The existing Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) law in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) has always been under criticism from different quarters, while the successive governments also brought some changes in the controversial British-era law – the most important being the right to franchise in 1996 and political parties act extension to FATA in 2011.
Efforts for reforms in the administrative system of FATA once again got momentum when lawmakers from the tribal areas submitted 22nd amendment bill in the National Assembly for FATA reforms. In response to the bill, the federal government formed a consultative committee comprising federal ministers and governor KPK, which recommended several reforms in the administrative and judicial set up of the region after having consultations with FATA people. Now the reforms proposed by the committee have been approved by federal government and sent the proposals for approval from the parliament.
Khan Wali Afridi, a political activist hailing from Khyber Agency, says for the first time in the country’s history, a serious effort has been made for introducing reforms in FATA.
“For the first time, the tribal lawmakers have unanimously agreed upon the modus operandi of reforms that is merger of FATA with KP. Now an issue has been created that whether FATA should be made a separate province and what kind of amendments should be made in the FCR,” he said while talking to TNN.
Noor Muhammad Binori, a journalist and social activist of Bajaur Agency, says reforms in FATA are inevitable, because this is the only region in Pakistan which lags behind in development as compared to other parts of the country.
Subedar (R) Sabir Bangash, a resident of Kurram Agency, says the committee did a commendable job while completing their recommendations. “The committee duly considered the viewpoint of tribal, religious and political leaders while compiling their recommendations for FATA reforms,” he said.
However, people from different quarters have expressed concern over lack of any progress on the implementation of reforms package since then. “Now we are seeing that the government is not responding appropriately to the popular demand of FATA reforms implementation. There is no roadmap as to how the implementation process will move forward,” says Professor Samina Afridi from Khyber Agency.
Haji Dilfaroz Khan, a tribal elder from North Waziristan Agency, says implementation of reforms package is not a favour to the FATA people, rather it is a requirement of justice. He says using the reforms process for political point scoring tantamount to cruelty with the tribal people.
“We are making efforts to streamline our whole education, business and way of life in the reforms process. Further delay in implementation of reforms may prove detrimental,” he said.
The whole process has been stalled after approval of the federal cabinet. TNN talked to people from different walks of life about their views on the current state of reforms in FATA and got interesting replies.
Saad from Mohmand Agency says after signing of the reforms draft by the federal cabinet, complete silence on the issue has given rise to many apprehensions.Abdul Majeed, president of Bajaur Political Alliance, says, “The government has assured implementation of reforms, but we have seen no progress for the last one month.” Naila Altaf from Kurram Agency says “Riwaj Act seems to be a replica of FCR. They (government) are behaving in a manner as if they are doing us a big favour by allocating budget for us. It was our right, not a favour by anyone,” she said.
Ali Zaman from South Waziristan Agency says if decision on FATA reforms was correct than what is the logic behind keeping its implementation pending for five years. Asad Aziz Mehsud believes mountainous and rugged tribal areas cannot be urbanised overnight. “Merger of FATA with KP will happen with passage of time, but the administration and judiciary should have been separated on priority basis,” he said. Ayesha Hassan from Mohmand Agency believes that the government half-heartedly accepted the popular demand of reforms. “It’s like renovating an old house and giving it a new name,” she said. A tribesman from Orakzai Agency says he is not satisfied with the promises made by the government and the timeframe of five years seems unrealistic.
Ms Aziza Mehsud from South Waziristan says a lot of confusion prevails in the whole process. She says proper planning is needed to accomplish the task. Inayatullah, hailing from Sepah tribe, says some tribal elders have approached the court against the reforms package. “They are not willing to give rights to FATA people and they are making efforts to halt the process,” he said.
Under the existing reforms package, the local government elections are to be held in FATA after the 2018 general elections and FATA will have the opportunity to elect members of the provincial assembly in the general polls. The recommendations also include 3 percent share of FATA in the National Finance Commission (NFC) Award and appointment of 20,000 Levies personnel. During the next 10 years, the federal government will spend NFC and other development funds of FATA. A debate is going on among tribal elders, lawyers, politicians and social activists about five major challenges in the implementation of reforms.
TNN also organised a debate among anti-merger lawyer from South Waziristan Kashan Abdullah Mehsud, pro-merger lawyer from Khyber Agency Farhad Afridi and a journalist from Mohmand Agency Abdul Hakeem Mohmand on the issue of reforms implementation.
TNN (from Farhad Afridi): What are the main hurdles in reforms implementation after the cabinet approval?
Farhad Afridi: The process is quite simple as given in the Constitution of Pakistan. The reforms package will be presented in the National Assembly for voting after which it will be sent to the Senate. The bill will return to the National Assembly if the Senate suggested any changes. After approval, the bill will be sent to the President of Pakistan for signing. If the Senate blocks the bills, then the National Assembly can requisition a joint session of the Parliament to pass the bill with simple majority to make it a law.
TNN (from Kashan Abdullah Mehsud): Do you see any major hurdles in making the FATA reforms package part of the Constitution?
Kashan Abdullah Mehsud: There are no major legal or technical hurdles as such. After approval of the cabinet, the reforms bill is likely to be approved by both the Houses of the Parliament and the President will also have no objection while signing it. Amendment to the Constitution is inevitable as the existing status of FATA is defined under sub-article 1 of article 247 of the Constitution. This clause will be deleted to bring changes in the system of FATA.
