FATA People United On Reforms, Divided On Modus Operandi
Contributors: Nabi Jan Orakzai, Gohar Wazir and Gul Muhammad Mohmand
PESHAWAR: Reforms process had been carried out in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) from time to time. For the first time in history, the people of FATA were given right to adult franchise in the year 1996 after which the tribal people aged 18 years or above could elect members of the National Assembly from their respective constituencies. The government also introduced some changes in the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) in 2011. However, the people of the tribal areas continued their efforts for their rights at par with other citizens of Pakistan.
For the first time, the elected members of the National Assembly from tribal areas presented the 22nd Constitutional Amendment Bill in the National Assembly in September, 2015 for reforms in FATA. Instead of making a debate on the bill in the house, the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif formed a committee headed by Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz in November, 2015 to propose reforms in FATA after consultations with all the stakeholders. Governor Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Minister for States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) Lieutenant General (Retd) Abdul Qadir Baloch and Nasser Khan Janjua are also included in the committee.
TNN reporter Gohar Wazir visited Karkhanu market, where thousands of traders and shopkeepers belong to Khyber Agency, to know about their understanding of ongoing debate around FATA reforms. A shopkeeper Haroon said “We have no proper understanding about the reforms process. Once we fully acquaint ourselves with the whole issue, we will definitely cooperate with the government over this issue. It is a very good development that they are considering changes in the FCR. The law should be amended because under the current law people pay the price for the sins of their relatives which is unjust. Only the real culprits behind any crime should be punished”.
Another shopkeeper said “I don’t know much about the issue, but I have come to know that reforms are being made in FATA. Under the existing FCR law, if my cousin commits a crime in Tirah (Khyber Agency), Khassadar officials will tease me here in my native area for his sins. What is my fault if any of my relatives commit any crime somewhere else?”
One of the men in the bazaar said that FCR was a very negative law. Reforms were inevitable in this law and the FATA people deserved all basic rights like education, healthcare, etc. A shopkeeper said “I can’t say anything on this. I have no knowledge about these issues”. A person from Jamrud said “We are also Pakistanis and we demand a system like Khyber Pakhtunkhwa here. We are equal citizens of the country and deserve all the rights which are being enjoyed by the people of other parts of the country. If FCR is a good law then why the government is not imposing it in Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore. And if it’s a bad law then we should get rid of it as quickly as possible.”
A tribesman from the Khyber Agency said “we are simple tribal people. We don’t have understanding about political issues.”
These were the views of some common people of FATA about the reforms process. Our correspondent Gul Muhammad has conducted a detailed discussion with Ijaz Mohmand, a legal expert from Mohmand Agency, on the issue. He asked Ijaz Mohmand to tell TNN audience about the FATA reforms bill.
Ijaz Mohmand: The bill presented in the National Assembly about reforms in FATA was approved by the Senate eight months ago. The bill has already been approved by the Supreme Court of Pakistan, (Peshawar) High Court and provincial assemblies. It also has the backing of 11 political parties and the leaders of the tribal political alliance. However, there are two main issues about the reforms process. Article 248 has made the lives of the FATA people difficult, so it should be abolished. Secondly, FATA should be given the status of provincially administered tribal areas (PATA) like Malakand.
TNN: What are the main proposals for the FATA reforms?
Ijaz Mohmand: The purpose of the reforms has always been to give relief to the people who are leading their lives under a system of exploitation. However, large-scale corruption was carried out in the past in the name of reforms in FATA. Three types of reforms were made in the 2011 package. Firstly, the FCR was amended to abolish the practice of arresting children, women and elderly people, houses and hujras (males guest house) of tribesmen will not be demolished forcibly, audit of government funds will be carried out and the collective responsibility law will be applied carefully. Secondly, the Political Parties Act was extended to FATA, and thirdly a FATA Tribunal was also set up. We have challenged the establishment of this tribunal in the Supreme Court because it is illegal and has no writ powers. Under the Political Parties Act the representatives from FATA have no powers of law-making and the amendments in the FCR are also not being implemented in letter and spirit and all powers rest with the governor. The governor had also formed a commission which in its report had stated that the FCR is a very good law and it should not be abolished.
TNN: You are saying that practical steps have not been taken for implementation of reforms in FATA. Who really holds these powers of reforms?
