The federal cabinet has on September 12, 2017 approved the extension of the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and Islamabad High Court to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) as the first step towards implementation of the long overdue reforms in the country’s troubled tribal areas. A bill for this purpose will soon be presented in parliament and after its passage, the colonial legacy of the Frontier Crimes Regulation, which amongst other controversial anomalies allowed collective punishment for crimes and other transgressions, would be abolished, followed by the normal laws of the land being enforced in FATA in a phased manner. This effort will be accompanied by a massive development programme of some Rs 110 billion, to be financed by allocation of additional resources from the divisible pool after the concurrence of all stakeholders. It bears mention that the provinces have yet to concur with this development package. A National Implementation Committee (NIC) under Prime Minister (PM) Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has been constituted to oversee the political, legal, administrative and developmental mainstreaming of FATA. The NIC in its first meeting last week decided to install a transitional mechanism to be headed by a chief operating officer for the transitional period. Besides the members of the FATA reforms committee that initially drafted the FATA programme earlier this year, the PM, COAS, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Chief Minister and the Commander of the Peshawar-based 11th Corps have been included in the NIC. The PM has directed the Minister for Law and Justice to fast track the legislative and administrative measures for mainstreaming the tribal areas so that the people of FATA can enjoy the same fundamental rights as the rest of the country (notwithstanding the sad fact that those rights are available to the rest of the citizens of the country more in the breach). The NIC has also approved fast track recruitment of police and the redeployment of some elements of the Frontier Constabulary, after training, to perform police functions in FATA. To put the whole scheme in some perspective, in March 2017 the federal cabinet under former PM Nawaz Sharif had approved a series of steps for the proposed merger of FATA with KP and a 10-year reform package. In May 2017, the government convened a special session of the National Assembly (NA) to present three bills, including the 30th Constitutional Amendment, in the light of the FATA reform committee’s recommendations. However, the former PM withheld the bills after Mahmood Khan Achakzai and Maulana Fazlur Rehman forcefully argued against the merger. Some analysts see this as the FATA merger being tangled in an electoral cobweb. If and when FATA is merged with KP, the latter’s provincial assembly seats will increase by 23 but there may be some loss of seats in the NA and Senate, the former if FATA NA seats are reduced on the basis of population, the latter because FATA’s Senate seats will cease to exist. General Musharraf’s regime legitimised the raising of FATA’s NA seats to 12, double its share in population, by inserting a table as Clause 3 of Article 51 detailing the seats of each province and area. However, this insertion is in contradiction with Article 51(5), which enjoins seat distribution in accordance with population. The changes in seats allocation and possible delimitation of constituencies in the light of the 2017 census have the potential to create problems amongst the stakeholders unless all these anomalies are dealt with in consonance with the merger proposal.
When reform and mainstreaming of the tribal areas held in thrall to the strategic and control considerations of the colonial occupying power for so long are contemplated, perhaps the wisest course is to make haste slowly, taking into consideration the potential problems listed above plus any others that may crop up during the incremental exercise. There is of course no going back on abolishing the draconian colonial regime and structures that have deprived the tribal people of their rights as citizens for so long. However, since the process is complicated and fraught with potential pitfalls, the best path may be to introduce reforms in a considered manner while taking on board all stakeholders, but especially the people most affected by the changes, ie, the people of FATA.