TNN (from Farhad Afridi): Will the Parliament delete the said clause first or hold debate on other issues related to FATA reforms?
Farhad Afridi: Parliament will make legislation, however, it is the government’s responsibility to prepare ground for it. Parliament will resolve all the issues concerning FATA like basic human rights, judiciary, Political Parties Act and constitutional status, etc.
TNN (from Abdul Hakeem Mohmand): Do you see any seriousness on part of the government to implement FATA reforms?
Abdul Hakeem Mohmand: The government will have to do it come what may. If they are serious, then they should unveil their plan and give final shape to the reforms. We all believe that a good time is coming for our region with reforms. However, it can also take a negative turn in the future. Everyone considers FCR as a black law, and its replica in the shape of Riwaj Act may also cause trouble for people.
The second main point is that our members of the KP Assembly will not have any power of legislation. What is the use of such a lawmaker, who can’t make legislation in the Assembly? The previous government extended the sphere of Political Parties Act to FATA without consuming much time, but this time around, the reforms are taking a lot of time, which is creating doubts among the minds of tribal people. They should take their time on matters which actually consume time. Extension of the high court jurisdiction to FATA needs discussion, however, amendment on basic rights of FATA people should not consume much time. Instead of giving political colour to reforms, the process must be carried out with sincerity, which needs political will. The suppression of FATA people should come to an end.
TNN: You mean that the government has no other option but to go ahead with the reforms package, but it doesn’t show enough seriousness?
Abdul Hakeem Mohmand: The government may have its own interest in the whole issue. Everyone know that the Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Mehmood Khan Achakzai are opposing reforms, but at the same times they are allies of the federal government. They are politicising the issue which is very unfortunate.
TNN: Parliament will take final decision on the reforms package. Will all parties take part in the debate on the issue in the Parliament?
Abdul Hakeem Mohmand: All parties will take part in the discussion and vote in favour or against the reforms package.
TNN (from Kashan Abdullah): What will be the fate of the bill if parties resorted to politicking on the issue in the Parliament as well and indulged in tug-of-war?
Kashan Abdullah: It will negatively impact the progress and the bill will continue to rest in the cold storage.
TNN (from Farhad Afridi): What will happen in such an eventuality?
Farhad Afridi: The people of FATA need to understand this issue. All the parliamentarians will present their views on the bill once it comes for debate. I share the concerns raised by Abdul Hakeem that the FATA members of KP Assembly will remain powerless in the transition period and it is also feared that the tribal MPAs will remain powerless even after transition. I think the five-year transition time to decide the future of FATA will be more than enough.
TNN (from Kashan Abdullah Mehsud): What legal or constitutional hitches are expected to hinder the ongoing reforms process?
Kashan Abdullah Mehsud: Malik Khan Marjan of FATA Grand Alliance has filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court of Pakistan over the issue and its outcome is awaited. The process will suffer greatly if the Supreme Court decided in Khan Marjan’s favour. No one is opposing mainstreaming of FATA, but there are differences on the question of merger with KP. The apex court will also focus on these two points, i.e. merger or separate FATA province.
On the other hand, sincerity is missing in the political point scoring on the reforms. Some politicians are trying to deceive the simple tribal people on the issue.
TNN (from Abdul Hakeem Mohmand): Is it possible to complete the reforms process without any legal or constitutional hitches?
Abdul Hakeem Mohmand: It will need political will as pointed out by Mr Farhad as system could not be changed by mere a stroke of pen. The main thing is that who is voting and what is his agenda. I feel that the leaders opposing the existing reforms draft should be consulted once again before presenting it for debate in the Parliament. Differences are bound to emerge as some people are more interested in political point-scoring than reforms. Opposition parties don’t want completion of the reforms package in the tenure of this government. The FATA people should rise to the occasion to get their due rights.
TNN (from Farhad Afridi): If the Parliamentarians suggested some changes in the reforms package thaen will the whole process be initiated from the beginning or some other procedure will be adopted?
Farhad Afridi: The tribal lawmakers have given due weightage to the aspirations of people of FATA while moving the bill in the National Assembly. The bill just seeks a status for the people of FATA which is already enjoyed by other people of the country. Differences are bound to emerge during debate on the bill. However, the bill can also move forward with the suggested amendments and it will be signed by the President of Pakistan after passage from National Assembly and Senate, although, he can also recommend some amendments. There are no more complications as such. All we need is political will and sincerity. The mainstream political parties are politicising the issue for personal gains. The other complication may come in the shape of Riwaj Act. If the bill was not presented in the upcoming session of the National Assembly on 20 May than it will face long delay as it will follow budget session where no other issue could be raised. The budget session may end in July after which the next session will take even more time to commence. I personally believe that Sartaj Aziz is sincere in the whole process and he wants to stay alive in the hearts of the tribal people forever. The issue should be seen beyond politics and public interest must be given top priority.
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This article has been translated from TNN programme ‘Badloon’ which discusses political activities and reforms process in the tribal areas. TNN producers Shan Muhammad and Salman Ahmed prepared this programme which was broadcast from five radio channels of FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
TNN correspondents Shah Khalid, Gul Muhammad Mohmand, Malik Azmat, Ali Afzal, Marukh Jabeen, Gohar Wazir, Nabi Jan Orakzai, Shah Nawaz Afridi and Rizwan Mehsud contributed to this article.