PESHAWAR: The reforms process in FATA was initiated two years back on the direction of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Recently the former cabinet of Nawaz Sharif had also approved the recommendations of FATA Reforms Committee.
However, the cabinet was also dissolved with the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in Panama Papers case of 28 July 2017. The reforms process earlier faced hindrances due to opposition by certain political parties. The disqualification of Nawaz Sharif and dissolution of the federal cabinet has served as a fresh blow to the already fragile reforms process.
Member National Assembly from Khyber Agency Al-Haaj Shah Jee Gul Afridi believes that the reforms process can be initiated according to the law from the point where it stopped after the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif.
“The draft of the reforms has already been approved by the cabinet, and it doesn’t require fresh approval from the new cabinet. The bill has been processed according to legal procedure. It requires passage from SAFRON Standing Committee and then the signatures of the President of Pakistan for final approval,” Mr. Afridi said while talking to TNN.
Another MNA from Khyber Agency Nasir Khan Afridi, who is also parliamentary leader of FATA, says the new prime minister has promised to pursue the agenda of reforms in FATA on a priority basis. He said the FATA lawmakers will use their influence on the government to complete the reforms process without further delay.
“Reforms in FATA are inevitable. Shahid Khaqan Abbasi before his election as prime minister promised us that he will vigorously pursue the process of reforms in the tribal areas. We are hopeful that our efforts will bear fruit,” he said.
The ruling PML-N MNA from North Waziristan Nazir Khan also supports the efforts of his fellow tribal lawmakers for reforms in FATA. “Disqualification of Nawaz Sharif will never affect the reforms process and it will continue till its logical conclusion. FATA lawmakers should be united to complete the process in an amicable manner. There is no harm in losing the war, but losing the courage is really harmful,” he argued.
The JUI-F MNA from South Waziristan Agency Muhammad Jamaluddin says Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has assured him that development process in FATA will continue and Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) will be abolished. However, he said, the JUI-F is still firm on knowing the people’s opinion on the question of FATA merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
“There are two kinds of reforms in FATA — the first type is about the abolition of FCR, administrative reforms and development and the second is the merger of FATA with KP. No consensus was evolved on the question of the merger even in the era of Nawaz Sharif. However, there is consensus on the issues of FATA development package, share in the National Finance Commission Award, the appointment of 20,000 Levies personnel and abolition of FCR. A new prime minister is a decent person and we are hopeful that he will fully cooperate with us in settling these issues,” he said.
People from different walks of life in FATA have different opinions about the fate of the reforms process after disqualification of Nawaz Sharif.
Hanzala Mehsud from Makeen tehsil of South Waziristan says: “The reforms process may face further delays if the new prime minister showed indifference towards reforms. Policy-making is not the task of a single person, so it is expected that the old policy about FATA reforms will be pursued by the new administration.”
Muhammad Imran from North Waziristan says: “I don’t believe that the reforms process will suffer as all the political forces of the country want reforms.”
Sana Bibi from Bajaur Agency says: “Disqualification of Nawaz Sharif has served a fresh blow to the whole process because the political parties are fighting with each other and reforms in FATA is not their priority now.”
Hairan Mohmand from Haleemzai, Mohmand Agency, says: “Members of the Parliament and political parties have major role in reforms, but, unfortunately, the FATA lawmakers are divided into three groups over the issue. The change of prime minister is not an issue. The government can implement the reforms if it shows sincerity.”
Alia Bibi from Parachinar believes that the removal of Nawaz Sharif will negatively impact the process. “The former premier was aware about the whole issue as he was making efforts in this regard for the last four years. Nawaz Sharif’s removal has brought the process to a standstill,” she said.
Hanif from Bajaur Agency says Mr Sharif failed to complete the reforms process, and hopefully Shahid Khan Abbasi will complete it.
TNN also conducted a panel interview with Khyber Agency’s eminent lawyer Latif Afridi, Pakhtunkhwa Olasi Tehreek North Waziristan leader Dr Said Alam Mehsud, journalist Sahibzada Bahauddin from Bajaur Agency and FATA Political Alliance leader Advocate Ijaz Mohmand on possible impact of Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification on FATA reforms.
TNN (from Latif Afridi): What will be the impact of Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification on FATA reforms?
Latif Afridi: The former premier was an experienced person with in-depth knowledge of issues. Now we will have to make new friendships and relations to pursue the process again. The FATA parliamentarians have given their vote in favour of Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on the condition of taking the reforms process to logical conclusion. It shows that the reforms process will continue.
TNN (from Said Alam Mehsud): Do you see any change in approach towards reforms with arrival of a new premier?
