The Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) is at a critical juncture as a call for reforms is being made from both the inside and the outside. The British never attempted to administer FATA as other conquered territories owing to its rugged terrain, resistant populace and meager revenues. They did not try a complete occupation and were also wary of forgoing it entirely due to Russian paranoia, secure borders and safe travel passages. Consequently, an ad-hoc arrangement was made whereby incentives were assured to those who mattered in return for safeguarding the British interest.
The incentives to locals were not free at all. They had to abide by a system of regulations based on local customs. Hence, Frontier Crimes Regulations, after several amendments, came into being in 1901. Then came 1947; the tribal elders met Quaid-e-Azam Jinnah to join Pakistan. Jinnah, in return, assured them that the government would respect their tribal customs and not disturb their lifestyle.
Several chances have deliberately been missed to integrate FATA into the mainstream due to lack of will and vision, vested interests, and security imperatives. The state is paying for its inaction — not integrating and developing FATA since 1947 has come at a heady price. The administrative vacuum was always there and was left largely to non-state actors. Since the state was not much interested in FATA, after conveniently inheriting the system of British along with their biases, it grew more complacent. Instead of blaming groups, fixing responsibilities and raising fingers, I would restrict myself to what ought to be done now.
If the current wave of violence in the name of religion is subdued, the roots of violence will still exist. The prevailing system cannot breed peace as it has a propensity to relapse into cycles of chaos with perhaps different labels depending upon the spirit of times. The foremost issue to address is that of self-governance. The legislative and administrative powers of the president should be devolved to the elected representatives of FATA. The fundamental human rights enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan should be provided through extending the writ of High Court and Supreme Court to FATA. Self-governance and the security of fundamental human rights are imperative and must be assured whatever be the model of administration.
The Prime Minister’s Committee for FATA reforms is having consultations on whether to merge FATA with KP, make it a separate province or retain the FCR with certain modifications. The process of consultation is necessary to take all on board. However, it is necessary to examine the process of selecting the group chosen for consultation as this process will determine the future of FATA. The beneficiaries of the present system will not be pleased at wiping out the FCR. Expecting them to give way to change is therefore naïve.
The political administration is a dictatorial dispensation which exercises perhaps the largest powers vis-a-vis their counterparts in other democratic countries. General administration, magistracy, policing and judiciary converge into one office under the FCR which makes it omnipotent and dictatorial. Absolute power leads to inefficiency, irregularities and exploitation; specific administrative functions require dedicated institutions and professional staff. Even if the incumbent Political Agents do not exploit their powers and want to deliver, they can’t since the very system is averse to better service delivery and development.
The Malaks no doubt have been performing well as a liaison between people and the government, but the system has lost its relevance of late. They are not elected by the people, rather selected by the political administration. They conduct Jirgas and resolve disputes but the decisions are not binding upon the administration. They have to curry favour with the administration as their fate depends upon administrations’ will. Political administration may oblige them with contracts and other incentives or may isolate and even absolve them of their Malaki’s entitlement.
Although Malaks do require moral support from the people, yet “moral” is undefined and unbinding — insignificant when incentives or penalties are with the government, not the people. We should do away with the hereditary and government dependent system of Malaks, and replace it with the local councils. The local councils would be elected, independent, will have defined functions/powers and make the government accountable rather than the other way around.
The current Malaks may be nominated for the elections and those who get elected by the people shall retain their titles though the title will not be hereditary and depend upon performance and popular vote. The members of local councils may be called Malaks, not councilors. The argument in supporting this system is Pashtun customs and ‘rewaj’. Pashtunwali is democratic and Pashtuns like to exercise their democratic rights. The hereditary and government dependent system of Malaks is against the spirit of Pashtunwali and in fact a British innovation to twist the local traditions for their own interests.
Another argument is linking the Malaki system with the Jirga system. The latter is the most efficient instrument of dispute resolution and an asset of Pashtun culture. Even the settled districts realised the same and initiatives have been taken to form ADR (Alternate Dispute Resolution) Committees at Thana level. The Jirga system should be preserved, but the same will be more transparent and credible, if conducted by elected and independent Malaks.
The collective responsibility is inhumane but was somehow justified for the freedom provided to the tribal. However, since there is no freedom left with them and the government has penetrated every nook and corner of FATA, all the responsibilities may be abolished from people and shifted to the government accordingly.
The military for now has been entrusted to look after security of the area. The current security apparatus, however, is not effective enough to fill in the vacuum upon withdrawal of the military. Several initiatives have been taken to strengthen the FC and these will help address issues relating to the security at the borders as well as those within the category of internal threats. The general policing by political administration, however, is not adequate given the security situation.
The civil security framework comprises the Khasadar force and Levy force. The Khasadar force is hereditary and responsible for the protection of their respective areas. It is more of a hereditary and incentive-based force cultivated by the British to address the need of their times. Community policing no doubt is an effective policing model and the same may be retained in their set of duties. However, it ought to be reformed by abolishing hereditary entitlement, introducing merit and ensuring duty in person.
The second component is the Levy force which is a recent development but that too seems to be a temporary arrangement as mere constables without functional specialisation have been recruited to the force that also lacks an organisational structure. Levy must be transformed into a modern police force through the introduction of organisational hierarchy and functional specialisation i.e watch and ward, investigations and intelligence. The same is inevitable for sustainable security and crucial in consequence of responsibilities’ shifting from people to the government.
The economy of FATA requires aggressive interventions and a comprehensive time-bound development strategy. An efficient system of checks and balances may be placed to regulate the administrative irregularities besides bifurcation of the powers from the political administration to various dedicated departments. The system of checks and balances must include the elected representative of FATA at the local and agency council levels, as well as the elected assembly of FATA/KP.
As for the question of FATA becoming an independent province, a merger with KP, becoming PATA or getting any special status; the people of FATA have to decide either way. Instead of consulting a select group having different interests, it is better to go for a referendum in FATA. Those who defend the status quo and the FCR on any pretext are requested not to doom the future of millions of people only for keeping their stakes intact.
Pashtunwali and centuries-old ‘rewaj’ is here to stay and will last till the Pashtuns exist. Our code of life is strong, resilient and immune to such administrative changes. Anyway, if a person or group denies self-governance or fundamental human rights, the government should not be accepting this suicidal request on moral and legal grounds. FATA becoming PATA will perhaps be an exercise in futility as the elected members still won’t have the right to legislate except getting some relaxation in taxes — only direct taxes, as most of the taxes are indirect which we pay anyway.
An independent province or a merger with KPK are two possible options; choosing one requires a detailed administrative analysis. The decision to opt for either should be determined through objective feasibility study, not mere general opinions and vested interests.
The future of FATA will shape the future of entire region. Don’t expect citizens whom we have isolated, used as strategic assets and made to live under the FCR without any modern amenities and who have fallen prey to flawed policies to be better people all of a sudden. An integrated and developed FATA is the only way forward to reward their sacrifices and secure future generations.