It is a region that the western media likes to refer as Pakistan’s tribal badlands that run along the Afghan border. Indeed, it was once known — before the military went in to flush out the bad guys — as the most dangerous hotspot in the world’s most dangerous nation. With the people living there either romanticised by way of casual tokenism or else dismissed as backward.
Currently, the government is poised to send its FATA reform package to Parliament. If passed, it would see the jurisdictions of both the Supreme Court and the Islamabad High Court extended to the area. This is a must. Especially given its reliance on the jirga system that has become synonymous with both the region and violence against women. For let us not forget that as things stand today, unless the writ of the aforementioned courts cover FATA — those who live there remain unable to challenge any jirga verdict before any court of law as per the Constitution. It is also important to note that the proposed reforms don’t intend to do away with this so-called parallel justice system. Yet we could finally bid a resounding farewell to the abominable Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) that keeps at bay the writ of the state and remains another bloody stain on Pakistan’s democratic pretensions.
If done right, this would do somewhat nicely and give the government the democratic legacy it so greedily craves. More so than if Nawaz Sharif had been permitted to be the first elected PM to complete his tenure.
Nevertheless, we are cautious about throwing our complete weight behind the ruling regime in this regard. Those comprising the reforms committee are a mixture of military men, including the COAS and civvies, including the PM. Meaning that no room has been made amongst those who are to decide the fate of this beleaguered region for a single FATA lawmaker or Senator. Which only further fuels conspiracies that the move is simply a superficial one aimed at hoodwinking the world into believing that we are serious about doing what is best for everyone in terms of cross-border terrorism into Afghanistan. The FATA Grand Alliance is also not convinced. In fact, it has gone as far as terming the reforms package undemocratic. Much more appropriate they say would be to either call a referendum or for FATA parliamentarians to stand for re-election.
We have to say that we support the Grand Alliance on this front. We, therefore, hope that the government will take its time to consult further with all stakeholders. And resist the urge to rush this reforms package through with both eyes firmly fixed on the upcoming elections. One cannot place artificial timeframes on the democratic process. Something that the ruling party ought to know better than most. *
Published in Daily Times, September 14th 2017.