After a long struggle against the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) and administrative structure of FATA, the federal cabinet on 2 March, 2017 approved the proposals of FATA Reforms Committee. The main feature of the reforms package is scraping of FCR and replacing it with Riwaj Act under which a judge of the court will be empowered to form a committee of local elders to resolve disputes among people. The proposals approved by the federal cabinet also include complete rehabilitation of temporarily displaced persons (TDPs) of FATA and spending 3 percent share of FATA in the National Finance Commission (NFC) Award and other development funds by the federal government for the next 10 years.
Farhad Afridi, a lawyer of the Peshawar High Court (PHC) hailing from Khyber Agency, believes that a final decision has been made to merge FATA with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
“The FATA Reforms Committee mentioned in its report that people from every tribal region wanted merger with KP. They have also presented arguments in favour of the merger. FATA will make visible development within five years if the package of Rs110 billon is spent there judicially. The purpose of proposing five-year transition time is to give the FATA people ample time to think whether they want merger with KP on permanent basis or not. The most striking feature of the reforms is extension of courts’ jurisdiction to FATA without disturbing the traditional Jirga system,” Mr Afridi told TNN.
The reforms report mentioned that FATA is least developed area of the country, therefore, the KP governor along with a team of experts and other officials will make 10-year development plan for the region. The purpose of the plan will be to strengthen administrative structure, mineral development, healthcare, education and industries. Farhad Afridi says the reforms envisaged provincial assembly polls in FATA in the 2018 elections, local bodies polls and spending of 30 percent development funds through the elected representatives.
“About 22 to 25 representatives from FATA will come in the KP Assembly, but they will have no powers of legislation,” he said.
The reforms package also proposed recruitment of 20,000 fresh Levies personnel and improving security management at the Pak-Afghan border. A proposal has also been made to make implementation committee on the reforms headed by the governor and also including the KP chief minister and chief secretary. It also recommended making FATA Development Authority functional, scraping of permit system, bringing FATA under the ambit of Accountant General of Pakistan, share in China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), establishment of banking system and computerisation of land record in FATA.
“We will consider ourselves part of Pakistan after extension of Accountant General’s sphere here. Currently, the issue is being discussed and FATA is yet to be made part of KP. The process will gain momentum after approval of the FATA reforms bill by the National Assembly,” Farhad Afridi said.
People from different walks of life in FATA view the proposals approved by the cabinet differently. Muhammad Iman Khan from South Waziristan says he supports courts’ jurisdiction in FATA. “However, the issue of spending of FATA funds by the Centre for the next 10 years is unacceptable,” he said.
Malik Binyameen from South Waziristan says, “Merger with KP is like freedom from one master and enslavement by another.”
Javed Jan from North Waziristan the FATA people will get rid of FCR after getting representation in the KP Assembly. “The local government elections will ensure spending of development funds by our own representatives. Recruitment of local youth in the Levies force will reduce unemployment in FATA,” he said.
Gul Afzal from Bajaur Agency says Riwaj Act is just a replica of FCR which is unacceptable.
Palwasha Bibi from Orakzai Agency opposes five-year transition period for FATA-KP merger. “There is no use of further delaying the issue in the name of transition. The matter should be put to rest at once,” she told TNN.
Aliza from Parachinar area of Kurram Agency says, “I am supporting reforms because it will give us rights which we couldn’t get earlier.”
Hairan Mohmand from Atokhel Kamali area of Mohmand Agency says 3 percent share for FATA in NFC Award is inadequate. “The Centre has no trust in KP. They don’t want to abolish FATA Secretariat and they even don’t want say of KP government in FATA affairs. How FCR can be abolished in presence of Articles 46 and 47 of the Constitution,” he said.
Safdar Malik from Mohmand Agency says, “The government is devising a strange formula to confuse the FATA people. All the talk of reforms is just a gossip and nothing else.”
Muhammad Hussain from Kurram says merger with KP and extension of courts is a good omen for FATA people.
Naseehat Bibi from Bajaur says scraping of FCR and implementation of Riwaj Act means the change will never happen in FATA. She says people of FATA should get rid of Riwaj.
Malik Zahir Khan from Orakzai Agency says, “Why they are not appointing 20,000 policemen instead of Levies personnel when they are going to merge FATA with KP.”
Siddique Chirag from Khyber Agency says all the reforms recommendations are encouraging. “Riwaj Act is not such a big thing. It will never stand in the High Court for more than one hearing if any tribesman took the matter to the court,” he told TNN.
The civil society members are also actively participating in debates on FATA reforms and they view the reforms recommendations differently. Dr Naureen Naseer, a senior professor at the Political Science Department of University of Peshawar, says the reforms process is very encouraging, but some of the recommendations are unacceptable.
“Governor and political agent will retain their powers in the proposed new setup. What is the need of FATA Secretariat if FATA is merged with KP,” she questioned.
Dr Naureen Naseer said the government should make the organisations accountable if it is serous in reforms process.
Asmatullah, an activist of FATA Students Organisation, says the government fell short of expectations in FATA reforms.
“The FATA people had demanded merger with KP, but the reforms package is vague in this regard. The issue of special quota for students also needs explanation. The reforms process will just be considered paper work until changes are made in the Constitution,” he told TNN.
The tribal elders and political activists are also taking active part in debate on the reforms. TNN organised a debate among FATA Political Alliance general secretary Iqbal Afridi, FATA Grand Alliance activist Malik Naib Khan from Frontier Region (FR) Kohat and Khwendo Kor Chief Executive Maryam Bibi, hailing from FR Bannu, on the issue of differences over the recommendations for FATA reforms.
TNN (from Iqbal Afridi): What are the main acceptable and unacceptable points in the reforms recommendations approved by the cabinet?
