FATA Reforms Commission: Stakeholders not happy with proposals for governance

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Peshawar: The reforms commission for federally administered tribal areas (FATA) of Pakistan has been sharply criticized  by political parties and other stakeholders include lawyers and tribal elders saying the commission’s proposal for local governance in the tribal region were not representative of the people’s aspirations.

The FATA Reforms commission (FRC) established last year has submitted its interim report on May 1, 2015 to prime minister for review. The commission report has covered myriad issues that FATA faces – varying from security to justice system to local governance, ‘quick impacts projects’ and economic restoration.

One of the long-standing demands of the people of FATA  related to establishment of local governance system in the region. The commission addressed this by proposing agency and FR councils, headed by a political agent and a deputy commissioner respectively.

“The councils would be the decisive body at the agency’s level for developmental schemes,” , said Commission chairman Ejaz Ahmad Qureshi.

To identify local problems and strengthen liaison between the state and tribesmen, Qureshi said the commission had proposed establishment of governor councils headed by the governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The minister for States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON), interior federal secretaries, the chief secretary KP and the additional chief secretary would be members of the governor council.

However the commission’s proposals for local government system in FATA through agency/FR councils were sharply criticized by  stakeholders working on FATA reforms.

The Joint Committee on FATA Reforms – an alliance of 10 mainstream parties striving for reforms in the governance system on FATA – has showed concern over the proposed Agency’s and FR [Frontier region]’s councils for local government in tribal region.

Some of the recommendations made by the Joint Commitee on FATA Reforms to the governor related to the local government system including taking back powers to dissolve the councils from the governor, extension of local government system to FATA, reserving 18 per cent seats of the council for women, holding elections on party basis and giving power to the councils to approve all developmental projects in FATA. 10 per cent of seats in each agency councils for religious minorities were also recommended by the committee.

Seven out of the 11 recommendations were only partially addressed by the reforms commission, leaving out important points about amendments to article 247 of the Constitution and future status of FATA, said Ajmal Wazir, spokesperson of Fata committee.

Article 247 excludes FATA from the jurisdiction of Pakistan parliament, the Supreme court and high courts, with the tribal region administered under the ‘draconian’ Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) enacted by British rulers back in 1901.

“The reforms commission proposed agency and FR councils for interim period of two years but didn’t say anything about what would be done in future,” Wazir told News Lens.

Wazir said that the option of agency council was exercised in FATA back in 2004 to address the long-standing demands of the tribesmen but when the governor was replaced after two years, the system was abolished.

“Those councils [in 2004] were not established again due to lack of proper legislation,” said Wazir. “Without amendments to article 247, no sustainable legislation is possible for FATA.”

Another point of contention, said Wazir, related to the power of the proposed councils. An unelected political agent who is the judicial, legislative and executive authority of a tribal agency would be the chairman of the council, forcing members into making decisions that they may not want to.

“The Joint Committee on FATA Reforms insist local government elections would be based on adult franchise and all higher authorities would be elected representative of the agency/FR,” said Wazir.

FATA has 12 members in the National Assembly and 8 in the Senate but they cannot legislate for the tribal region. “What are these members doing in the parliament when they have no authority to legislate for FATA?” asked Wazir.

The opinion that without amendments to article-247, no reforms could be implemented for development of the tribal areas is upheld by most experts on FATA.

Dr.Khadim Hussain, a political analyst based in Peshawar, said the reforms made by the government were  cosmetic, not guaranteeing sustainable development in the region. “Reforms on FATA require amendments to Article 247 of Pakistan’s Constitution that excludes the region from the jurisdiction of the Pakistani parliament, Supreme Court of Pakistan and other high courts.”

Hussain said the state cannot afford to apply “cosmetic changes” to FATA that has been “sandwiched between local-international militants and the military establishment.”

Abdul Karim Mehsood, a member of the FATA Lawyers Forum who remained on the Joint Committee on FATA Reforms for more than 3 years told News Lens that efforts on part of the federation and governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to streamline the FATA region were commendable.

He did, however, say that without amendments to or abolishing Article-247 of the Constitution of Pakistan, these reforms won’t have a lasting impact.

Based on the proposed composition of the agency councils, between 81 to 84 per cent of agency council members would be elected during the interim period of two years depending on population and the number of parliamentarians in each agency. Between 64 and 71 per cent of the FR council members would be elected, according to the Reforms Commission.

Emir of Jamaat Islami Khyber agency, the tribal area adjacent to Peshawar, Zarghoon Shah Afridi said the commission’s proposals didn’t specify whether the council members would be elected by all residents of the region. He said, “the commission proposal doesn’t say anything about the candidate’s eligibility for the council elections.”

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