Syed Zeeshan Haider

Is mainstreaming FATA a lost cause?

24 Jul 2017

“ Someone who lives in FATA believes that the ongoing war on terrorism in the country has adversely impacted their area the most.Keeping in view this region, billions of dollars of foreign aid were received by the country, but of what benefit was the money to the region?

If we were to run a survey as of this moment, a majority of the Pakistani populace would be discovered to be unaware of the fact that there is a region in Pakistan where the writ of the state and the jurisdiction of the Constitution do not apply in a similar manner as to all other regions. This region is known as FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) with a total area of 27,000 square kilometres and a population of 44 lacs, according to safe estimates. No traces of courts or police may be found in the region; neither does the higher judiciary have any interference in the state of affairs of the region. So much so, the population does not have access to fundamental human rights.

The People’s Party government engaged in discourse about providing rights to the people of FATA, however, no substantial steps were taken in the regard. While Operation Zarb-e-Azb was underway, the National Action Plan was formulated under which it was proposed to bring FATA under the realm of the State. In the same vein, a committee was formed under the stewardship of Sartaj Aziz, which toured FATA and met the members of youth political parties and local leaders. It was decided that FATA should be made a part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to bring it under the writ of the State, to which Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman of the Jamaat-e-Ulema-e-Islam and Mahmood Khan Achakzai of the Milli Awami Party were opposed. Now even the Federal Government seems to have backed off from the decisions it took.

Any of the laws applicable across the territory of Pakistan are not applicable in FATA. According to Article 247 of the Constitution of 1973, a notorious law under the title of Frontier Crime Regulation was enacted in the region, because of which FATA and the areas to the north are not under the jurisdiction of any provincial of federal government, or any court of law. This region falls under the direct jurisdiction of the President. The Frontier Crime Regulation (FCR) was enacted for the first time under the British Raj. Then in 1873, 1876, and 1901, amendments to the law were introduced. Currently, the amended version from 1901 is in place. In 1947, the Government of Pakistan, instead of accepting it as it is, made another amendment to the Regulation, according to which any citizen of FATA may be arrested without proof of guilt. By extension, citizens of FATA and areas toward the north from there are also deprived of lawyers. FCR has totally cut off FATA’s people from the political system of the rest of the country, and because of this law, FATA’s masses are still deprived of fundamental human rights.

The point to ponder is that it has been 70 years since the inception of Pakistan. Why has this region been the subject of neglect ever since, till date? If FATA were annexed, then it would have become difficult to conduct certain affairs in the region. For example, during the Afghan War, the region became the breeding ground for several crimes. If national laws would have been applicable there, then those militant factions and smuggling activities would have been eliminated easily. If FATA would have been under the jurisdiction of all laws and courts in Pakistan, citizens would have been brought under the protection of the Constitution. Political representatives in the region would have started gaining authority. The masses would have become aware of their rights. Public services and institutions in the country would have been expanded to the region, and a series of elections and rallies of political parties would have been initiated. The masses would have the choice of peaceful means to demand their rights. The judiciary would have carried out a crackdown against the injustices happening in the region. However, this situation would be unacceptable for several powerful entities, and therefore they intentionally do not want this to happen.

Someone who lives in FATA believes that the ongoing war on terrorism in the country has adversely impacted their area the most. Keeping in view this region, billions of dollars of foreign aid were received by the country, but of what benefit was the money to the region? Today, residents of FATA don’t have the capacity to hold those in the echelons of power accountable for the billions of dollars received in aid. Neither can they question anyone, nor can they knock on the door of any court of law. The situation in FATA is such that because of the constitutional restriction, the judiciary cannot intervene to remedy ongoing social injustices. There aren’t even any police stations where FIRs can be lodged. Who would a society which does not have access to police stations or courts ask for its rights from? When FATA’s citizens won’t get their constitutional or fundamental rights, they would be compelled to take up arms, and thus extremism is on the rise in the area. What we fail to understand is why our leaders are turning a blind eye to reality? The Government acknowledges the rights of the people of FATA and even engages in discourse about how to provide them their right but always fails to convert it into action.

The point to ponder is that why are we subjecting the people of FATA to such gross injustice and neglect? Are they not entitled to the rights and facilities that people of Lahore, Islamabad, and Karachi have access to? We very conveniently point towards FATA when we talk about issues such as smuggling and extremism. Do we raise fingers and question why they are being subject to the injustices that they have to face on a daily basis? Are we, the public at large, not complicit in this crime? If ordinary Pakistanis don’t have the authority to solve the issues of FATA, they can at least raise their voices for them. We would have to hold our democratic leaders accountable for these injustices. Despite this clear situation, we have for the safeguarding of self-centred interests of some powerful spheres and religious and political individuals, deprived such a huge area of land and such a massive population from fundamental human rights, and shoved them into circumstances similar to the era of British colonial rule. Our leaders should rise out of ignorance and provide access to fundamental human rights to the people of FATA. So that they may exercise their right to political representation in choosing their representatives in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and National Assemblies’ elections of 2018.

Published in Pakistan Today on 24-07-2017.

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