Ijaz Mohmand: There are two kinds of powers in FATA. Firstly, reforms can be done in the tribal areas through the Parliament and the President of Pakistan. One such example is the bill recently submitted in the Parliament for FATA reforms. Secondly, the governor also wields important powers to separate judiciary from executive, implementation of the 2011 reforms and establishment of prosecution branch in FATA. The governor should prepare a summary for establishment of a large tribunal in FATA. But he is not doing it for unknown reasons.
TNN: Why reforms are necessary in FATA?
Ijaz Mohmand: These are necessary because we are now living into 21st century and our people are facing lawlessness and injustice. Tribal people have equal right to development and their sense of deprivation should be addressed. I know an area in Mohmand Agency where power supply has been disconnected for the last 15 days and no one is going there to repair the fault. The education and healthcare facilities are virtually non-existent. Over 10 million people of FATA cannot live under these circumstances any further. The tribal belt of Pakistan is the merging point of Central and South Asia which need to be developed.
TNN: What will be the status of FCR after reforms? Will it be a law or just a regulation?
Ijaz Mohmand: The FATA reforms bill has been tabled in the assembly and now it should be taken up for debate. There is no need of forming any committee on reforms. When the assembly passes the bill a separate administration will be established for FATA and FCR will be completely abolished. In this way, the law prevailing in other parts of Pakistan will also become the law of FATA.
The political and tribal leaders have also initiated a campaign to create awareness among the people of FATA about the reforms process. Addressing a gathering in Bajaur Agency, ex-federal minister and leader of FATA Grand alliancer Hameedullah Jan said “It is not up to him or other political leaders like Chattan or Shahabuddin to decide the future of FATA. This decision rests with the people of FATA”. The FATA Grand Jirga which is opposed to the proposal of merging FATA with KP has also arranged similar gatherings in other parts of FATA to create awareness among the people about political reforms and ascertain their viewpoint on the all-important issue.
Currently, the estimated population of FATA is about 10 million. The FCR law is in vogue in FATA since 1901. Most of the people in FATA call the British-era law as black law. The law had been amended several times during the last 20 years and consultations on another reforms process are also underway currently.
Hameedullah Jan says the people of FATA are still living under the controversial law even in the 21st century. Time has arrived now to make fundamental changes in the law, he says and adds “Lack of basic rights has created sense of deprivation among the FATA people. Even today we are seeking our rights as provided to other provinces of the country under the Constitution. It is very unfortunate that our demand of a separate FATA Council or a provincial status is being viewed with suspicion,” He reveals that in past, several assurances were given to the FATA people in the name of brotherhood and Pakhtunwali but nothing was done to mitigate their sufferings. However, the government has now formed a committee for reforms in FATA which is visiting different areas to ascertain viewpoint of all stakeholders on the question of reforms.
On the other hand, Malik Abdul Aziz who is supporting current statuesque in FATA, says that no changes should be made in the FCR. However, he says if the changes are necessary, then the local traditions and culture should be kept in mind. “What these people were doing during the British rule? They either resolved their issues through Jirga or Shariah. That practice is still in vogue in FATA. Now the question arises what kind of political changes these people are demanding at present. Some people here say they are going to Islamabad for making decisions about the people of Bajaur. We cannot allow outsiders to take decisions on our behalf,” Malik Abdul Aziz said.
However Aurangzeb Inqilabi, a political activist, his a different view. He says the tribal areas, which consist of seven agencies and six frontier regions (FR), should be merged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province which shares borders with these areas. “My entire education career is associated with KP. Every department exists in this province and we will have to think seriously about the future of our children. I had told Sartaj Aziz, head of the reforms committee, during a meeting that if he considers FCR is good for his own children then it is alright. However, if he considers it bad then it is discrimination against tribal population. I also told him to take the law with him to Islamabad if he considers it too good,” Mr Inqilabi said.
At a time when thorough discussions are underway regarding reforms in FATA, there are others like Jalil a shopkeeper from Khyber Agency who knows nothing about the issue. “We have no knowledge about the reforms. Being a displaced person from my native area, I am facing many difficulties. The government should send us to our native area. I don’t bother about the reforms,” Mr Jalil said.
This is a transcript of radio magazine program on FATA reforms named as Badloon in Pashtu. This program is produced by TNN’s producers Shan Muhammad and Abdul Qayyum Afridi for broadcast on six radio stations in FATA and KP. Badloon aims at supporting the and providing a platform to the people of FATA for debating and discussing reforms in FATA.