A rushed transition

The promised development funds for merged tribal areas must see light of the day if the state wants to gain respect of the people and restore order in the erstwhile Fata

A rushed transition

The tragedy of Army Public School at Peshawar on December 16, 2014 made all the national leadership to assemble at one place and unanimously decide the National Action Plan (NAP). One of the decisions related to reforming the tribal regions. It was noted that much of the militancy in the country is rooted in Fata due to its outdated legal and administrative system. It had to be synchronised with the mainstream legal system.

The government of KP was pushed beyond its limits to expedite the process of merger. Neither was the government of KP ready nor the systems of Fata compatible enough to be merged forthwith as the federal government insisted. Whenever such a policy decision is taken, governments go for a detailed feasibility. However, this one is strange where a detailed feasibility was undertaken by none other than the Prime Minister’s Committee yet the same was thrown to the wind. Instead of going by the feasibility study, a few people having the clout decided the fate of millions. No one asked anything, no one raised the issue at any forum and no inquiry was conducted.

The administrative departments concerning different sectors like Education and Health have been shifted to KP. They have been shifted in a sense that the reporting channels have been changed and now the directors in-charge of various directorates of erstwhile Fata will be reporting to the concerned administrative secretaries at Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. All of them are undergoing the usual process of transition and no doubt faced with issues, yet hopefully they will be resolved in coming days.

This will be the first budget of KP where Fata’s portfolio has also been added, hence another step towards integrating the systems. However, several areas need immediate attention and cannot be managed like other areas by simply changing the reporting channels.

The foremost among these issues is development of Fata. Development needs expertise and commitment, yet all these expertise and will of the government are of no use without money. As committed by the federal government, the money is to come by making a cut on the provinces. Provinces were to sacrifice some share for development of Fata and national security. The idea has been hanging around for the past many years now, yet the meeting of National Finance Commission hasn’t been convened to materialise this idea.

The big question is whether the provinces will agree to it or not given the changed economic scenario where the fiscal space will further shrink after the budget. If it didn’t materialise, what will the government do to honour its commitments? Either take some loan or ignore Fata as happened traditionally? There must be some plan and public be informed of it as all are clueless. I must say that the only carrot in this whole package of merger has been this "one trillion" development package, and nothing else. The people of Fata are not fond of police, prisons and lower judiciary. This development fund must see light of the day if the state wants to gain respect of the people and restore order in the area.

Other crucial area is fate of Fata’s resources. Fata is teeming with natural resources including coal, granite, copper, soap stone, marbles and nephrite. The Fata Development Authority (FDA) was responsible for administering this area. The FDA lacked the capacity to realise the potential of Fata’s resources and was reportedly into corrupt practices. It has now been shifted to Minerals Department of Khyber Pakhtukhwa. However, it’s strange that instead of expediting and upgrading the systems, the mining activities at the merged districts have been at a standstill for months now. The government of KP has failed to approve the policy made by the department. Besides, vested interests and mining cartels are at play to pry upon the resources of Fata. The delay and lack of transparency in these projects have raised further doubts which need to be clarified by the government.

Development needs expertise and commitment, yet all these expertise and will of the government are of no use without money. As committed by the federal government, the money is to come by making a cut on the provinces. Provinces were to sacrifice some share for development of Fata.

Criminal justice system has been one of the reasons to delay the merger as it’s altogether different from merging other areas like education or health into KP. The pillars of criminal justice system include policing, judiciary, prisons and prosecution. The erstwhile Fata was managed under Frontier Crimes Regulation and the writ of courts wasn’t extended.

FCR was a mere procedural law whereby council of elders would do the adjudication in civil and criminal cases as per Rewaj. It wasn’t some draconian law as interpreted by many except for a few clauses in the Rewaj and collective responsibility which contradict the fundamental human rights. However, the Rewaj and collective responsibility clauses were abused during the military operations. People were comfortable with that system for hundreds of years. The people were used to it except for a few black spots which could have been removed easily.

However, it was decided to rush with extension of the lower courts and abolish Rewaj altogether. Powers were taken from the civil administration and council of elders. However, neither the people are used to this system nor does the supporting paraphernalia exist for the conventional judiciary to work. A stark example is lack of land settlement record in Fata. Judiciary would decide cases based on evidence and documents, whereas the documents they would be seeking for scrutiny do not exist in the first place.

The people in Fata were comfortable with their respective Rewaj Law for civil cases whereas they are now faced with an alien legal language which is beyond their understanding. They are being hoodwinked by the government that their "Jirgas" would be intact in form of DRCs (Dispute Resolution Councils) at police stations. Jirga without Rewaj is toothless and placing it with police makes it further controversial.

The way forward to settle this issue is promulgation of a Rewaj Act, codifying all respective Rewajs of various tribes and enacting them as subordinate rules. The civil administration may administer the Jirgas under the new Rewaj Act. All clauses contradicting the fundamental rights can be omitted accordingly. The same may work as a first line of arbitration. The judiciary may work as an appellate forum. If this arrangement is not palatable to conventional legalists permanently, it can be changed accordingly. It needs to operate like this for at least coming ten years for a smooth legal transition.

It was insisted to merge the 30,000 Khasadar and Levy force into police. However, instead of merging them, an ordinance has been issued whereby merely the command of force has been shifted to police, instead of civil administration. The force went on agitations and demanded either to be retained as Khasadars (an inherited rank) with civil administration or to be fully merged into police with same salaries, incentives and pensions as enjoyed by other police constables. The government instead manoeuvered them in a colonial fashion. The Subedars were made DSPs and Naib Subedars as SHOs. They are yet to be merged into police though as committed. The government has to change Police Rules to accommodate them and extend the financial benefits.

Lastly, instead of silencing them, the agitating workers of PTM demanding civil rights and accountability need to be listened to and accommodated. Two options can be opted. First, a "truth and reconciliation commission" be constituted to probe the allegations and counter allegations. If there are wounds, they are to be healed through justice. Second is a parliamentary guarantee that the area and people won’t be used in any armed conflict in the future.

A rushed transition