Following the escalation of militancy in the former Bajaur Agency and the initiation of military operations, Sahibzada Bahauddin, like thousands of others, migrated with his family. They took refuge in Peshawar where they lived for many years. After the restoration of peace and lack of regular employment in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa capital, Bahauddin has now relocated back to his area.
Bahauddin has since been stuck in a property case. His expenses are mounting but he has no hopes of the case ending any time soon. Bahauddin, a local journalist from Bajaur tribal district, can’t help but juxtapose the systems pre- and post-FATA’s (the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas) merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Back To The Future
“The jirga system was better: money was spent in it too but at least justice was provided immediately,” Bahauddin tells Naya Daur Media. He says the promises made by the government to the tribal people have not been fulfilled, and hence the locals are disappointed. He insists many locals think they have been hard done by and also reiterate that the previous system was cheaper and quicker.
“We used to think that the abolition of the Frontier Crimes Regulations or FCR would solve most of the problems of the people in the former tribal areas, but that did not happen. In fact, so many new issues have been created, and one can’t see any solution to them,” he adds.
“People had high hopes regarding the integration of FATA. The government’s narrative implied that the merger would lead to canals of milk and honey flowing in the merged areas. It was all a sweet deception.”
Bahauddin’s own case of land ownership in Bajaur has been pending for over a year. He maintains that the only progress made on the case is in the expenses that keep on growing to seemingly no end.
No ledgers are kept of the property in the merged districts. Locals have started to bring years-old disputes before the local courts, which has further aggravated territorial issues.
“A mechanism should have been set up to provide relief but there is no such thing on the ground which shows frustration on all sides,” he maintains.
Prior to the merger, tribal landlords were accused of taking money in jirgas, but the question is, are cases now being dealt with without money? In ordinary civil cases, lawyers charge anything between Rs.100,000 and Rs.500,000.
Sahibzada Bahauddin, speaking on behalf of Sartaj Aziz FATA Reforms Committee, says there is no doubt that in light of the recommendations of the committee, most of the tribal people were willing to merge the tribal areas with the districts. But unfortunately the plan was not implemented the way it was needed to be.
“The jirga system was better: money was spent in it too but at least justice was provided immediately. We used to think that the abolition of FCR would solve most of the problems, but that did not happen. In fact, so many new issues have been created.”
Since the founding of Pakistan, the tribal areas along the country’s western border have been used for decades for the several ‘Great Games’ under the black laws, a legacy of the British Raj: the Frontier Crimes Regulation or FCR. The semi-autonomous tribal agencies were sometimes used in the war against Russia and sometimes as part of the US-led war on terror. However, where the terrorist attack on Army Public School in Peshawar in December 2014 shook the whole country on the one hand, on the other it provided an opportunity to change the fate of the tribal agencies.
In the aftermath of the Army Public School tragedy, the political and military leadership worked together to formulate a 20-point integrated National Action Plan to eradicate terrorism. It was decided that tribal areas would be reformed and brought within constitutional jurisdiction.
The then Prime Minister, Mian Nawaz Sharif formed a committee – headed by the then Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz – called the ‘Committee on FATA Reforms’, which visited all the tribal areas and sought the views of the tribes regarding their regions’ integration.
On May 21, 2018, FATA was finally made part of KP under the 25th Amendment. Almost all the major political parties in the country openly supported FATA integration. However, the religious parties Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) and Mahmood Khan Achakzai’s Sat Jamaat-e-Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party not only opposed FATA’s integration but also voted against the constitutional amendment on the floor of Parliament. Both the opposition parties had demanded that FATA’s special status not be revoked.
The FCR, introduced in 1901 by the British, has commonly been referred to as the Black Law. In the former tribal areas, the whole system was run under this law and the convicts had no right of appeal in the high courts. One clause of this law could have bound the whole tribe for many years under territorial responsibility.
However, Member National Assembly Mufti Abdul Shakoor, belonging to Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) party from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, says the local tribal system had been prevalent in the tribal agencies for almost two decades, under which not only all the tribes were free and independent but it was also, prior to the partition, accepted by the British Raj. “In the tribal system all decisions were taken in accordance with local customs and practices which provided immediate and timely justice to the people. These decisions, it is noteworthy, were also gladly accepted by all parties involved,” he adds.
Mufti Abdul Shakoor further maintains there has been a lot of propaganda against the FCR: suggesting that the whole tribe could be arrested under the territorial responsibility, and that this law is the biggest obstacle in the way of development – even though, Shakoor claims, there was no truth in these ideas.
