Finally, the federal cabinet gave a go-ahead to the merger of tribal region with Khyber Pukhtunkhwa on March 2, 2017; a historical moment for those demanding a change and a moment of silence for the supporters of the status quo.
The cynics have been creating misconceptions of all shades, yet the viable option is too clear to be obfuscated. I will not dilate upon the nature of present day Fata, which I have already mentioned in one of my previous articles. We should emphasise on the report and the modes of implementation. The issue has become contentious due to a confrontation of vested interests and political ‘priorities’.
Before coming to the mode of execution of the approved reforms, it is better to have a few words on those who are against the proposed reforms on various pretexts. An alliance of JUI, PMAP leadership with a group of respected Malaks has been lobbying to undo the process. They have taken the matter to the court as well. Going through their arguments, one doesn’t find any substance.
First, they claim that notification of the committee is not valid and should have come from the president and that he should have given approval, instead of the prime minister. Second, under Article 247(6) of the Constitution, consultations with the tribal people are required for any reform and that the present consultative process was an eye wash. The same, too, doesn’t hold water.
They should consult Article 247(6), which states that “The President may, at any time, by order, direct that the whole or any part of a tribal area shall cease to be tribal area……..provided that before making any order under this clause, the President shall ascertain, in such manner as he considers appropriate, the views of the people of the tribal area concerned, as represented in tribal jirga.”
The consultative process was very much in line with the said Article. Besides, a few Malaks managed by the then respective Political Agents consented to join Pakistan. Hence, integrating into mainstream Pakistan has been far more democratic this time.
Another argument is that of Fata having a distinct “rewaj”. If by rewaj they mean importance of Jirga in the criminal justice system; that has been preserved. If anything else, that is mere rhetoric, since Pashtuns all over the world follow the same code of Pashtunwali. Another apprehension is about the political and economic deprivation of Fata — another spurious argument. It all depends on the design of administrative and economic framework. All due political and economic rights can be safeguarded through efficient and just administrative apparatus.
An unjust administrative structure can lead to discrimination within a single district, whereas a just system ensures parity even if it is spread across the continent. Above all, linguistically, ethnically, administratively, culturally and geographically, Fata is so much intertwined with KP that no other option is viable then integration. If those against reforms don’t have any locus standi, then there must be some vested interests at play, which is quite natural to our polity and don’t merit serious discussion.
Now coming to the approved report, the committee did a commendable job and came up with a very comprehensive document. Four entities are to be created in order to implement and monitor the progress — a high level cabinet committee which shall meet under the prime minister, a reforms unit at the Ministry of SAFRON, a directorate of transition and reforms at Fata Secretariat with its support offices at all the agencies and a committee under the KP governor with representation of all stakeholders for devising a ten years development plan for Fata.
The pivotal role would be played by the directorate of transition at Fata Secretariat to coordinate among various quarters and synchronise the reform activities for smooth implementation. Besides general administration, it will have six dedicated units of reform and rehabilitation, rule of law, local government, economic growth, large infrastructure and land management.
The organogram and ToRs of each unit are self-contained, yet the phase of implementation will be the real test. It is very much doable but requires competent staff, efficient management, and strict compliance to timelines, resources and political will. The government has to go on fast track and deliver much more than the routine official business.
The three per cent allocation for Fata out of NFC for materialising the 10-year development plan is a step in the right direction and will provide much fiscal space for initiating development projects. However, it should not affect the PSDP allocation for Fata.
Foreign donors are already engaged, yet a bottom-up approach should be adopted rather than tailor-made development models which prove counter-productive. In order to ensure democratic development from bottom-up, the schemes may be referred through the newly-elected local governments and MPA’s in consultation with the concerned departments.
Primary importance must be given to M&E and accountability mechanisms. Fata has become a black hole of corruption with all the government departments systematically plundering it for years now. The separation of powers will relatively curtail corruption but strict accountability and transparency is necessary.
Extending the writ of the High Court and Supreme Court and abolition of FCR is recognition of human rights and an extension of citizenship to the people of Fata. Some residents of Fata are ill at ease over losing the Jirga system, which isn’t right as the new Rewaj Act will give primacy to Jirga and judicial officers would nominate the Jirga and accept its decisions unless it is not in violation of fundamental human rights or any other substantive law.
Separation of judicial and executive powers will naturally improve the judicial system. Even the KP government has opted for dispute resolution committees at thana (police station) level and they are proving efficient instruments to dispense justice.
In Fata, however, under the Rewaj Act, dispute resolution through community elders will be the primary instrument. The extension of court’s jurisdiction will have paraphernalia of police, prosecution, prisons and bars which too is a gigantic task but doable. It has been proposed to recruit an additional 20,000 levies. Levy force must be organised on the basis of functional specialisation with proper hierarchy and should be separated from the executive. Commandant Levy should be a career police officer, not an inexperienced civil servant.
Local bodies’ elections should be held before the general elections for provincial and national assemblies. It will create conducive political environment and basis for the general elections besides revealing hidden leadership which may be considered for the elections of provincial assemblies. The title of “Malaks” may be abolished gradually, i.e, the current “Malaki” may not be transferred to the next generation and cease upon death of the entitled Malak. Their role instead may be shifted to the elected councilors. Or the elected councilors of LG elections may be formally titled as “Malaks” during their term in office, not councilors — nomenclatures do matter in transition.
The same procedure may be opted for khasadars. Better to recruit the new levies from the families who are entitled to khasadaris in lieu of abolishing their khasadari entitlement. Land settlement is long overdue at Fata and will be a fillip for investment and allied businesses as well. The notorious permit system has also been abolished, and direct legal taxes may be levied proportionately which may be monitored, audited and utilised for the locals.
With all the sanguine prospects, there are a few vague areas. The first caveat is the security situation of Fata. Since Zarb-e-Azb has transformed into Radd-ul-Fasad and the uncertainty still prevails, will the security environment be conducive enough for carrying out the proposed reforms? We better keep in mind that such proposals are not furnished for the first attempt. There had been apex committees and commissions with much the same recommendations, but that could not see light of the day due to “peculiar” circumstances.
Secondly, those against the reforms or wanting some other set of reforms are still at play. Thirdly, what if, God forbid, the implementation faces obstacles and the government loses heart. Will it then revoke on its commitment of integration into KP? What if the upcoming government after five years has different priorities or faces some other “peculiar” situation and opposes integration?
In order to address at least this apprehension, the incumbent government should notify the integration in its own term after fulfillment of basic formalities. The extension of laws and implementation may be done in phases, but that should not delay the notification of Fata-KP merger. Let the directorate of transition and other bodies accomplish their tasks post-integration.
Another issue is that of the status of Durand Line after integration of Fata. Well, technically it will have no impact on the stances of either Pakistan or Afghanistan. But the Durand Line lies at the core of all predicaments of the region and must be sorted out for attaining permanent peace in the region. For now, a soft border is an option, rather than closing it on any side upon slight provocation. On the same analogy, we better settle the LoC and let the representatives of Kashmir sit in the Parliament.