LG institutions in FATA

Question of civilising and modernising administration through local govt institutions remains unanswered

Dr Raza Khan December 31, 2017

While Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has announced that the colonial-era legal framework for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), would be repealed within days and a definite announcement of merging the tribal region with the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) province is also expected, the most important question of civilising and modernising the administration in the region through establishing local government institutions remains unanswered. It was after years of wait and see that in late 2016 the government of Pakistan had announced to have local government elections in Fata in 2017. The year has come to an end but no such elections have been held, which is indeed unfortunate.

Local government structures in seven tribal districts or agencies are critical for filling the political-administrative vacuum in the region. The very basic needs of residents of Fata cannot be taken care of and key social services to them cannot be ensured sans local government institutions. These institutions are also critically important for the commencement of true development process. Most importantly without local government structures in Fata the state writ in the region cannot be established let alone exercised. The military cannot be expected to remain in Fata interminably. Therefore, the government needs to establish self-governing modern administrative structures in Fata which is the lasting solution of the multipronged issues and conflict there.

It may be recalled that more than 10 years back the former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf and his governor for K-P, Lt General (retd) Iftikhar Hussain Shah had promised holding local government elections in Fata. The Musharraf regime had promised to form elected councils or assemblies in every tribal agency like district assemblies in the rest of Pakistan, which were established in the year 2001 through local government elections. Moreover, the regime had also hinted at forming an elected all-Fata assembly. Musharraf desisted from doing so as he feared that due to the extensive social influence of Muslim clerical parties in Fata their members would dominate the proposed tribal councils and Fata grand assembly. The general apprehended the district government might pass resolutions demanding putting an end to the US sponsored War on Terror (WoT) and may also demand enforcing Sharia. This could have been very much possible given the deep-rooted religious sentiments and anti-American feelings among the residents of the tribal areas.

There have also been administrative factors for not establishing elected assemblies in Fata. Had the assemblies been installed the affairs of local administration would have to be transferred to these assemblies. This would have weakened the political (read civil) administration, which functions under the draconian FCR laws. So the democratically-elected people would have engaged in a power struggle with the civil administration, which the government could ill-afford at that critical point of time when full fledge military operations were on in Fata to root out Taliban and al Qaeda networks.

Another factor which prevented the government for not installing elected assemblies in Fata has been the indeterminate constitutional and political status of the region, which has been serving as a de facto buffer between British India and Afghanistan and subsequently between Pakistan and Afghanistan. So Islamabad wanted to keep this status of tribal areas intact.

There might have been self-justified reasons for the government for not installing elected local assemblies in tribal agencies but they have not been the solution of the problem. The situation has been getting from bad to worse as the government with all its administrative paraphernalia of political administration, FCR and Maliki system, has been unable to manage Fata affairs. There have been fundamental changes in the last two decades in Fata. These include rapid increase in the local population and hence, their rising needs and issues, and the insurmountable pressure on the rudimentary state apparatus to respond to these needs and issues and the resultant rise of extremism and terrorism, especially due to the US launching the WoT in the region. Successful military offensives namely Zarb-e-Azb and Raddul Fasaad in Fata have significantly improved the security situation in the region and have created enabling milieu for putting in place local government institutions. The government should have put in place these structures long before repealing the FCR or taking decision to merge Fata with K-P as this would have provided a key administrative mechanism to manage the daily affairs. But though the government is late in establishing local government institutions in Fata it is better late than never.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 31st, 2017.

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