jinnah to recognise Fata’s special status. They joined Pakistan on the condition that they would continue to function as they had under the British administration. Thus Fata was recognised as a constituent part of the Pakistan but not as a separate province nor part of NWFP.

There is also a discrepancy in Chapter 4 stating that the Frontier Crimes Regulations will be replaced with a new Tribal Areas Riwaj Act. If basic human rights are to be granted to the people of Fata, then a Riwaj law makes no sense.

Fata is now passing through a critical juncture where all eyes are set on the implementation of the much-awaited reforms laid down in the recent report. The only way to bring normalcy to the areas is through evolving a governance system in vogue with the adjoining Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

But in keeping with the indifference of those in power to implement reforms packages aimed at mainstreaming the tribal areas, analysts have shared an indistinguishable fear that the proposed reforms can hardly be implemented through the mechanisms proposed in the report.

During the background discussion, parliamentarians and senior bureaucrats who have served in different capacities in Fata came up with the view that an instantaneous merger of Fata with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is unavoidable to preclude the possibility of its becoming a permanent nursery for the militants who have been flushed out by law enforcement agencies.

Rustam Shah Mohmand, Azmat Hanif Aurakzai, Brigadier (Retd) Mehmud Shah, Shahjee Gul Afridi, a Member of the National Assembly (MNA), were among those who sounded skeptical about the implementation of the recommendations and the timeline to put the ambitious "Fata Mainstreaming" project on the ground. Their main concern revolved around the tool, the proposed Directorate of Transition and Reforms (DTR), to implement the recommendations of the committee.

Aurakzai, who has also served as Political Agent South Waziristan and APA North Waziristan, said: "Chapter 5 of the report contains the implementation strategy which envisages the establishment of DTR, consisting of a large number of attached wings and units which will work under the Governor in association with the Fata Secretariat. A timeframe of five years has been indicated in the report for the implementation of the merger plan. The establishment of DTR may appear to be a good idea for the transition to be completed. But realistically speaking the creation of a new and large setup for implementation of the plan will not only be time-consuming but also an extra financial burden."

MNA Afridi from Khyber Agency said he has already brought the unnecessarily long timeframe to the notice of the prime minister and he would also play his role in shortening the timeline when the report is debated in the parliament.

Brig (Retd) Shah, who had also served as secretary Fata during the Musharraf time, said the best way would be to appoint a chief executive who should preferably be a senior bureaucrat of BS-22 and have cordial working relations with both the chief minister and the governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, to carry out the gigantic task of implementing the reforms. The existing Fata Secretariat should be placed under his authority, but it should be dissolved once the overall agenda is accomplished, he said.

The Fata Secretariat, having all the relevant units which have been proposed in the DTR, is manned by 700 employees who are experienced and familiar with the area and their counterparts in the provincial government as they all belong to the civil services cadre of the province.

Moreover, about 52,000 employees of the provincial government are working in different departments of Fata at the secretariat and agency level which makes the transition process easier. The most important factor in ensuring the successful implementation of the plan would be the selection of the chief executive and his core team. Mohmand said the chief executive DTR selected for the job should possess sufficient experience of service in Fata. Most importantly this person should be committed.

The five-year time period for the implementation of the plan has been criticised by the people of Fata. As put in by MNA Afridi, it will generate despair and despondency among the tribesmen. The people want the transition to be complete in the shortest possible time. This task can be completed in three years since the necessary infrastructure already exists in Fata, said Brig (Retd) Shah. All departments like health, education, irrigation, communication and works, agriculture, social welfare, public health engineering and others already have offices and officers of mid-level seniority.

Brig Shah said at first stage the tribal agencies should be annexed to the province as new districts, then the rehabilitation and reconstruction plan should be completed on need basis. Similarly, policing functions can be straightaway assigned to the levies on the pattern of Malakand Agency, Aurakzai suggested.

The only new infrastructure required for Fata will be the judiciary that can be completed within two years.

There is also a discrepancy in Chapter 4 stating that the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) will be replaced with a new Tribal Areas Riwaj Act. Similarly, the jirga system will be retained for both civil and criminal cases; and the judges will decide the cases in line with the findings of the jirga. The report envisions the abolition of the FCR on one hand but then recommends retention of its section 8 and 11 for dealing with subjects. If basic human rights are to be granted to the people of Fata, then a Riwaj law makes no sense. The substantive law for Fata should be the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), and the procedural Law should be the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) like the rest of the country to guarantee people their fundamental rights.

The report also talks about a 10-year development plan for Fata for which a separate chief executive (BS-22) may be also needed. An advisory council comprising of Fata Senators and MNAs has also been proposed for assisting the governor in carrying out administrative functions. This is slightly confusing because it recommends the merger of Fata with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa within a period of five years on one hand, but on the other hand it proposes development by the office of the chief executive for a period of 10 years.

Shah said when the transition is complete then all development activities will be planned by the local body councillors, parliamentarians of the newly transformed districts and the office of the chief executive will become superfluous.

The best part of the recommendations is the holding of local bodies’ election next year. These can be easily conducted by the local government departments that already exist in the tribal agencies.

Mohmand said that alongside the implementation of the merger plan the return of the internally displaced persons of Fata should be the highest priority and their rehabilitation should be carried out by the Fata Disaster Management Authority in coordination with the army present in the tribal belt.

Any laxity or lethargy in the implementation of the reform plan will put the area into much greater crisis especially when the people of the neighbouring Afghanistan are also becoming more bitter towards Pakistan in the wake of the changing geopolits. A delay will also lead to fresh wave of despair among the tribesmen, who have started raising voices against the report of the committee in Bajaur, Tirah valley and Mohmand Agency.

The task ahead for the government may be difficult, but as it is said that in achieving objectives, needs have to be identified, obstacles eliminated and progress maintained.

It is also hoped that the army authorities will continue supporting the transitional process as it is a vital feature of NAP.

Applying the acid test on Fata reforms