The much-delayed Fata reforms aimed at mainstreaming the tribal areas remain bogged down due to power politics.
The Tribal Areas Rewaj Bill, introduced by the government in the National Assembly, as the word ‘rewaj’ in its title shows, seeks to retain much of the old order in the name of traditions, as well as several provisions of the draconian colonial era Frontier Crimes Regulation, thereby negating the very idea of reform.
If that not is bad enough, even though the government has proposed Fata merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the process is to be completed over a long five-year period.
That is seen as an attempt to draw a short-term political benefit because under the proposed changes the Fata areas are to stay under federal control via the President and the KP Governor while elections to the KP assembly are held.
That can easily influence the election outcome, as has been the case thus far with successful Fata candidates joining the ruling party at the centre.
Similarly, Rewaj law would keep the local influentials, the maliks, empowered and help advance the federal government’s interests.
Notably, all major players in KP, including the PTI, PPP, ANP, PPP (Sherpao) are unwilling to accept a hybrid rewaj law as well as ‘gradual’ merger.
All Fata legislators are also vehemently opposed to the proposed law and want immediate merger. Only the JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman and PML-N’s other ally PkMAP leader Mahmood Khan Achakzai from Balochistan – a longtime proponent of a Pakhtun province – are opposed to Fata becoming a part of KP. It is worth noting that when the mainstream parties could not even enter Fata due to extremist militancy, the JUI-F had a significant presence in the areas through its madressahs and links with local religious leaders as well as maliks.
If Fata gets the status of a province, the JUI-F can hope to win election there and form government, hence its leader’s resistance to merger.
Unfortunately, the Prime Minister seems to be more receptive to the wishes of his political ally rather than what is best for the Fata inhabitants.
On Tuesday, after receiving a call from Maulana Fazlur Rehman, during his foreign tour, he directed his party to stay discussion of the Rewaj bill till his return home. That has angered the PM’s own legislators from Fata.
According to a report, one of them had a heated exchange with the Minister for States and Frontier Regions (Safron), Lieutenant General Abdul Qadir Baloch (Retd), upon hearing that the discussion of the bill had been stopped at the Maulana’s behest.
All this goes against the very notion of mainstreaming the deeply troubled tribal areas. The other major parties, equally unhappy over the reform bill in its present form, are in no mood to let it go unchallenged.
Almost all members of the NA Standing Committee on Safron have opposed it. Voicing a common concern, PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari has asked his legislators to reject the bill for being violative of basic human rights and inconsistent with the goal of Fata merger with KP, saying making the President and Governor the “sole lords” of Fata and the Frontier Crimes Regulation were two colonial instruments to keep the Fata people subjugated.
One can only hope the ruling party will pay heed to majority opinion and make consensus-based amendments to the proposal law.