Fata needs a new social contract

January 17, 2012


ONE of the most significant events in the history of Fata and the lives of its people was the creation of Pakistan in 1947.

After a long period of isolation and suffering during the British period, their dream of a Muslim state, in which they would be free and equal citizens, was being realised.

The tribes welcomed the new state of Pakistan with one voice and, without any hesitation, signed agreements to be a part of it as its loyal citizens.

There was hope that with the establishment of Pakistan a new era of progress and change would begin for the tribal people. The tribes were optimistic that their own government, run by their own people, would, in due course, correct and improve the old system of governance while framing a new constitution for Pakistan.

Their optimism was reinforced by the Quaid's announcement of his decision to pull out all military forces from the tribal areas and to allow the people complete freedom of movement.

The tribesmen soon reciprocated the trust and confidence reposed in them when thousands of them fought voluntarily for the liberation of Kashmir in Pakistan's first war.

The successive constitutions of 1956, 1962 and 1973 of Pakistan, however, retained the colonial-era administrative and legal system enacted in 1872 and embodied in the Frontier Crimes Regulation(FCR) 1901. This system is inherently oppressive, negative in purpose and authoritarian in spirit.

It gave virtually unlimited judicial and administrative powers to the political agents to fine, blockade, detain and seize hostile groups and confiscate or demolish property in the tribal areas.

Fata MNAs did not voice the true feelings of the people as, being themselves no more than glorified maliks, their own interests coincided with the continuation of the system. The larger, dominant state system bears the responsibility for continuing with the outdated parallel legal system for over six decades after Independence.

Lack of effective representation and participation of the tribal population in the decision-making process was always a sore point. At present, they are represented by 12 members in the National Assembly and eight in the Senate but these legislative bodies cannot make any laws for Fata being the absolute domain of the president.

Fata has no representation at a provincial level and no elections are held at the local level. With devolution of powers to the provinces through the 18th Amendment, representation at a provincial level has become critically important.

Neglected for decades, Fata is one of Pakistan's poorest regions, with reportedly over 60 per cent of the population living below the poverty line.

Huge unemployment, alarmingly low literacy rates, poorhealth services and a badly underdeveloped infrastructure has set Fata apart from the rest of Pakistan. The dismal human development indicators are a clear sign that the state has failed to perform its role in Fata.

Unlike previously, the tribesmen, after some reluctance, welcomed all development initiatives of the government after Independence.

Society was well on its way to progress when it saw its 'natural' course of change and development rudely interrupted with the coming of thousands of foreign Mujahideen and recruitment of locals by the US and Pakistan in the 1980s to fight what was then the Soviet Union. The story of how the world abandoned the Mujahideen and Afghanistan, following the end of the Cold War is well known. But what is, perhaps, not known is that Fata too was abandoned, leaving it with a jihadi mindset, an abundance of cheap modern weapons and easy entry and exit of foreign Mujahideen.

The weaponisation of society and the presence of foreign extremist elements has dealt a serious blow to the tribal system. This in large part is responsible for the current imbroglio.

Some people erroneously think that Fata, being a tribal society, is static and lacks any internal dynamic of change.

An objective view of change in Fata is sufficient to convince one that it is impacted just as much by events as other parts of the country.

The tribal society, consid-ered classless and egalitarian, has transformed considerably into a class-based society.

Four distinct classes comprising the big maliks, the new rich, the educated and professionals and the common masses can be identified in tribal society. Their overall aspiration and social behaviour towards change and reforms are often characterised by the class to which they belong.

Though appreciably impacted by modern changes, Fata's special status was retained under Articles 246247 of the 1973 constitution.

No serious effort was ever made by the government to change the FCR, reduce poverty and give effective political representation, basic human rights and a mechanism to redress grievances to this marginalised region of Pakistan.

By failing to fulfil its obligations, the state appears to have abandoned Fata to its fate.

Fata has suffered heavily for being consigned to the backwaters, ignored and exploited for jihadi activities.

The resulting militancy has considerably weakened the tribal structure as well as the old system of governance that cannot be revived.

A paradigm shift is required in approaching governance and socio-economic issues in Fata. It will not be easy but the path to peace and lasting solution lies in ending the isolation of Fata and integrating the region into the mainstream through a new social contract.

The writer is a retired army officer from Fata.