President Asif Ali Zardari recently said that a package of reforms for Fata would be implemented soon. These consist of political, administrative and judicial changes and were originally announced in April 2009, but have yet to be implemented. The proposed reforms are inadequate because the core issue of Fata’s political status has yet to be addressed. Article 247(6) of Pakistan’s Constitution gives the president powers to declare all, or part of Fata a non-tribal area. However, in order to extend conventional governance into Fata, an administrative infrastructure will need to be established first, such as courts, police stations etc. This will take time, but the decision to develop the infrastructure should be an outcome of a Loi jirga. This entire process cannot be imposed on the people from external elements whom they do not recognise; it must be their own decision.
The Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) needs to be abolished eventually but should not be rushed since the whole phasing out process needs to be gradual. Realistically speaking, it may take a few years. A sudden change in the governing system of Fata would not be welcome — in Swat, it was abolished overnight and this was followed by complete anarchy. In order to avoid a similar mistake in Fata, a step-by-step approach is necessary to ensure that the society and the government have the ability to adjust to each step.
The harsh terrain and the population straddling the porous border with Afghanistan will require immense resources to establish an effective administrative and law enforcement system in Fata. In his 2010 paper, the previous governor of Khyber-Pakthunkhwa (KP), Owais Ahmed Ghani, stated that these resources may not be available for some time. He wrote that it is important to sustain the tribes in the short term through restoration of the traditional role of the political agent by strengthening their power and authority in their respective agency. He also emphasised the importance of reviving the malik system so that they can develop the tribes’ capacity to deliver collective and territorial responsibility.
Fata and the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (Pata) have no constitutional status, being tribal and self-governing through the FCR. To bring these areas under the constitution and at par with other regions, they shall have to be either absorbed into the adjacent province, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, or become a new province altogether. However, this process can only be undertaken successfully if the people of the tribal areas are on board.
Historically, the British had suggested merging Fata into the settled parts of the NWFP, now known as Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. However, they did not implement this policy because they knew Fata’s population would have — violently perhaps — resisted any such move. Fata cannot be merged into KP because the social set-up of the people of Fata is considerably different from that of those in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, integration between the two would be difficult and a civil war might break out. Integration will lead to a dismal allocation of funds for development in Fata because of the relatively weak financial position of KP.
Interviews conducted by non-profits such as the New America Foundation and Terror Free Tomorrow, revealed that 70 per cent of Fata residents said Fata should become a separate province of Pakistan. However, if Fata is given a separate provincial status, then southern Punjab, Hazara and parts of Balochistan will likely demand a similar status as well.
The situation in Pakistan must be considered as an opportunity for change in Fata. The military advances in Fata have established the government’s writ in places that had been lost to the Taliban and the group’s fighting ability has been somewhat dented. Hence, the government needs to step in and take advantage of this opening. The root causes of militancy need to be addressed by implementing reforms in basic governance structures to combat poverty and lack of education. Fata should not be allowed to return to pre-militancy status. Instead, a higher state presence in the tribal areas must be the end goal. It is time that the inhabitants of Fata are granted equal status as Pakistani citizens.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 30th, 2011.