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PESHAWAR: On a recent Monday morning, a group of young and educated tribesmen sat in the meeting room of a private school in Peshawar to ponder over recommendations submitted by a committee to help mainstream the tribal region called Fata.
The group comprised lawyers, teachers, social workers, student’s leaders, government employees and members of different political parties from different agencies of Fata. As they discuss the recommendations made by the committee, some are confused while others are relieved by what the 52 page document contains, depending on their views about the future of Fata.
The committee’s recommendations, made public on the website of the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (Safron), has further divided those who want the status quo for Fata and those eager to see its status changed.
Ijaz Mohmand, president Fata Lawyers Forum and a pioneering advocate for change in the status of Fata, seem finds the news recommendations in consonance with what he believes is needed to mainstream the tribal region.
“As a lawyer, it is enough for me that Fata has been put under the jurisdiction of the Apex court,” Mohmand told News Lens Pakistan. “The rest [of the rights] we would wrestle through the higher courts. The dark ages are over and a new era has dawned in the tribal region.”
Though Mohmand is optimistic about the new set of recommendations and their potential for positive changes in the status of Fata, Iqbal Afridi, President of Pakistan Tehrik Insaf in Khyber Pakhtunkwa province, said the document only juggled words without promising real real change.
“Our only demand is to extend the Constitution of Pakistan to the tribal areas and give us the status that is enjoyed by the citizens of Islamabad, Lahore and other cities of the country,” he said.
The report of the Committee on Fata Reforms, made public on the website of the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (Safron), comes after 10 months of consultations with stakeholders in Fata after the committee was set up in November 2015.
The report says the tribal region has been neglected by successive governments in the past when it could have easily been integrated into Khyber Pakhtunkwa (KP). It says the area was militancy-stricken after the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and had lagged behind in education, health, infrastructure and above all socio economic development, as compared to the rest of the country.
It says due to long neglect on part of various governments, Fata had become a serious threat to security of the state where the locals lived under the rule of militants in absence of the state’s writ. It says insurgents had used Fata to train and recruit fighters challenging the writ of the state and posing a serious security threat to national and international communities.
The recommendations include rehabilitation and reconstruction, socio-economic development, local body elections in 2017, legal reforms, capacity building of law enforcing agencies in Fata, land settlement, merger into Khyber Pakhtunkwa, amendment in article 247 of the Constitution that relates to the status and administration of Fata, seats for tribesmen in KP assembly, extension of jurisdiction of the Supreme court and the Peshawar High Court to Fata and the abolition of the controversial FCR and its replacement by the “Tribal Areas Riwaj Act”.
However, decades of misrule, deprivation and discrimination have made tribesmen cynical and suspicious of the government’s intentions.
“Why don’t the authorities announce full-fledge integration of Fata into KP instead of treating the mainstreaming as a five year plan,” said Malik Akbar Khan Dawar, Chairman Qoumi Watan Party (QWP) in North Waziristan. “This points to the real intensions of the rulers who want to keep Fata backward as it has been for centuries, especially when there is no visible hindrance in the way of merging Fata into KP.”
However, Malik Khan Azhar is one of the tribesmen who believe that the tribal people cannot live under the law prevailing in the rest of Pakistan.
“We have our own code of culture, we have riwaj, we have our jirga System and we are living in this region for hundreds of years peacefully, so we don’t need any other Law,” Azhar said.
He blamed international forces for intervention in the tribal region that, according to Azhar, eventually created a serious law and order situation in the region.
“Before 9/11 we were fine and as soon as the international forces intervened in our land, we lost our own identity” he said, adding that the FCR was not bad in itself but it application needs to be made humane.
Despite the fact that there is little unanimity among the older generation of tribesmen about the status of Fata in future, the young and the educated are much excited and eager to see the region’s status changed in the form of becoming a part of KP.
“We have close ties with KP and we cannot stay isolated from it,” said Umar Wazir from FR Bannu. “Why not join KP that will definitely help us bring on a par with the rest of the country.”
Among those here discussing the recommendation, many seem to criticize the proposed recommendations without having read them. But those who have read it and are politically conscious, they are happy with it. They say the process of integration may be slow but it would ultimately change the fate of Fata.
“Once the recommendations are implemented, we will struggle for more rights as we have done in the past,” said Ijaz Mohmand.
This article originally appeared in News Lens and has been reproduced with permission.