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Contributors: TNN correspondents
PESHAWAR: Reforms had been introduced in different shapes in the administrative affairs of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) from time to time. For the first time, the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) law was abolished completely from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province in 1965. Similarly, the administrative powers of Malakand Agency were transferred from the federal government to the KP government in 1975.
Several amendments have been made in FCR since1947.The main and most important reform was introduced in FATA in the year 1996 when the people of the tribal areas were given the right to adult franchise. Before that a few thousand privileged pro-government maliks and elders were entitle to contest and cast their vote in the elections.
A number of changes were also made in the FCR in 2011 that include limiting the application of collective responsibility law to family instead of the whole tribe, establishment of the FATA Tribunal and extension of the Political Parties Act to FATA.
However, the people of FATA are still dissatisfied with the current status of the tribal areas and want more changes in the administrative and judicial structure of the region. Therefore, hot debates are being held by the political leadership of the tribal areas and civil society organizations regarding the reforms process in FATA.
In early February, various political parties of the tribal areas set up a protest camp against the FCR law in front of the Peshawar Press Club which was attended by a large number of political workers from FATA.
The leaders and workers from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Awami National Party (ANP) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) chanted slogans against the controversial law. The PTI leader from Khyber Agency Iqbal Afridi while sitting in the camp told TNN said that he wanted merger of FATA with KP since long. “Why the British-era law is still in place in FATA,” he said adding “FATA parliamentarians have also submitted a bill regarding reforms in the National Assembly. We will support the bill inside and outside the Parliament. We are very clear about our demand of merger with KP.”
Rahim Shah, president of FATA Lawyers Forum said that All the political parties of the country were supporting the bill tabled by the FATA parliamentarians in the National Assembly. “The solution to the FATA problems lies in merger with KP”, he maintained.
The ANP leader from Mohmand Agency, Nisar Muhammad Khan who was also participating in the sit-in, criticized the opponents of proposed FATA merger with KP as he said “the people who are talking about creation of a separate FATA province or council are in fact impeding the reforms process. The people of FATA will gain all their rights after getting the status of citizens like other parts of Pakistan”,
All most all the participants of the camp supported FATA reforms bills particularly FATA merger with KP.
The campaign for reforms in FATA got momentum after the FATA parliamentarians submitted the 22nd constitutional amendment bill in the National Assembly in September, last year. The bill proposes merger of FATA with KP, abolishment of Article (267), return of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) and some other proposals for reforms.
TNN conducted an interview with the forefront support of FATA reforms bill and leader of FATA parliamentarians in the National Assembly Al-Hajj Shah Jee Gul to know the motives behind the idea of bringing the bill in the assembly. Here goes excerpts from his interview.
Shah Jee Gul Afridi: We have availed a legal and constitutional option of tabling a bill in the national assembly which proposes merger of FATA with KP. We have demanded that the income of FATA should be legalised and transportation of goods from Karachi to Torkham, Ghulam Khan, Angoor Adda and other areas of FATA should be allowed on the pattern of trade from Karachi to Chitral. Secondly, we have noted that there is Balochistan Regiment, Gilgit Regiment, Frontier Regiment, Sindh Regiment, Kashmir Regiment and Punjab regiment, but there is no FATA Regiment. So we have proposed establishment of FATA Regiment in the bill. All the political parties of the country are supporting us for the reforms process. We got a major success when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif established a committee for reforms in FATA. For the first time in history, the KP governor and minister for states and frontier regions and other federal government representatives are meeting the tribal population for seeking their about the future status of the region. The bill aimed to build pressure, gain the attention of the government and then gain the support of 200 million population of Pakistan for the much-awaited reforms in FATA. We achieved that goal after the committee was formed and now it is consulting tribal population on possible FATA reforms.
The bill doesn’t carry unnecessary details. It just proposes merger of FATA with KP and giving status to the citizens of FATA which is already being enjoyed by the people of KP. Some political parties objected that the committee does not represent FATA. We say to them that FATA is party in this case but still the FATA parliamentarians are the member of the committee. The federal government has agreed with us that in case the government committee visits Kurram Agency or any other tribal district on a particular day, the lawmaker from the area will be member of the committee on that day. We are planning to include input of all the stakeholders in FATA about the reforms process after completing visits in the whole region. We will furnish our written proposals only after incorporating the opinion of tribal people. We will submit all our recommendations to the prime minister and parliament. It will end the practice of imposing decisions on the FATA people through executive orders and every law will be implemented under the constitution.
