“What ought to be the future of the (federally-administered) tribal areas?” asked Sir G. Cunningham, one of the known governors of the erstwhile North West Frontier Province (NWFP) — now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, from Dr Khan Sahib, the province’s chief minister in 1945. Dr Khan replied that the only natural and right thing to do was that the tribal areas and NWFP should be amalgamated into one province, where adequate protection is provided under tribal jirgas and the tribal rivaj are recognised as law.
Now seven decades later, it appears that the civil and military establishment have finally been coerced to reach the place where Sir Cunningham and Dr Khan once were.
Since 9/11 and the subsequent US strikes in Afghanistan in November 2001, the tribal areas have emerged as a zone of insurgency and a threat to national and international security. Insurgents have used the tribal belt to train and recruit fighters challenging the state writ causing Pakistan a loss of over 60,000 lives and more than $118 billion.
The weak governance structures resulted in the emergence of militancy, the climax of which was the tragic incident of the Army Public School in Peshawar on December 16, 2014.
It convinced the national leadership that Fata posed a serious threat to the viability of Pakistan. The country’s leadership instituted the 20-point National Action Plan (NAP) which also defined a reform process to transform Fata into a militancy-free region that would enable the tribesmen to live in peace and security.
To achieve this goal, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif formed a five-member committee headed by Sartaj Aziz, Advisor to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs, to propose essential reforms. After a comprehensive exercise spread over a period of nine months, the committee finally recommended the merger of Fata with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, so that the hitherto backward belt is mainstreamed, and its people given the opportunity to enjoy all fundamental rights as enshrined in the constitution of Pakistan.
However, a few unfortunate incidents in recent days have disappointed people both in the tribal areas and adjoining Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. These incidents exposed schisms among tribesmen and the establishment over the question of the merger. Particularly, the bureaucracy mainly posted at the Fata secretariat has been accused of scuttling the implementation of the committee’s recommendations.
After the institution of the political agents and Malik, the Fata secretariat is said to be another administrative unit that has become known for corruption, misgovernance and incompetence. Hence, it is challenging to implement policy decisions pertaining to the development in the tribal belt.
The secretariat was established in 2006 by a former governor in the Pervez Musharraf’s administration as a ploy to retain the powers he had in the military setup. His rivalry with the Muttahida Majlis Amal (MMA)’s chief minister Akram Khan Durrani was no secret.
On December 3, 2016, a scuffle marred the seminar which was organised to discuss the recommendations of the Reforms Committee. There was a brawl between the pro and anti-merger groups which became so intense that the security staff had to evacuate Governor Iqbal Zafar Jhagra and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly Speaker Asad Qaisar out of the building.
On the occasion, the Fata parliamentarians were angry over the Fata secretariat’s attitude — they accused it of obstructing reforms in the tribal areas.
“These are the people with hidden agendas who do not want any reforms in Fata,” PML-N’s MNA Shahabuddin Khan tells TNS. Ijaz Khan Mohmand, ex-president Fata Lawyers Forum, also accused the Fata secretariat bureaucracy of “rocking the reforms’ boat”. He said no desk has yet been allowed to be set up in the secretariat to at least coordinate on the reforms process in Fata.
A senior bureaucrat, who has also served at the highest positions in Fata, said that the proponent of the NAP should not be disheartened by such isolated incidents as these are the handiwork of those having vested interest in the status quo. While pleading anonymity, he said the committee report had already outlined a roadmap for implementation of the reforms that were eagerly awaited by the vast majority of tribesmen with whose representatives the committee had a series of interactive sessions in all the tribal agencies.
Only a negligible minority consisting of the beneficiaries of the system in the tribal belt is raising a weak voice of dissent, he said. He said the implementation of committee recommendations in a phased manner could address the reservations of small dissenting minority.
To begin with, a small reforms implementation cell should be established and the Fata Secretariat should be placed under it for all the affairs related to the reform process, he said. “The head of this cell should be carefully selected and its organogram prepared on need basis and realistic grounds. It should not be necessarily on the pattern of Directorate of Transition and Reforms (DTR) as proposed in the committee report. A small reform wing of the cell would also be necessary at each agency to facilitate implementation on the ground.”
Ijaz Mohmand said that initiating visible measures for holding local bodies’ election in Fata in 2017, as recommended by the committee, the president of Pakistan under Article 247(5) of the Constitution should forthwith approve a regulation for the purpose. Similarly, measures should be initiated for the establishment of district government secretariats in all the seven agencies of Fata. The Fata secretariat should be directed to prepare PC-I for the purpose.
Simultaneously, the delimitation work for the local bodies’ elections should be taken in hand. Mohmand said that thousands of the local bodies representatives elected through these polls would be the stronger voice on the implementation patterns of reforms in Fata.
Another senior bureaucrat proposed confidence-building measures for the common people and tribesmen whose welfare should be central to the government reforms agenda. He said presently the people of the Fata are subjected to illegal taxation levied by the local political agents. “This is a unique arrangement confined to the tribal areas alone and a huge source of corruption in these areas. A tribesmen taking goods from the settled districts to his home town has to pay rahdari tax at check posts.”
He added the abolition of such illegal taxes will auger well for the people. “Rather this will be the stepping stone for bringing Fata into the mainstream. This will simultaneously facilitate the transition because those (bureaucracy) vying for their postings in the tribal agencies will lose interest in serving there. Only those interested in the welfare of the tribesmen will become part of a historic process of Fata mainstreaming,” concluded the senior bureaucrat.