FATA merger games
The passing of the Supreme Court and High Court (Extension of Jurisdiction to FATA) Bill 2018 by the National Assembly the other day promised that the new day anticipated to be dawning for the people of the tribal areas had finally arrived, and not a moment too soon. Alas that initial euphoria may prove premature. Concerns are being voiced by different quarters that the government may seek to delay or dilute the Bill’s provisions as well as its spirit. The Bill allows the President (on the government’s advice of course) to delay signing it even if the Senate also passes it. What on earth is intended to be accomplished by putting such a roadblock in the path of what should have been a historic first step towards the long neglected people of the tribal areas finally enjoying all the rights of citizenship they have been deprived of for long, and even after independence for 70 years? The Bill also allows the government to apply its provisions selectively and in stages to the tribal Agencies that constitute FATA. Last but not least, the failure to repeal the notorious colonial-era FCR holds the risk of the new system of justice (if and when it is applied) colliding with the antediluvian system of collective tribal punishment and ‘managing’ security on the frontier that the British bequeathed as a legacy of their own imperial designs to Pakistan. It is a sad commentary on our history that the FCR system remained in force all these years after independence and continued to subject the tribal people to the farce of ‘justice’ being dispensed by Political Agents appointed by the government for each Agency, and against whose arbitrary verdicts no forum for appeal was available. And yet when it appeared that repeal of the FCR was an idea whose time has come, the government has behaved like a shrinking violet in refraining from consigning it to the dustbin of history where it belongs. The half-measure envisaged in the Bill, which will result in FATA’s judicial system being suspended between being neither fish nor fowl, is being viewed by critics as the government’s intent to thwart meaningful reform to bring FATA into the national mainstream.
Why is the government bent upon raising hopes that FATA will emerge into the modern light of day at last only to dash them with the next breath? It appears that the government is tactically avoiding a break on the issue with its two allies, the JUI-F of Maulana Fazlur Rehman and the PkMAP of Mehmood Khan Achakzai. Both have publicly and vociferously opposed the merger of FATA with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, less, it is suspected, because of any cogent reasons and more as a vested interest in retaining their political clout in the tribal areas. If so, this appears the proverbial case of the tail wagging the dog. It is also being speculated that Nawaz Sharif’s current crop of problems are impinging on the project to mainstream FATA as soon as possible. Arguably, the phase-wise implementation of the Bill in different Agencies of FATA may be intended to avoid the complexities of replacing a long established but unacceptable order with the new one. But logically the clearing of FATA after the military operations there should if anything have helped accelerate the process rather than it being deliberately dragged on. If it is political expediency revolving around keeping the two recalcitrant allies on board and making concessions to Nawaz Sharif’s current considerations, this is both unfair and unjust in terms of the tribal people’s long awaited journey out of the colonial-imposed darkness they have suffered in for too long and into the sunshine of full citizenship with all its constitutionally mandated rights palette.