REPEATED calls to extend the Political Parties Act of Pakistan to Fata have not achieved much. From time to time various political figures make promises in this regard, but no concrete action has been taken. On Friday, the demand was repeated by the Muttahida Qabail Party whose chairperson, Malik Habib Orakzai, pointed out that even though elections are held in the tribal areas, the political agents wield far more influence than the elected representatives. This is ironic, given how much is made of the democratic project in Pakistan and the current government’s self-congratulatory attitude in this regard. Political parties constitute the cornerstone of any democratic society, offering the people choices for change and channels through which to peacefully mobilise. Particularly given the unrest in Fata and the war in Afghanistan, it is necessary to institute a broad set of political reforms that work towards restructuring governance in the area and bring the tribal people into the mainstream. Fata has historically been considered a semi-autonomous region but modern times demand that the state’s attitude towards it change. As citizens of Pakistan, the people of Fata need to be treated as equal and must have access to all the rights and safeguards available to the rest of the citizenry. This includes the extension of the Political Parties Act so that the tribespeople can engage in mainstream party politics like the rest of the country. This is a demand that has come frequently from various tribal leaders as well. As Mr Orakzai pointed out, elections already take place in the region. The lack of coverage by the Political Parties Act, however, means that tribal political candidates may have party affiliations but can only contest elections as independent candidates. There is little sense in this. Bringing Fata into the mainstream begins with formalising political activity.

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