This article is in response to Mr Ayaz Wazir’s article “Make Fata a province, too”published on April 30 2010. The area in question has special status. Laws that govern the rest of Pakistan do not necessarily apply to the 3.17 million people living in the 27,200 kilometres of the federally administered tribal areas. Fata comprises seven tribal agencies and six frontier regions.
At the time of the census in 1998, some areas of the region were administratively inaccessible; therefore the census may not have included them. Taking into consideration the annual growth of population of around two per cent, the present population of Fata may be around 4.2 million. The areas are administered through the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) with a political agent as the head of administration. He has staff for various administrative sub-units but there are no courts, police or other federal departments in Fata.
The onus for controlling crime in the area lies squarely on the tribes there, under a concept of ‘collective responsibility’. The FCR as a whole is not a ‘black law’ as propagated by some elements which are clearly not familiar with these regulations. There are, however, some clauses which require amendments. When Pakistan was created there were only four tribal areas — Khyber, Kurram, South Waziristan and North Waziristan. The other three agencies – Mohmand, Bajaur, Orakzai – and six frontier regions were established by the government.
All these areas are dependent on Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa for their logistics and provisions. Except for Pashtunwali and riwaj there are hardly any common features for Fata to qualify for the status of a separate province. Bajaur and Mohmand are linked through a road, as are North and South Waziristan. Beyond this there are no links connecting the seven agencies and frontier regions. The issue of making the tribal areas a separate province was never raised and thus it was not on the constitution committee’s agenda.
The point that tribal areas were neglected in the past is accurate, to some extent. However, now the annual budget for Fata is about Rs11 billion for a population of 4.2 million. To bring Fata into the mainstream and change its status, a tribal consensus will be required. In all probability, they would never opt for a change in the present system. They are enjoying almost all the facilities of an average Pakistani village.
And since the laws of the country are not applicable to them, tribes enjoy relatively more freedom, which they would want to retain, than an average, under-privileged Pashtun in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. With the present status of Fata, the administration cannot be run without the FCR. It can only be done away with if the agencies are converted into districts and all laws of the state are extended to these areas. Initially, the concept of a local government may be introduced. Political parties should be allowed to function.
Elections of local bodies on a party basis may change the mindset of tribal people and mentally prepare them to accept change in the prevailing system. The tribal system is a primitive one and while it can address simple disputes it cannot resolve complex, social issues. Once the time is right for change, Fata should be merged with Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Geography, resources, population and finances are all credible reasons due to which Fata should not get the status of a province.