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FATA reforms: busting some myths

While the British are long gone, we still have a discourse that favours colonialism and orientalism for Fata

Why do proposals for Fata reforms come with so many warnings and cautions? Arguments againsFata reforms are often built on the premise that existing governance structures — if there are any in Fata — have evolved over a period of 114 yeas and dismantling these will require time for social acceptability. Furthermore, the worsening law and order situation in the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (Pata) of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) is often related to the reforms process. This point was emphasised by the outgoing K-P governor, Sardar Mahtab Ahmad Khan, in his policy discussion paper titled “Tribal Integration in Pakistan through Restoration of Citizen-State Relationship”. He argues: “The merger of the princely states of Swat and Dir in the late 1960s, which led to progressive social discontent, has taken a long time to settle. It brewed on the ineffectiveness of the institutions to assuage people’s aspirations. In large part, the institutions became maladroit due to the reason that the merger was followed by a quest to foist uniform legal and administrative systems on the people, which were not in sync with their historical and political experiences.”

Those who scare us of Fata reforms should be reminded that unrest in Pata did not start due to the initiation of reforms, but due to the half-cooked, incomplete reforms process. What good is the reform process if it ends up depriving citizens of their fundamental right to be represented by their duly elected representatives? Citizens will only own the reform process when their voices are heard through their elected representatives. For the people of Dir, Swat, Buner and Malakand, the K-P Assembly and the legislative assembly of Timbuktu are the same as laws enacted by both are not applicable to them. If depriving citizens of their right to be represented by their democratically-elected representatives is considered their mainstreaming, then one wonders what deprivation looks like. Another argument against reforms has been put forward by Abdul Qadir Baloch, the federal minister for SAFRON and a member of the Fata Reforms Committee. According to him, before introducing any reform package in Fata, we should wait for peace to be restored in the area. This argument basically rests on the premise of ‘installing development and peace from the outside’ and brushing aside any possibility of meaningfully engaging citizens of Fata in the stabilisation of the tribal areas. What good is the development process if there are no local government representatives in Fata, who can decide their areas’ development priorities?

To call Fata semi-autonomous is a misnomer. It would have been semi-autonomous had it been represented its own legislative assembly with its own legislative powers. It would have been semi-autonomous had it owned an ample share of the federal consolidated funds. In the existing framework, citizens of Fata do not have any such mechanisms at their disposal and even their constitutional rights are not protected, as the jurisdiction of the superior courts does not extend to Fata. It seems that when it comes to Fata reforms, those reluctant ‘reformists’, who have served as civil servants and now carry out duties as political agents (PA) as a pastime, follow the famous line of Humphrey Appleby from the popular BBC sitcom “Yes Minister”: “Of course, beyond question, at the appropriate juncture, in due course, in the fullness of time.”

Such ideas and attitude kill any initiative for Fata reforms before its germination. Most people hailing from Fata — except for the beneficiaries of the status quo who gather in the offices of the PAs to brief the Fata Reform Committee — are demanding the abolition of the FCR.

Another argument presented against the reforms is that when Fata and Pata were merging with Pakistan, they were given tax exemptions. However, this argument is not valid as, at the same time, the citizens from Pata and Fata were not provided with their fundamental rights, including the right to be represented by their democratically-elected representatives. The most awkward argument presented so far against Fata reforms is that tribespersons are not ready for democratic governance and hence the status quo should be preserved. While the British are long gone, we still have a discourse that favours colonialism and orientalism for Fata. The federal government will do a great favour if it provides a genuine forum where the people of Fata can decide their future status. Let’s not waste this golden opportunity.