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Various reforms have been introduced in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) since the creation of Pakistan in 1947. The latest reforms process started with submission of 22nd constitutional amendment bill for FATA reforms in the National Assembly by the current members of the National Assembly (NA )from the tribal areas in September last year. As result of the submission of the bill in (NA), Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif established FATA Reforms Committee headed by Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz and including Minister for States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) Lieutenant General (Retd) Abdul Qadir Baloch, National Security Adviser Lt Gen (R) Nasser Khan Janjua, MNA Zahid Hamid and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governor to ascertain the viewpoint of FATA people about possible reforms in FATA and submit their recommendations. The FATA Reforms Committee started the consultation process with its visit to Bajaur Agency in December last year. In early April the committee members visited Landikotal, the main town in Khyber Agency, where they got a rousing welcome. A large number of people belonging to different walks of life, including tribal elders, lawyers and political activists, were invited to a Jirga on the occasion to present their viewpoint about the future status of the region. Malik Waris Khan, a tribal elder, said during the Jirga that the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) law is in conformity with the tribal traditions. However, he said it is inappropriate to link some national issues with this law. “The situation in which we are today are prevailing in the whole country for last eight-nine years. It (law and order) is an international problem which should not be linked with tribal people. We are ready to talk on some controversial clauses in the FCR, but we cannot allow altering the tribal status of FATA,” he warned. Malik Ismail Torkhel, an elder from Jamrud sub-division of Khyber Agency, said on the occasion that the government should ensure repatriation of the Temporary Displaced Persons (TDPs) and provide all facilities to them before reforms are brought in FATA. “The first and foremost priority of the government should be to bring back the FATA people to their homes from tents. The reforms process is not that much important now. The FCR is not such a bad law as has been propagated. The governance system collapsed after the tribal elders were rendered powerless. History stands testimony to the fact that the whole social structure goes in disarray where elders have no voice,” he said. On the other hand, Malik Tahir Afridi termed the FCR root cause of all problems in the tribal areas and demanded its complete abolishment. “The tribal people had been deprived of basic rights like hiring a lawyer. All kinds of political activities were banned in FATA till August 2011. The Supreme Court of Pakistan has declared this law (FCR) against the constitution and the Federal Shariat Court has declared it against Shariah, but vested interests have kept the law alive by linking it with tribal traditions and customs. I ask them whether the tribal traditions did not exist before 1901? Whether there was no Jirga system before the FCR?” he asked. There was heated debate during the Jirga among people having different viewpoints on the reforms agenda. For the first time in FATA history, a woman representative, Mehreen Afridi, was also invited to the Jirga. She said the opinion of women of FATA should also be considered during the reforms process. “Men are not the only victims of the FCR. The tribal women also have their problems and FCR is the main reason behind those problems. In either case – merging of FATA with KP or establishment of separate FATA province – will be acceptable after the abolishment of FCR,” she said. At the time of the Jirga, the FATA political alliance and other tribal people also staged a protest against the FCR outside the Jirga Hall and demanded its annulment. Tribal people have different views about the formation and work of the Reforms Committee ? A tribesman from South Waziristan said the FATA Reforms Committee is conducting visits to different tribal agencies in a democratic way which is a good step. “I am fully satisfied with their working as they are mostly meeting the common people to know their opinions,” he said. However, a tribesman from North Waziristan thinks differently. “I don’t think that the committee will achieve its goals as it includes people who have no knowledge of the tribal traditions and customs,” he said. A tribal elder from Bara area of Khyber Agency said it is a very good process to get the opinions of tribal people about changes in the FCR law.“It is good that they are contacting tribal elders for reforms. It would have been even better had they conducted a referendum on the issue,” he said. Hazrat Wali, a resident of Tirah area of Khyber Agency, said the committee has all powers and the common man has no say in it. “It is a self-made committee and it will do whatever it wants. It should respect the verdict of FATA population,” he demanded. Deedar Ali, a resident of Mir Ali, North Waziristan, said there was no need of forming this committee. “The FATA lawmakers submitted reforms bill in the National Assembly and enough discussions were held on it. The proposals of the FATA parliamentarians should have been implemented,” he said. Fauzee Khan Mohmand said the FATA Reforms Committee is wasting its time. “Nowhere in Pakistan such committees are formed before introducing legislation. They are just wasting their time here,” he criticised. A resident of Kurram Agency said the common people of FATA are often reluctant to express themselves in Jirga halls. “No one has expressed himself freely in the Jirga halls. These Jirgas should be held in open places,” he said. A citizen from Bajaur Agency said the people of his area had staged protest when the FATA Reforms Committee visited Bajaur. “Our people had reservations about the committee. Only the people close to the political administration were allowed to speak, while common people were not allowed to express themselves in the consultative Jirgas,” he said. Sajid, a resident of Kurram Agency, said he is worried about the possibility that the FATA Reforms Committee may submit its recommendations against the will of the tribal people. “Although, we are happy over formation of this committee, but at the same time, we fear it might present a wrong report to the prime minister,” he said. The FATA Reforms Committee has conducted visits to Mohmand, Waziristan, Kurram and Orakzai tribal regions in recent months. During the visit to Kurram Agency in the end of March this year, different stakeholders including the tribal and political leaders were invited for consultation at the Jirga Hall in Parachinar. Former senator Sajjad Hussain, former MNA Munir Khan and other tribal elders presented their proposals at the Jirga. Most of the speakers on the occasion demanded FATA merger with KP and abolishment of the FCR. However, some elders also supported the FCR. KP Governor Iqbal Zafar Jhagra said on the occasion that reforms will be carried out in FATA according to the will of people. He said the process of consultations and Jirgas with the tribal population is underway.