Every inch of this country has its defined administrative identity, but the tribal areas are neither a province nor a division, nor part of any province or division. Parliament can legislate for any area of Pakistan except the tribal areas. The Supreme Court does not have jurisdiction over these areas and their residents cannot appeal to any court in Pakistan.
The president of Pakistan is the chief executive of these areas, but up to this day not a single person from these areas has reached that position. The fact is that the Pakistani elite are not ready to accept the residents of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas as Pakistanis in the same way as the rest of the citizens of the country are. Previously the Political Agent used to be the ruler of the area and now this authority is shared with the militants and the military. The people of Fata cannot approach a court in case of injustice, nor can they voice their grievances through political means.
To maintain the status quo, the elite maintain that tribal traditions do not allow the residents to assimilate with mainstream Pakistani society and if the existing archaic system is disturbed the result will be calamity. The fact is that the same tribesmen live in Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad and Peshawar with no cultural problems. Their students achieve good grades in Pakistani educational institutions. Hundreds of men from Fata are serving in the bureaucracy and the police. Some are or have been generals in the army.
People from Fata are a sizable proportion of the Pakistani workforce serving in Gulf countries and Europe. If they are capable of adjusting to foreign societies and their laws and rules and regulations, why can they not adjust to Pakistani society and laws, and when they are themselves Pakistani, not aliens?
Besides, the same Shinwari, Afridi, Mengal, Safi and other tribes are living on the other side of the Durand Line. In Afghanistan they follow laws, rules and regulations emanating from Kabul. But here in Pakistan the strange argument is presented that if the tribal people integrate into Pakistani society the change will destroy the whole balance in Fata. The backward tribesmen portrayed in the books of history do not have actual existence in the 21st century. The media and modern means of communication have brought the tribal people culturally at par with mainstream Pakistani society.
Currently it is clear that Zardari used all political forces and Pakistan for his political objectives, but Fata members in parliament under the leadership of Munir Orakzai have used Zardari so many times. Even the MQM has not been able to cash in on its position on as many occasions as the Fata members did in the case of theirs.
The special administrative status of the tribal areas was designed to serve British interests in the Great Game. After the departure of the British, the Pakistani bureaucracy inherited the status. Before the Sept 11 attacks, only bureaucrats having connections with the president and the prime minister were appointed as Political Agents. As had happened under the British, a kind of local political mafia of Maliks and other elites developed. In return for the favours they received, they ensured smooth and uninterrupted rule by the bureaucrats. They fabricated all the myths that defend the status quo.
Members of parliament representing Fata could not legislate for their own areas, but since they themselves belonged to the elite they also favoured the status quo and resisted any real change. After the Sept 11 event, two new actors started sharing power in the tribal areas: the militants and the military. The military resisted change because it feared possible mismanagement if the change came about. On other hand, the lawless areas suit the militants. So the present situation in the tribal areas is very gloomy. These areas are a goldmine for the bureaucracy, the local elite and the mafias and a laboratory for local and international establishments and the militants.
The present government in its early days promised to end the draconian Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) and to bring the tribal areas into the mainstream. After three years its has at last fulfilled its promise, but only partially. The present reforms related to Fata, thought far from enough, are indeed better than no reforms. Allowing political activities will at least produce some change, although it is going to be slow. The right to appeal against the decisions of the Political Agent is granted to a tribunal. If the jurisdiction of the appellate courts on the provincial and federal levels were extended to Fata, that would have resulted in real and substantive change in the tribal areas.
The fact is that changes in the FCR or political activities being allowed in Fata are not sufficient to help the tribal areas. There is a lot to accomplish. One element is the serious problem of unclear financial and administrative boundaries. The governor of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa administers these areas but the tribal areas have no representation in the provincial assembly. In the same way, the chief minister of the province is not allowed to interfere in the tribal areas but his subordinate, the chief secretary, heads the bureaucracy of the tribal belt. At the same time, on all issues related to law and order the Political Agent is bound to report to the home secretary of the province. There is no separate service structure for the area, so the provincial government provides its civil bureaucracy and the required human resources.
Besides the administrative confusion, problems related to financial matters are even worst. There is no transparent procedure to guarantee accountability, nor audit of public spending. Administrative matters are overseen by the Governor’s House in Peshawar while human resources are actually part of the provincial government. So, characteristically, every matter related to the tribal areas in Pakistan had to move back and forth among the main actors. And now the military has joined the club.
So the need of the day is to define the administrative status of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. There are some political elements in Fata who have raised the demand for the territory to be given provincial status. On the other hand, the Awami National Party (ANP) is of the opinion that Fata should be integrated into Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. The ANP formula appears to be more feasible. But the key to the solution of the long-existing problems of the tribal areas is for their administrative status to be clearly defined. It would be wise to discuss this status at the same time as the issue of new provinces in Pakistan comes under serious discussion.
The writer works for Geo TV. Email: email@example.com