Justice for FATA

The current situation of FATA reminds me of the famous legal maxim “Justice delayed is justice denied"

Arshad Mahmood January 23, 2017
The writer is a human rights activist and development practitioner with a Master’s in Human Rights from the London School of Economics and tweets at @amahmood72

The current situation of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) reminds me of the famous legal maxim “Justice delayed is justice denied” as the recent debate on reforms in Fata and bringing Fata into mainstream is almost a decade old. Most recently a Constitutional amendment was proposed under the 22nd Constitutional Amendment Bill which was a step in the right direction to make amendments to Articles 1, 246 and 247 of the Constitution. There is, however, no clarity about the current status of this bill. On May 1, 2015, the Fata Reforms Commission (FRC), established by the Governor K-P, submitted its recommendations to the government.

Earlier a great opportunity of bringing Fata into mainstream was missed by ignoring this important task in the historic 18th Constitutional Amendment. When the parliamentary committee was established for framing the 18th constitutional amendment, Fata reforms were part of its terms of reference and there was representation from Fata as well. Surprisingly however, there was no amendment to the 18th Constitutional Amendment Act of 2010 related to Fata.

In the presence of the Article 247 of the constitution the people of Fata are not the full citizens of Pakistan. Article 1 needs to be amended in order to give Fata the status of a full federating unit by declaring it a part of K-P in accordance with the wishes of the people of Fata expressed on various forums and through all mainstream political parties including in Parliament.

This is unfortunate that despite repeated commitments, the successive governments including the present government have failed to bring Fata into mainstream and ensure the people of Fata their rights enshrined in the Constitution and in accordance with Pakistan’s international obligations being party to the international bill of rights, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified on April 17, 2008, and other important human rights treaties such as the Convention Against Torture, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), etc.

There is no second opinion that the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) 1901 is against all basic norms and standards of human rights and is rightly being called a black law by the rights groups globally. It was a long standing demand of the civil society that in order to be able to bring Fata into mainstream, the FCR would have to be abolished and reforms will need to be introduced in Fata. Replacing the draconian law with a similar Rewaj Act is not going to serve any purpose and will be tantamount to creating hurdles in the way of complete mainstreaming of the region with the rest of the country.

For almost a decade now a debate about bringing Fata into mainstream, introducing legal and social reforms to bring the area on a par with other parts of the country and ensuring all basic human rights to the inhabitants of Fata begins and then stops without any solid steps forward. If the rulers or those having the real power believe that sustainable peace and development is possible in the country in general and the Fata particular without bringing Fata into mainstream, I think they are seriously miscalculating. There is no wisdom in just leaving approximately 4.5 million at the mercy of bureaucracy, a few maliks, mullahs and military. There is a need to give serious thinking to the debate about bringing Fata into mainstream in both houses of Parliament and being supreme body, Parliament should decide about the future of the area according to the wishes of the people of the area.

It is high time and a great opportunity for the present parliament and the government of PML-N to take a decisive position on this long-term injustice being meted out to the people of Fata and approve broad legal, political and social steps to bring Fata on a par with the rest of the country without any further unnecessary delay. There are a few so-called tribal elders who are speaking against reforms in Fata for their own vested interests however, the youth and political leadership of Fata are not ready to listen to their lame excuses anymore. The politically aware people of Fata are fed up with Fata’s current status and they are striving for their full rights in accordance with the Constitution and international obligations of Pakistan.

The women and children of Fata have suffered a lot during this whole discrimination against Fata and requires to be put at the top of the reform agenda. This is unfortunate and against the spirit of the reforms that women from Fata were not involved in the consultative process by the FRC. Nevertheless, moving onwards there should be seats for Fata in K-P including seats for the women representatives of Fata. Similarly, there should be women’s representation from Fata in the National Assembly and the Senate of Pakistan and this should be made a part of the proposed reforms agenda.

There should be special focus on women in the Fata rehabilitation process as well, as women have suffered a lot during the past decade of terrorism and internal conflict and vast displacement in the region. With little education, exposure and livelihoods opportunities, the women of Fata require the urgent and special attention of the government of Pakistan for them and their families rehabilitation. Due to the purdah culture and segregation of women in the region, the women headed households should be approached though special arrangements with female employees of the relief and rehabilitation authorities.

A lot could be written about the children of Fata. Here I’ll focus only on ensuring their right to education in accordance with Article 25-A of the Constitution of Pakistan. The federal government has already extended the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act of 2012 to Fata however, there is an immediate need for drafting and notifying its rules and making specific budgetary allocation from the proposed Rs100 billion grant a year for Fata. It should be ensured that every child of Fata including girls and boys are enrolled in schools and incentives are attached to enrollment where required.

To conclude, Fata cannot wait any longer for the long awaited reforms and mainstreaming of the region and any further delays could prove worst not only for Fata and its people but for the entire country.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 24th, 2017.

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