In limbo

Published October 2, 2018
The writer is a former civil servant and interim minister.
The writer is a former civil servant and interim minister.

IT is said that haste trips up its own heels. Put another way, haste brings rue. In one day, May 24, 2018, the 25th Amendment was passed by the National Assembly with a 229-1 vote in favour, and then the following day by the Senate by a 71-5 majority. In the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly, it was approved 92-7. It amended Article 1 of the Constitution, in which the country’s territory is defined and Fata was mentioned as a territory separate from the other four provinces. Articles 106, 155 and 246 were also amended by the act, and Article 247 was repealed.

It was done in indecent, terrible haste. Just days after the amendment, the president had issued and signed the Fata Interim Governance Regulation, 2018, to replace the Frontier Crimes Regulation. A set of interim rules was given for Fata until it merged with KP within a time frame of two years. As per Article 247, the executive authority of the federation was retained over Fata and Pata.

The interim regulation, based on the principle of incrementalism, was a sensible step. While passing the 25th Amendment, lawmakers either did not know of the regulation or did not care. When someone wants to abolish an old house and build a new one, it takes months of planning and preparation before the demolition squad is called in. To build a new house, it takes much longer — decisions need to be made, such as which way the house will face to allow maximum light and air to come in, the number of rooms, the façade, in consultation with all family members, and in light of one’s the budget before the architect is called. The builder comes much later, after mulling over one’s choices.

The regrettable part was that after passing the amendment, agitation was started, particularly in Pata, about payment of taxes. Some lawmakers were heard saying that they did not know that no taxes were paid in Fata and Pata.

There are no quick fixes to mainstreaming the tribal areas.

With one mighty blow, reminiscent of legendary Greek warriors, Article 247 was sent to Mars. The umbilical cord binding the tribal areas with the federal government was cut. All the laws of the country were extended to these territories at once, with ordinary courts and police to implement them. Overnight, it became a provincial playfield.

Now to the rue that haste brings. Since May, there is neither police to investigate crimes nor courts to pass judgements. The appellation of the political agent has been changed to that of deputy commissioner, just like the name of Montgomery district was changed to Sahiwal. The deputy commissioner can enforce the law and order provisions, but nothing beyond that. It is another matter if we can place trained police there and persuade normal judicial officers to go and run the courts — there is zero infrastructure on the ground in which to house them. Don’t say that no crimes have taken place in the seven tribal districts and six tribal subdivisions since May. They must have. The tribesmen would surely be taking care of them in accordance with their own old customs, as they were doing before. The tribal areas of KP have become lawless.

To fill the void, the interim federal government suggested and drafted an Interim Governance (Tribal Districts and Subdivisions) Ordinance, which was sent to the interim provincial government to be promulgated by the governor. This was to provide an interim administration of justice, maintenance of peace and good governance. As a member of the interim setup, I had also suggested certain amendments that were accepted by the federal law minister. The final draft was sent to the interim chief minister but not to the governor for approval. To this day I do not understand why. The interim prime minister and law minister knew and realised the embarrassment of the big legal void that existed in the erstwhile Fata, and wanted to help the provincial government fill that lacuna until the elected government took control.

Those who appeared most concerned with the plight of Fata are today absent to show the road forward. The quarrelling and shouting TV commentators have gone silent; the so-called intellectuals no longer fill pages of the newspapers on the subject, and it is no longer a worry for the political parties in opposition. The governing political party, in the time-honoured fashion of doing business in Pakistan, wants rushed reports and quick fixes. Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes.

The prime minister and the KP chief minister have so far not taken the trouble to visit their new acquisitions. If they did, they would be warmly welcomed with flowery sepasnamas (welcome addresses), but with a clear message — that they wanted the removal of the FCR and no more; that they want to retain their customs, jirgas and autonomous status. From these receptions, the ex-tribal MNAs who were in the forefront to change the system will be conspicuously absent. They were all defeated in the 2018 general election.

The writer is a former civil servant and interim minister.

raufkkhattak@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, October 2nd, 2018

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