“It is wrong to assume that the committee after all this process will impose its own will on the tribal people. We are noting down the proposals of all the stakeholders and will present the final report to the prime minister. It is also likely that the prime minister will invite all the stakeholders to Islamabad for a final session before arriving at any final conclusion,” the governor said. Mr Jhagra said the prime minister is resolving all the national issues through consultation process.“The premier doesn’t believe in making decisions while sitting in his office. He consulted all the parties after the tragedy of Army Public School and on mega project of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Similarly, he has formed a FATA Reforms Committee to consult the tribal population on the reforms issue,” he said. The governor said decision on the FCR will also be taken according to public aspirations. “This law is in place since 1901, so the prime minister decided to consult the tribal population about the FCR instead of repealing the law abruptly. In democratic societies no steps are taken unilaterally,” he explained. After the Kurram visit, the reforms committee visited Orakzai Agency to record opinions of people. During the visit to Hangu, which serves as headquarters of Orakzai, Additional Chief Secretary FATA Muhammad Aslam Kamboh, Commissioner Kohat Musarrat Hussain, MNA from Orakzai Dr Ghazi Gulab Jamal, Senator Orangzeb Orakzai, lawyers, journalists and tribal elders were present to meet with committee members and apprise them of their opinions on reforms. The tribal elders said on the occasion that the time has arrived to introduce changes in the tribal administrative system. They said the people of FATA lag behind from people of the rest of country due to the existing governance system. Sartaj Aziz, the head of the reforms committee, while addressing the Jirga said that during visits to different tribal areas, the FATA Reforms Committee came to know that the people of FATA want reforms, restoration of peace and rehabilitation of TDPs. “There is consensus on the issue of establishing peaceful environment in FATA with the reforms in the region. The law and order situation has improved considerably in Waziristan and even in Orakzai Agency after operation Zarb-e-Azb,” he said. Sartaj Aziz said the tribal people should express themselves freely during consultation process on reforms.“With the grace of Almighty Allah, we will do such things here in FATA which had not been done in the last 50 years. We need guidance and advices of the tribal population to know their priorities,” Mr Aziz said. He said there is some difference of opinion on the reforms issue in FATA, but it is all part of democratic culture. “Difference of opinion is the spirit of democracy. Instead of raising slogans, we will encourage people to convince us with reason and arguments that how the abolishment of FCR or not touching the law will benefit or damage the tribal region,” he said. The committee chairman assured the tribal population to present their proposals to the prime minister, who will take final decision on it. “The committee will compile its recommendations soon. We will fully incorporate the suggestions of all stakeholders and will take final decision keeping in view the priorities of tribal people,” he said. Reforms had been introduced in the FCR from time to time under the recommendations of different committees and commissions. Major developments in this regard include right to adult franchise in 1996, political activities in 2011 and establishment of FATA Tribunal. Ibrahim Shinwari, a tribal journalist, during an interview told TNN that committees were also formed on the FCR in the past, but their reports were never made public. “It is unfortunate that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government is in power in the Centre for the third time, but they don’t know about the FATA situation. Many committees were formed for FATA reforms in the past, the most important of which was Mian Ajmal led committee. However, the report of that committee was never made public. Mian Ajmal’s committee was formed to propose reforms in FCR. The reforms by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government committee in 2011 took many hints from Mian Ajmal’s report which was very comprehensive,” he said. Mr Shinwari said the needs of the current time are different now. He said the present committee is tasked to decide the future status of FATA region. He said the FCR will go in either case if the FATA region is converted into a province or it is merged with KP. “Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif deserves full appreciation for holding the Core Committee meeting in Peshawar last year in which five points were presented. The army chief enquired in the meeting that why reforms were not introduced in FATA so far. The reforms process kicked off after that meeting and a committee was also formed for that purpose. The FATA Reforms Committee has been mandated to decide the future status of FATA but it has lost its way and it is still entangled in the FCR issue,” he said. Shinwari said all the parties are unanimous on abolishment of the FCR. “All the political parties and media associations want abolishment of the FCR, not amendments. Although, the PPP took help from the previous reports on FATA reforms but they did not form committees or held Jirgas for that purpose,” he said.
TNN correspondents Saleemur Rehman, Malik Azmat, Gohar Wazir, Ali Afzal, and Mehrab Afridi contributed to this report.