After more than a decade of war on terror, military operations, large displacement and stories of human tragedies, Fata under the new proposed reforms is full of ambiguities, bureaucratic control. The stakeholders, over one pretext or another, won’t let go of their grip on the region.
The Federal Cabinet has finally approved the recommendations of the Fata Reforms Committee. And while they have some tangible gains for the people of Fata, there are many ambiguities and questions left unanswered.
The new set of the recommendation approved by the cabinet are yet to be sent to the parliament. Once inked, they will be formalised as legislation.
According to the reforms, Frontier Crime Regulation (1901) will be repealed and replaced with a new Riwaj Regulation for Tribal Areas, which will be submitted to the President for approval under Article 247 of the Constitution.
Provisions relating to collective/vicarious responsibility will be omitted, thereby making an individual responsible for his acts. The clause of collective responsibility will be replaced by the principle of personal responsibility in the administration of justice. The act will extend the jurisdiction of the high court and Supreme Court of Pakistan to FATA, by amending the Article 247 of the Constitution.
The report has suggested that Tribal Areas people would resist discarding jirga and would destabilise the social order, which is undesirable. Per this act, the jirga system will be retained, and a council of elders appointed by the court will decide the criminal and civil cases under the light of Riwaj. The act recommends the codification of Riwaj after its scrutiny by the superior courts. Riwaj is not codified in any agency except Kurram. Even so, the oversight of the higher courts would not allow any term of Riwaj that conflicts with fundamental rights of Pakistan Constitution. Ironically, the turmoil of more than 15 years has hardly left any social order, or elders who have a thorough knowledge of Riwaj. Most of the elders who were authorities on Riwaj were either target-killed or relocated to other places in the country during the turmoil in FATA.
During this period, a new lot of unpopular elders was installed by the militants and bureaucracy. Constituting a council of genuine and competent elders well versed in Riwaj would be a difficult job for the courts.
In the Riwaj act, maliks and men have been given the authority, as in jirgas no women participation has been recorded in any agency.
How would the parallel judicial system, which the reforms have highlighted, benefit the ordinary and poor people of the region, and how open the justice would be to poor and women, especially if jirga and all the institution under the act would be clearing favouring a class and gender?
Economic development is another key aspect of the proposed reforms and for the changes to be successful in any aspect. The implementation of development plans, mechanism and capacity building is a major task in the region which requires much more transparency.
FATA development council has also been proposed in the reforms package to oversee the preparation and implementation of the ten-year development plan for FATA. The council will be headed by the Governor Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and will include all senators and MNAs of FATA, Secretary SAFRON, Chief Secretary KP, Additional Chief Secretary FATA, Chief Executive FDA, Secretary P&D FATA Secretariat, COS 11th cops, and four technocrats nominated by Governor Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as members.
Once again the overseeing mechanism would not be under any public scrutiny, and the public representatives will hardly have any say in decision-making. The same setup, that has been accused of corruption in this report, will oversee the development program. It seems all the stakeholders will be back on the most crucial aspect of these reforms, which will play a significant role in pulling out FATA from its most abject poverty. And in the ideal world, if these plans are carried out successfully, SAFRON ministry, FATA Secretariat would be merged in the KP Secretariat, and the all officers from these institutions, who actively participated against the reforms, would dutifully and honestly carry out their job.
A federal level committee along with a technical team will oversee and implement the reforms package. The federal committee will consist of the Governor Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Minister SAFRON, Minister Law, National Security Advisor, and a representative of Army. Again, there is no representation of FATA in this committee. The operational work will be undertaken by the FATA Secretariat, which has been blamed for massive corruption. And without a public oversight by the local representatives, it is unlikely that the reforms will be correctly implemented.
Once the local govt regulation for FATA is introduced, the election has been called for in the year 2018, with 30% of the budget proposed for local representation and the rest 70% given to bureaucracy; mostly SAFRON ministry and FATA Secretariat. The report seems to have no faith in the system of check and balance which should have FATA representation and participation.
Finally, although the reforms package has a lot of benefits for the people of FATA, the delay in the merger of FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and juxtaposing it with five-year transition period, is leaving many doubts in the minds of the FATA people. It would have been more acceptable to the FATA people had the merger been done right away and the reforms carried out by the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The share of FATA in NFC could have been transferred to the provincial government and the whole development process conducted under the supervision of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government and Representation to FATA in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly in 2018 elections could have enforced the reform more effectively.