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Holding back Fata reforms

January 16, 2018

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THE initial praise heaped on a part of the Fata reforms — extending the jurisdiction of the Peshawar High Court and the Supreme Court — that the PML-N government allowed the National Assembly to approve, has given way to concern that the government may be seeking to delay and dilute the change. The bill that the National Assembly has authorised allows the president to delay signing it into law if the Senate also approves of it; can be selectively and in stages applied to the different agencies of Fata; and does nothing to repeal the FCR provisions, effectively keeping in place the political-agent-dominated lower tiers of the justice system in Fata, a system that has long been used to oppress the citizens of the tribal areas. Taken together, it appears that the PML-N is still contemplating thwarting meaningful reforms in Fata and is being less than truthful or responsible in its dealings with the region. Why?

The only reasonable explanation that has been identified so far, in the long process of the PML-N recommending and then stalling its own reforms in Fata, is Nawaz Sharif’s political alliance with Mahmood Achakzai of PkMAP and Fazlur Rehman of JUI-F. The latter two political leaders have come on record with their objection to the PML-N’s Fata reforms, but their official explanations are scarcely credible. Indeed, the cynical opposition of both politicians have fuelled conspiracy theories that have added to the general air of mistrust. But blame ultimately rests with the PML-N and Mr Sharif. The political and legal troubles of the ousted prime minister appear to be dominating the PML-N’s governance and legislative agendas. The fresh questions about the Fata bill have also underlined a near-universal perception of the federal government as being held hostage to the political calculations and personal demands of Mr Sharif. The situation is thoroughly disappointing and is likely causing further damage to the democratic project in the country.

Fata deserves better. Reasonable, mainstream political forces in the country ought to combine to make improvements to the administrative, judicial and political systems of Fata. Purely on the grounds of protecting the significant gains made through a series of counter-insurgency operations in Fata, the full range of reforms must be urgently implemented there. But the state’s responsibilities to the people of Fata are much greater. Used, abused and ignored at different points in its history according to the whims of the state, the region is a testament to the vast failures of the state. On every conceivable socioeconomic, political and judicial benchmark, Fata trails behind most of the rest of the country. Repealing the FCR is a core and necessary part of any reform agenda in Fata. It is remarkable that in a time of great difficulties of his own with the judicial process in Pakistan, Mr Sharif is willing to deny justice to the people of the tribal areas.

Published in Dawn, January 16th, 2018