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Mr President, wake up to FATA’s plight

Mr President, you are king of tribal areas. Please hold a referendum so people of Fata can determine their future

Dear Mr President,

You may consider yourself only a ceremonial head of Pakistan’s parliamentary system, but for the country’s tribal areas, you are the real king. The cumulative area of this region surpasses that of more than 50 countries of the world. Under Article 246 of the Constitution, the tribal areas include Fata, and the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA) of Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P). If anybody has to specify the most conflict-ridden areas in Pakistan, they are exactly the areas mentioned in Article 246. Under Article 247, you are bestowed with legislative powers for these tribal areas. Parliamentarians from Fata can legislate for the whole of Pakistan, but they can’t legislate for the region they belong to. Similarly, representatives of PATA may sit in their respective provincial assemblies, but they don’t have powers to legislate for their constituencies. For Fata, you can direct the extension of any federal law and can even make new regulations that don’t have any parallels at the federal or provincial levels. For PATA, the governors of Balochistan and K-P can’t direct the extension of any provincial law or new regulations without your approval. You have all the legislative powers vis-a-vis the tribal areas, which parliament and the provincial assemblies hold for the settled areas of Pakistan. You have the powers to declare any part of the tribal areas as part of mainstream Pakistan, and provide necessary provisions for this.

The tribal areas are an integral part of Pakistan. One of the reasons for lawlessness here is the huge legislative gap. Since the 2013 election, there have been 80 laws that were either amended or enacted in K-P. During this time, only four laws have been notified for Fata. Similarly, there are many laws enacted by the provincial assemblies in Balochistan and K-P, but not extended to the tribal areas of these provinces. These also include the laws enacted to fulfill constitutional requirements, like the K-P Right to Information Act 2013. Not extending such laws to the tribal areas is tantamount to the violation of the constitutional rights of citizens. Similarly, the Federal Local Government Act has not yet been extended to Fata, creating a sense of deprivation among the inhabitants of the region.

Mr President, you can play a vital role in the mainstreaming of the tribal areas. Since Fata parliamentarians have submitted the 22nd Amendment Bill in the National Assembly that aims to extend the jurisdiction of the superior courts to the tribal areas and merge Fata and the tribal areas of K-P, your role has become more important. You can immediately extend many laws to Fata which can bring positive changes in its political and administrative culture. A good start could be to establish universities, including agricultural ones, and medical and engineering colleges. Please listen to the political representatives if you want to bring meaningful change. A forum already exists in the form of the Political Party Joint Action Committee on Fata reforms. You can relinquish the tribal status of these areas with the stroke of a pen and can make them part of the settled areas of K-P. You can even hold a referendum so that people of Fata can determine their future. This will allow for constitutional rights and democratic representation of people of the region to be protected.

Naturally, many would warn you against taking such measures, as those with vested interests would prefer to maintain the status quo. There are huge illegal businesses operating in Fata, and even legal businesses that are not part of the tax net. These will warn you against the fallout and say that such reforms will result in a worsening law and order situation. But please ask just one question from such people. Can we make Pakistan stronger by denying fundamental rights and democratic representation to such a large segment of the population? Where on earth in the contemporary age has any other democratic country denied its citizens their basic right to be represented by elected representatives?

Mr President, citizens of the tribal areas want to be treated as equals to their fellow Pakistani citizens. Please declare that there is no tribal area in Pakistan; do it for Pakistan and do it for the people of the tribal areas.