Different political parties in the tribal areas have come out with different demands regarding reforms. FATA Grand Alliance is one such party which includes elders, Maliks and former lawmakers from FATA. This alliance opposes FATA merger with KP. Malik Muhammad Ali Haleemzai, a leader of the alliance, says he favours reforms but will never accept changing the special tribal status of FATA.
“I will never allow any change in our tribal traditions and special status. I will welcome the reforms process, but I don’t want merger with anyone. All the cruel clauses from the FCR should be abolished,” says Malik Muhammad Ali Haleemzai.
The Grand Alliance of FATA has also been arranging different gatherings in the tribal areas to create awareness among the people about the reforms process. Badshahi Khan, another leader of the alliance, says the problems of FATA people could not be resolved by merging it with KP. He adds KP cannot bear the burden of the large FATA region. Therefore, a separate FATA province or council should be established to resolve the problems of the tribal people, he demands.
“We have our old generations-old system which we have got from our forefathers. KP itself is a backward province and it is not in a position to bear the burden of FATA region. We should be given our own province. We can run our system and cannot be dependent on KP,” says Badshahi Khan.
The FATA Reforms Committee established by the prime minister along with FATA parliamentarians is also holding a massive consultation process in the tribal areas, but Badshahi Khan is not happy with this process. He says the people of FATA should decide their own future. “Our parliamentarians have taken this decision (about reforms) without taking the tribal population into confidence. These parliamentarians are our representatives, but they are not taking decisions in larger interest of FATA,” he blames.
Malik Khan Marjan Wazir, another leader of the FATA Grand Alliance, says the people of the tribal areas value their independence more than political awareness. The tribal population seeks honourable return to the native areas and compensation for the damages (caused due to military operations) prior to bringing in any reforms to FATA, he says and adds “Not a single political worker from Waziristan to Bajaur has made it to the Parliament. Political parties have no backing in the region.The FATA people demand reforms and they want establishment of an interim council on immediate basis for drafting the constitution. The establishment of Qabailistan province is an old demand of tribal people. The new province will create a million new jobs and will change the destiny of the FATA people,”
Another group, FATA Political Alliance, a conglomeration of political parties from tribal areas is also rigorously campaigning for reforms since FATA reforms billed was tabled in the assembly. The political parties were legally allowed to operate in FATA after the Political Parties Act was extended to the region in 2011.
The FATA Political Alliance leader Sher Zaman views the FCR law as the major problem for FATA. He says a simple solution of getting rid of this law is merger of FATA with KP. “Reforms are inevitable in FATA. The region should be merged with KP as there is no other solution to the problems of FATA people. Establishment of a separate province seems to be an attractive proposition, but that will open a Pandora’s Box for the tribal people. We are linked to the KP people in many ways. We have similar culture, we use their hospitals and their roads, and they use ours. Furthermore, the people of KP and FATA are tied in many relations,” explians Sher Zaman.
Shafiullah, a leader of the alliance from Mohmand Agency, says considerable efforts are being continuing for the reforms process but he is not satisfied with the visits of the government’s FATA Reforms Committee to various tribal areas. “The committee has no representation from FATA or the political alliance. All the members of the committee are outsiders who are unaware about FATA traditions and other affairs, so we reject this official committee,” says Shafiullah.
General secretary of the political alliance, Zar Noor Afridi, who is also an active leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami in FATA, says the reforms process should not impact the traditions, culture and Jirga system of the tribal areas. The tribal areas had been kept deprived of development by the successive governments, he laments. “The people of FATA are also entitled to all the rights and privileges which have been extended to people of other parts of the country,” he says. The JI leader adds hat all the roads from FATA lead to KP and the region merger with KP will resolve most problems of the tribal areas.
Apart from whatever stance the political parties and figure have on reforms in FATA, the general public of FATA are of the view that the government should get the viewpoint of tribal people about the reforms process.
This article has been taken from TNN programme Badloon which discusses political activities and reforms process in FATA. Badloon provides a platform to the FATA people to record their opinion about the reforms process. The programme was prepared by TNN producers Shan Muhammad and Abdul Qayyum which is being broadcast from six radio stations of FATA and KP.