Efforts are being underway to introduce reforms in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) on official level and the tribal population is also participating in the process by providing their input from time to time on the issue concerning their future governing system. The Fata reforms committed led by Sartaj Aziz, advisor to Prime Minister on foreign affairs, has proposed a number of key recommendations including holding of local bodies elections in FATA. The Governor Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Iqbal Zafar Jhagra has announced that the elections for local councils in FATA would be held by the of 2017.
TNN has recorded viewpoint of people belonging to different walks of life in FATA about the announcement of local bodies polls in the tribal areas during 2017.
Gul Nazir, a resident of Bara tehsil of Khyber Agency, says the local bodies polls will provide a bright opportunity to the FATA people. “Political Parties Act has been already implemented in FATA and efforts for administrative reforms are also underway. It is a very good opportunity for the tribal population now to elect honest and dedicated people to serve the humanity and make efforts for positive reforms,” he said.
Muhammad Imran from Bajaur Agency says Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) must be abolished before the local bodies polls in FATA. “Local bodies elections were earlier held in FATA, but desirable results were not achieved. We want abolishment of the FCR before local government polls,” he said.
Muhammadyar Shahid from Bajaur is preparing himself for the next year’s polls. “The local bodies polls will add motivation to the political process and we are preparing ourselves for it,” he said.
Manan from Mohmand Agency believes that local bodies polls will not resolve problems of people. He stresses on return of all the internally displaced persons (IDPs). “Resolution of problems and addressing the need of local people must be the top priority. The polls may further divide the people of FATA instead of keeping them united” he feared.
Salahuddin from Orakzai Agency expects a positive change in the life of FATA people with the local bodies polls. “The polls will ensure fair utilisation of development funds which will bring a positive change in the region,” he said.
On the other hand, Wazir Gul of Rabiakhel area of Orakzai Agency believes that the local bodies polls in FATA will serve no purpose if these polls were held on the old pattern. “The old pattern will only benefit the tribal Maliks, while transparent elections may be beneficial for the tribal people,” he said.
Aziza Mehsud, hailing from South Waziristan, says local bodies polls should be held in FATA on schedule. “The timely polls will benefit the FATA people and bring positive change in their lives,” she said.
Nusrat Hussain from Kurram Agency believes that the proposal of local bodies polls is mere a political statement and nothing as such will happen. “No promise regarding reforms in FATA has been fulfilled till now and same will be the fate of this proposal,” he said.
Qamar Gula, who also hails from Kurram, wants proper representation of tribal women in the proposed local bodies polls. “Polls will be useless in FATA if the tribal women did not get their rights,” she said.
North Waziristan’s Nisar Dawar believes that local government elections will bring progress and prosperity to FATA. However, he said his restlessness will end only with the return of all displaced people. “The polls will rid us from traditional elders and enable us to choose leaders of our choice. The promised return of all the IDPs was inevitable to make the dream of LB polls in the tribal areas a reality,” he said.
Shameem Alam, president of youth association of Shewa tehsil in North Waziristan, said the local bodies polls in the tribal areas should be held in the summer of 2017 to ensure participation of all people in the process. “It is a very encouraging development as the elected nazims and councillors will be responsible for resolution of local problems. Most of the people in FATA are confronted with different problems as many people are still homeless. If elections are held in May or June, then the people will get ample time to prepare for the important event,” he said.
Khan Wali Mehsud of South Waziristan says the local bodies polls is the right of FATA people. “The people of FATA should also have access to three kinds of government i.e. federal, provincial and local government,” he said.
However, Shoaib from the same area believes local bodies polls are not possible in FATA in the existing circumstances. “In the current scenario, less than 10 percent voters will be able to cast their votes and representatives selected with such a low turn-out will not be the real representatives,” Shoaib told TNN.
Besides common citizens, the political and social activists are also expressing their views about the 2017 local bodies polls in FATA. TNN arranged a debate among eminent politician Akhunzada Chattan, tribal journalist Safiullah Gul, former councillor of Khyber Agency Sohbat Afridi and social activist Safia Orakzai on the issue of proposed LB polls in FATA.
TNN (from Safiullah): What are the main features of the next year’s LB polls in FATA and how this exercise will be carried out?
Safiullah: According to the FATA Reforms Committee report, LB polls will be held in FATA on political parties basis before the end of next year. Local government units will be set up for this purpose for which necessary legislation will be carried out. There will be chairmen and vice chairmen in the municipalities, but the final powers will rest with the governor. The governor will have powers to fill special seats under the proposed package which is being criticised by different quarters. The election will be beneficial for the FATA people as they will have the power to choose representatives of their choice. However, we have not seen any practical step from the Governor House or FATA Secretariat in this regard and whether these elections will be held or not will become clear very soon.
TNN (from Sohbat Afridi): How the local bodies polls can be conducted as announced when no preparations are being made for this purpose?
Sohbat Afridi: Mr Safiullah is right in his assertion about the intentions of the government. Most people in the rural areas of FATA have no information whatsoever about the polls process or its proposed plan. The tribal Maliks and other privileged people are not taking any interest in this matter as the local bodies polls are of no use for them. The common man is also unaware about the local bodies system and the little bit knowledge they have came from informal discussions with other people. No steps have been taken to create awareness among the tribal people about the local bodies system.
TNN (from Akhunzada Chattan): Do you thinks local bodies polls will be held as promised in FATA?
Akhunzada Chattan: I don’t think so because the privileged class and bureaucracy will put hurdles. Committees were also formed in the past for FATA reforms and they also presented proposals, but these recommendations were not implemented in letter and spirit. The words used in the reforms packages may be different, but the underlying principle was the same. Although, LB polls have been proposed in FATA, but we don’t see any preparations in this regard.