Said Alam Mehsud: Nawaz Sharif had actually stopped the reforms process as he had changed the recommendations of the committee headed by Sartaj Aziz. We must not expect much from the new set up and keep the process alive by continuing personal efforts. The FATA parliamentarians, political alliance, lawyers, doctors, journalists and students should keep pressurising the government for completion of reforms. The government may have its own problems, but change in the status of FATA is direly needed.
TNN (from Ijaz Mohmand): What is your view about efforts made during last two years for FATA reforms and current situation when a prime minister is sent home?
Ijaz Mohmand: The change of prime minister makes no difference. The people of FATA made tremendous efforts for reforms and they also showed great patience during the whole process, but now they cannot wait further. The merger of FATA with KP is inevitable to ensure a strong Pakistan. The merger is actually an agenda of completion of Pakistan. Perhaps the forum of the United Nations may be approached to achieve this end as we are disappointed with the Parliament and other national forums in this regard. Our parliamentarians appear to be very strong in their determination of bringing reforms in FATA when they talk to media outside the Parliament, but their attitude changes as soon as they enter the Parliament building. The real issue is about interests of lawmakers which are common. The parliamentarians seem to be more inclined towards using the NFC funds of FATA on their upcoming election campaign instead of giving these funds to tribal areas for development. The provincial government is also trying to get these funds which show that conflict of interest is hindering the whole process. There is no backing out of FATA reforms process as for as our efforts are concerned. We will further increase pressure to achieve our goal in the time to come.
TNN (from Sahibzada Bahauddin): As a journalist, do you see any major hindrance in the reforms process after the ouster of Nawaz Sharif and arrival of Shahid Khaqan Abbasi?
Sahibzada Bahauddin: The reforms process ignited a new passion among the people of FATA for the change of the system, but unfortunately, the whole issue was politicised. There were certain elements who preferred personal interest over the national interest and now the process is in the middle of nowhere. The political parties did not extend the level of cooperation which was expected from them. A sincere effort rising above political considerations is needed to revive the process. The common man in FATA is disappointed with the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif as with him the hope of reforms in FATA has also gone.
TNN (from Latif Afridi): What will be the legal status of reforms approved by the former cabinet?
Latif Afridi: The bill has no status now because no proper debate was conducted on it in the Parliament which is mandatory under the Constitution.
TNN: Then why our FATA lawmakers distributed sweets when the cabinet approved the bill?
Latif Afridi: A thirsty person often sees the illusion of water in the desert, but there is no water in the desert. The parliamentarians were happy as they are making efforts for reforms, but their joy turned out to be short-lived. We will consult all our friends and organize a Grand Jirga on the issue soon. If the Jirga did not work, then we will devise the future strategy in this regard.
TNN (from Said Alam Mehsud): What should be the new strategy for ensuring completion of reforms process?
Said Alam Mehsud: Our political leadership, social activists, lawyers, and students should join hands and stage a massive sit-in to tell the government that they can’t tolerate further delay in reforms.
TNN: How it will be possible when the FATA MNAs have differences among them over the mode of reforms and the Maliks, elders, and youth are also not unanimous over the issue?
Said Alam Mehsud: This is true, but we will have to persuade our lawmakers. The MNAs will also be considering this issue going into the next elections. Certain parties make statements in favor of reforms, but they have done nothing practical on the federal level to force the issue. The power of public is the only way to succumb those in power to the will of FATA people. The people making sincere efforts for reforms must also be encouraged.
TNN (from Sahibzada Bahauddin): What is your view about these efforts?
Sahibzada Bahauddin: I will support the viewpoint of Ijaz because the hopes of FATA people with the federal leadership are somewhat faded. The tribal leadership will have to join hands and stage massive protests to pursue their just demands.
TNN (from Latif Afridi): If the FATA parliamentarians have voted for Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on the condition of implementing FATA reforms package than the JUI-F, which is also a government ally, must have also put its own conditions. What is the possible future scenario amid conflicting demands by various quarters from the new PM?
Latif Afridi: No doubt the issue is complicated and we have seen many such difficulties in the recent past. However, if we succeeded in bringing even 5,000 people to the Grand Jirga then the situation can change abruptly. The Jirga will provide a joint platform to the FATA people to present their demands before government. The PTI, ANP, PPP, QWP, JI and even the MQM are supporting reforms in FATA. The Grand Jirga can prove a milestone in moving the reforms process forward.
This article has been taken from TNN program ‘Badloon’ which discusses political activities and reforms process in the tribal areas. TNN producers Shan Muhammad and Salman Ahmed prepared this program which was broadcast on five radio channels of FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
TNN correspondents Ali Afzal, Marukh Jabeen, Gul Muhammad Mohmand, Malik Azmat, Nabi Jan Orakzai, Rizwan Mehsud, Shah Khalid, Shah Nawaz Khan Afridi and Hikmat Shah contributed to this article.