Erstwhile Fata merger- a ray of hope for neglected

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BY Waheed Hussain

In the middle of political confrontation, accusations, tug of war between PTI and PPP and PML (N) gladiators, the unanimous passage of 26th Constitutional Amendment empowering Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), is a positive sign. The new legislation will allow tribal people to enjoy political, social and economic status of a free citizen, which the rest of the country took as a gift since independence. Tribal brothers and sisters had waited for 72 years to achieve this status as a citizen of the country.

With reference to broader reforms program of the tribal regions, the new amendment has increased the provincial assembly seats to 24, while the national assembly seats have also gone up to 12. In this way 36 elected representatives will raise their voice both at provincial as well as national level. This process will provide financial and administrative independence and authority to the people of tribal areas.

The civil armed forces specially police will supervise the day to day law and order situation in the seven districts including, Khyber, Bajaur, Mohmand, North Waziristan, South Waziristan, Kurram and Orakzai. In the previous legal and administrative set up these districts had the status of agency, where the political agents enjoyed all judicial, administrative and financial powers. That absolute power to bureaucracy had compromised the basic social, economic and political rights of masses.

The jurisdiction of Supreme and High courts has also been extended to those neglected areas in the new set up. The functioning of the superior courts will definitely give a chance of fair trail to the population which remained deprived of justice system over seven decades.

In the past political system, the tribal agencies were governed by the federal government through Khyber Pakhtunkhawa governor and FATA secretariat. The agencies were governed under the notorious FCR. The Frontier Crime Regulation was enacted and enforced by the British government in 1901 to inflict strict punishment to criminals. Actually the British administration believed that the regular civil and criminal laws were unable to maintain law and order in bordering agencies between Pakistan and Afghanistan, therefore, the FCR was introduced.

Under the FCR people of tribal areas were deprived of fair trials. Whenever an accused was arrested he was left to the mercy of so-called Jirga (Elders’ Council) and political agents. Most of the time the ineffective, inefficient and prejudice Jirga system ignored the basic principle of justice, such as, legal counsel (a lawyer to protect the rights of an accused) and right to appeal. Except few honest and fair officials’ majority of political agents were corrupt and they were being influenced by the powerful personalities both within and out of the government.

In most of the cases the appointments of political agents were made on the hefty amount paid to the appointing authorities as these positions used to make lot of money. It was good investment for the political agents. The whole administrative structure was faulty because it lacked checks and balances. Otherwise how a governor sitting in Peshawar could monitor duty and performance of political agents and other officials who behaved like kings.

Hopefully the regular civil administrative system supervised by elected representatives and monitored by superior judiciary will address the genuine concerns of people.

We must remember that people of tribal areas have made historic and unprecedented sacrifices for Pakistan since 1947, particularly after 9/11, when the United States was attacked in 2001.

The USSR and American wars with different purpose had completely shattered and destabilized Afghanistan. Uncertainty in our neighboring country badly affected the bordering areas’ population between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The fire which was lit in Afghanistan spread into Pakistan burning down every beautiful valley turning them to ashes. As a result of American War on Terror in Afghanistan and subsequent military operations inside tribal areas, hundreds of thousands of families were forced to leave their houses.

The successful operations conducted by Pakistan Army brought peace and stability in FATA areas. Those who left their houses were brought back to be resettled in their native villages and valleys. But the people needed a change, a positive one.

There are elements in the FATA areas who with the help of hostile nations wanted to mislead local population. The enemies of Pakistan tried to destabilize the area through negative propaganda against state and its institutions, particularly armed forces.

Hopefully merger of FATA under the reform program will reject all those negative voices who wanted to use the land and its people for their nefarious designs. Those who still oppose the merger may not be sympathetic of tribal people.

Tribal needs an identity, prosperity and good future. They need to be a part of rest of the country. They need and deserve to be part of the developing and ever changing world. They need state of the art educational institutions and hospitals. They need industrial and commercial activities which will create job opportunity ensuring good living.

Implementation of decisions will be a big challenge. The federal and provincial governments must fulfill their promise of providing extra financial resources for developing infrastructure there. Of course It’s not an easy task. The actions will determine the intentions of the people in power.