The next thing is that we won’t accept incomplete LB system in FATA. We will only accept a system which is already in place in the four provinces of the country. The FATA people will welcome any system whether it is copied from KP, Punjab or Balochistan. We also want to get rid of the system in which FATA is sandwiched between the Centre and KP as the federal government releases funds for FATA which are paid through a bureaucracy based in KP. Currently, we are treated like a down-district as both the Centre and KP seem to disown us. Being a war-torn region, the sense of deprivation of the FATA people should be addressed.
TNN: You are putting conditions for the polls instead of talking about the possible delay in the elections. Does it mean that you are opposing these polls covertly?
Akhunzada Chattan: We are supporting local bodies polls in FATA and we will not put any hurdles, but if the government did not provide us access to superior judiciary and denied right of legislation then it means they are not sincere in the reforms. However, we are prepared to face any eventuality.
TNN (from Safia Orakzai): How the women are seeing the announcement of local bodies polls in FATA next year?
Safia Orakzai: Tribal women are also slowly and gradually proving their metal in different walks of life. They are willing to participate in the formal efforts for betterment of people. The FATA women support the local bodies polls in the tribal areas especially after the restoration of law and order. If the government and tribal people join hands for a positive change then nothing is impossible.
TNN: Will you take part in the local bodies polls if you get opportunity?
Safia Orakzai: We will definitely take part in such an exercise and several of our tribal sisters are already flexing their muscles for becoming part of the development process.
TNN (from Safiullah): Reforms always come in phase-wise manner and local bodies polls are part of this process. Some segments may have some reservations or some people may want resolution of other problems before the LB polls. Will these divisions impede the reforms process?
Safiullah: People have reservations because promises made with them from time to time were never fulfilled. Article 25 of the Constitution gives equal rights to every Pakistani citizen. However, it is clearly written in the reforms committee report that Article 247, which deprives FATA people from equal rights, will remain intact. When this article remains in force, bureaucracy remains powerful and FATA Secretariat oversees the local government unit then what positive change could be expected from a powerless local bodies system?
TNN (Sohbat Afridi): Will you take part in the LB polls if the exercise is conducted as per announcement?
Sohbat Afridi: I participated in the 2004 polls when there were no powers with us and I will definitely participate in the next year’s polls as well. Our area is very backward and the problems in local schools and hospitals need to be resolved. If the government is sincere in resolution of problems, then local bodies polls on the pattern already in place in rest of the country should be followed and powers should be delegated to the elected representatives. However, I am not sure that they will do it and they will hold the polls on the pattern of 2004 which will not serve any purpose.
TNN: Will the government give powers to the local bodies representatives this time?
Sohbat Afridi: I don’t think so. I believe that they will repeat the same practice of 2004 and local bodies representatives will be there just to complete their five-year term.
TNN (from Safiullah): What can be the basic principles for the next year’s polls which may ensure real transfer of powers to grassroots level?
Safiullah: First of all, Article 247 should be abolished and Article 25 should be extended to FATA to resolve the problems of people.
TNN (from Akhunzada Chattan): Will you support Safiullah’s assertion?
Akhunzada Chattan: Right to appeal in the superior judiciary of the country and right of legislation to the elected representatives of FATA are two major demands which should be implemented. Times have changed now and the tribal people are well aware of their rights. They have all the legal options of coming out to get their rights. Almighty Allah says He never changes the condition of people who never want to change.
TNN: Do you have any message to share with the FATA people on the local bodies polls?
Akhunzada Chattan: Everything has its particular symptom. When the clouds spread in the sky, our women collect the clothes and wood to save it from the imminent rain. However, no one does so in case of blue sky. The tribal people will prepare themselves for the LB polls if they see any symptom from the government side in shape of demarcation of constituencies and other steps. No one will move with mere announcements.
TNN (from Safia Orakzai): What should be the guiding principles for the LB polls in FATA?
Safia Orakzai: Every tribal citizen should be aware of his/her rights and duties to reap maximum benefit from the system.
TNN: What is your own responsibility in this regard?
Safia Orakzai: I feel I should visit different tribal areas and create awareness among the women about the problems and their possible solutions. The tribal men should also be convinced to allow their women to participate in the local bodies polls.
Meanwhile, the Election Commission officials in South Waziristan and Khyber Agency said they are updating voter lists and carrying out delimitations of constituencies as part of preparations for the 2018 general elections, but they have not received any written instructions for LB polls so far.
Nasrullah, head of the Election Commission office in Kurram Agency, told TNN that they are preparing voter lists for the 2018 polls through house to house survey.
“We have not received any instructions for the local bodies polls in the agency. However, we will be ready for any such exercise if we receive orders from the government,” he said.
Mohmand Agency Election Commissioner Khawaja Tariq Mehmood said he is also working for creating awareness among the people about the importance of their vote in connections with the general elections in 2018.
This article has been taken from TNN programme Badloon which discusses political activities and reforms process in the tribal areas. Badloon provides a platform to the tribal people to raise their voice and record their comments on the reforms process. TNN producers Shan Muhammad and Abdul Qayyum prepared this programme which was broadcast from six radio channels of FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
TNN correspondents, Shah Nawaz Khan Afridi, Mehrab Afridi, Shah Khalid, Gul Muhammad Mohmand, Malik Azmat, Ali Afzal, Marukh Jabeen, Gohar Wazir, Bakhtawar Wazir and Rizwan Mehsud contributed to this article.