Fata reforms | Farrukh Saleem

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Farrukh Saleem is a columnist based in Islamabad.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif deserves the credit for this one. The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) constitute an area of 27,224 square kilometres and a population of around four million – roughly three percent of Pakistan’s area and two percent of our population.

Former US president Bush described Fata as “one the most dangerous areas in the world”. Former CIA director Michael Hayden said that Al-Qaeda safe havens in Fata are a “clear and present danger” to the US. Admiral Michael Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, “If I were going to pick the next attack to hit the United States, it would come out of Fata.” General David Petraeus, who was commanding general of the Multi-National Force, said, “[The] Next 9/11 [will] come from Fata.”

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (SCIS) opined that Fata is “the most dangerous spot on the map” and “may well be the source of another 9/11…Failure to…restore a modicum of stability to Fata will have widespread repercussions for the region and perhaps the world”. Baitullah Mehsud said, “My ultimate objective is to attack New York and London.” Baitullah Mehsud was from Fata.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is trying to ‘restore a modicum of stability to Fata’. Article 247 states: “No Act of Majlis-e-Shoora (parliament) shall apply to Fata.” This must go. The Frontier Crimes Regulation of 1901 permits “collective punishment of a family or a tribe for crimes committed by individuals”. This must go. Section 40 of the FCR – which empowers the political agent to jail anyone for three years without assigning a reason – is the worst of them all. It must go. The FCR has six chapters, 64 sections and three schedules. They must all go.

Constitutionally a part of Pakistan, Fata has long had a weird legal status and an occult system of governance. Fata is about three things: poverty, illiteracy and exclusion. This must change. Fata is a lot poorer than the rest of Pakistan. Fata is a lot more illiterate than the rest of Pakistan. And Fata is almost completely excluded from the rest of Pakistan – politically, socially, economically and legally.

The PML-N’s election manifesto promised “integration of Fata…into the country’s political mainstream”. The PML-N’s election manifesto promised that “political rights enjoyed by the citizens of Pakistan” will be extended to the residents of Fata. Successive governments have long been promising the ‘mainstreaming of Fata’ but the PML-N is on track to fulfilling its manifesto promise. Constitutionally part of Pakistan, the residents of Fata have long been deprived of almost all civic, economic and political rights. The PML-N is on track to change that.

The federal government is planning to allocate Rs100 billion for Fata in the next National Finance Commission (NFC) Award. The PML-N government has launched 13 irrigation and water supply schemes at a cost of Rs750 million in Fata. To begin with, the Fata Reforms Committee has proposed a set of “parallel and concurrent” political, administrative and judicial reforms as well as a “massive reconstruction and rehabilitation programme to prepare Fata for its merger with KP”.

Four million Pakistanis living in Fata have been reduced to only five ways to earn a living: smuggling, car theft, drug trafficking, the sale of illegal weapons or working for an extremist organisation. Can the PML-N change that?