Iqbal Afridi: They have used the word ‘mainstreaming’ which can have a dozen connotations. However, the ‘merger’ has only one connotation and that is integration of FATA into KP. So they should use the word merger instead of mainstreaming. We support scraping of FCR, but we don’t support Riwaj Act. We also oppose the transition period given by the government for reforms in FATA.
TNN (from Malik Naib Khan): How do you see the reforms recommendations?
Malik Naib Khan: The FATA people have not been taken into confidence over the so-called merger. We want abolishment of controversial clauses from FCR. A proper audit system for every organisation in FATA should also be introduced.
TNN: The recommendations have envisaged replacement of FCR by Riwaj Act. Do you support it?
Malik Naib Khan: We don’t support Riwaj Act. The people of FATA cannot afford to pay fees for hiring lawyers.
TNN (from Maryam Bibi): What is your opinion about reforms recommendations?
Maryam Bibi: Beyond the merger, the most important thing is implementation of Constitution of Pakistan in FATA like other parts of the country. FCR should be abolished and FATA should be made part of KP. Riwaj Act will bring nothing for women as it will bring Jirga system and tribal women can’t participate in such Jirgas.
TNN (from Iqbal Afridi): What are the main points in the recommendations which you think will not garner support?
Iqbal Afridi: We support representation of FATA in KP Assembly in the next elections. However, making development plan for FATA for the next 10 years by the governor and giving no legislative powers to FATA members of KP Assembly is unacceptable.
TNN (from Malik Naib Khan): Do you think that the five-year transition period for reforms is a workable plan?
Malik Naib Khan: It is possible that the government will change during the next five years. If they are confident that the FATA people want merger with KP, then why they are not conducting a referendum on the issue. A referendum on the question of merger will settle the issue once and for all.
Iqbal Afridi: I will like to add another dimension to this assertion. I think the 2013 election was a referendum. The FATA people elected their representatives in the elections and they presented a bill in the National Assembly for reforms in FATA. The FATA lawmakers are the true representatives of people’s aspirations and their judgement should be respected.
Malik Naib Khan: They should definitely go for the KP Assembly elections once the merger is announced. We also supported local government elections in FATA as it at least ensured spending of development funds through the elected representatives of FATA.
Maryam Bibi: I will like to add that local government election is very important for women in FATA. It should be held on the pattern of other provinces and women should get proper representation in it.
TNN: Will it be possible for women to participate in elections after implementation of Riwaj Act in FATA?
Maryam Bibi: I think it will make the situation very difficult for women in FATA.
TNN (from Malik Naib Khan): If the KP government controls the next 10-year development programme for FATA instead of the federal government, then will you support it?
Malik Naib Khan: We are not part of KP as yet, so we will prefer spending of such funds under the supervision of the Centre.
Iqbal Afridi: Speaking from legal and constitutional perspective, I believe that the Centre should have no concern with the funds of FATA once it is merged with KP.
Maryam Bibi: What is the use of election of FATA members in KP Assembly then they will have no power of legislation. Are the FATA people incapable of making their own decisions and development plans?
TNN (from Malik Naib Khan): The Centre argues that the five-year transition period will give ample time to the FATA people whether they want to stay with KP on permanent basis or not?
Malik Naib Khan: Then why they are sending them to the KP assembly. They should be sent to the KP Assembly when they get full powers.
Iqbal Afridi: It is very disappointing that our representatives are not being trusted. It is unjust.
TNN (from Maryam Bibi): Is the 3 percent share for FATA in the NFC Award sufficient?
Maryam Bibi: It is too low. It should be at least 10 percent as the FATA people have witnessed very difficult circumstances due to militancy and subsequent militant operations.
Malik Naib Khan: It should be at least 15 percent as FATA needs more funds for development after witnessing very unfavourable circumstances. The FATA lawmakers before presenting the reforms bill in the National Assembly should have presented a bill for payment of compensation to the tribal people for their sacrifices during life of displacement.
TNN: The reforms report says repatriation of all TDPs will be completed by April 2017 and five-year and 10-year development plans will be introduced?
Malik Naib Khan: May people at tribal Jirgas have told me that they are still homeless. Many people in North and South Waziristan, Khyber Agency and other areas are still homeless.
TNN (from Iqbal Afridi): The package has also discussed CPEC and permit system?
Iqbal Afridi: We had raised this issue. We also conveyed to the government that the existing quota system was damaging the education system of FATA and it should be doubled. We will always support such steps which are taken for the benefit of the FATA people.
TNN (from Maryam Bibi): Besides Riwaj Act, the High Court and Supreme Court jurisdiction will also be extended to FATA. Will you support it?
Maryam Bibi: The jurisdiction of courts is very encouraging, but we don’t support Riwaj Act. We want Pakistani laws in FATA. We don’t want a Jirga to impose its decisions on us.
Malik Naib Khan: People like me cannot hire a lawyer by spending a million or two for cases in higher courts. I can get inexpensive and quick justice through the Jirga system.
TNN: The package also envisages recruitment of 20,000 Levies personnel and computerisation of land record in FATA?
Malik Naib Khan: Recruitment of Levies will bring employment which is a good step. However, there are no land disputes in FATA as such. The land documents can easily be manipulated by paying a minor bribe to patwari.
Maryam Bibi: Women of FATA are being deprived of their share in property. The computerisation of land record will prove beneficial for women to get their share in property. The reforms recommendations concerning women should be defined clearly. The reforms process cannot become successful unless the FATA people are given a sense of ownership.
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, Shah Nawaz Afridi, Malik Azmat, Ali Afzal, Marukh Jabeen, Gohar Wazir, Nabi Jan Orakzai and Rizwan Mehsud contributed to this article.