Mufti Abdul Shakoor maintains there has been a lot of propaganda against the FCR: suggesting that the whole tribe could be arrested under the territorial responsibility, and that this law is the biggest obstacle in the way of development – even though, Shakoor insists, there was no truth in these ideas
“The bureaucracy defamed the FCR. Tyrant officers used to exceed their authority and the blame for their actions fell on the law,” Shakoor insists.
According to Mufti Abdul Shakur, “We do not want FATA to be made into a separate province, but we say that the tribal people should be asked for their opinion. No other system should be imposed on them, as the Sartaj Aziz Committee did. The tribes should be given the right to take decisions in accordance with their traditions.”
When asked that given the FATA integration was achieved through a constitutional amendment, and – considering the fact that his party does not have the required majority in Parliament to return it – is his protest against it not pointless, the MNA replies: “We have started the movement. It does not have to be successful tomorrow. Our struggle will continue till the tribes are given the system as per their wishes.”
Mufti Abdul Shakoor narrates the story of the government’s consultation with political parties before the FATA integration bill was approved by parliament, claiming that he and JUI-F Chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman had met with then-Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to discuss the merger. There was a long sitting in the K-Chamber in which the Prime Minister had rightly acknowledged the position of his party at that time. When Abbasi was asked then why wasn’t the JUI-F’s advice heeded, he explained that he was compelled by ‘Rawalpindi’ because, according to him, the ‘Pindi’ leadership wanted the integration of FATA into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
He further claims that later, at the request of Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi extended a special invitation to Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and the-then DG ISI General Faiz Hameed to meet so that their position could be heard.
According to Mufti Abdul Shakoor, the meeting lasted for about three hours during which Maulana Fazlur Rehman presented a barrage of arguments against the integration to the military leadership. He thanked the army chief for giving them so much time and listening to their position with great consideration and sympathy, but the army chief also said in the end that we are duty-bound.
It is worth mentioning here that Maulana Fazlur Rehman has repeatedly stated in his meetings that FATA integration took place at the behest of the United States. However, the JUI-F chief has not yet elaborated on this claim.
With the integration of FATA, the-then government had announced that Rs100 billion would be provided annually for the development of the seven integrated districts, which would set up the infrastructure of important sectors in the troubled areas. When the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan was formed, he also reiterated the claim giving Rs100 billion annually to the tribal districts and decided in a meeting of the Federal Cabinet that this amount would be supplied from the NFC award with a 3% share taken from the provinces.
However, three years later, the matter is still pending. Although some amount has been released in the budget of FY 21-22 but the announced target is yet to be achieved, which is why the long-pending projects in the tribal districts still remain stalled.
A senior government official from the tribal district reveals corruption and abuse of power are still rampant. Corrupt officers, who have been accused of corruption and misappropriation in the past, have been posted to important government departments
The biggest demand of the people in the tribal areas was the abolition of the FCR, as this law deprived the tribes of their freedom, and they were, furthermore, not even allowed to appeal against this law. After the merger, the law was abolished and for the first time the tribes got the right of appeal, lawyer, and argument. But on the other hand, they have had to give up on a system of quick justice like the jirga, which has led to a rise in disputes in the merged districts. The government has started to work on a new system ADR (Alternate Dispute Resolution) as an alternative to the jirga system, but due to government inattention and lack of funds, progress on these projects has been negligible. The government’s non-seriousness in dealing with issues of the integrated districts can be gauged by the fact that in most of the areas there is still a lack of basic necessities, like the internet, for which tribal students have been protesting in different areas.
There has always been a dearth of education in the tribal districts. However, the PTI government’s manifesto suggested that after the merger, work on the education sector would be started on an emergency basis to meet this important and basic need. But according to recent official reports, this sector is still being ignored. According to a recent survey by the KP government agencies, a total of 51% of the people in the merged districts are currently illiterate.
If there has been any major development at the political level in the three years of FATA’s integration, it was the holding of Provincial Assembly elections in the merged districts. Elections were held in July 2019 for 16 seats in the merged districts, with the tribal areas being represented in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly for the first time.
It should be noted that for the first time in the history of the country, provincial assembly elections were held in the tribal areas. Before the merger, the tribal people did not have the right to be represented in the provincial assembly, and could only send their representatives to the National Assembly and the Senate. Due to the special status of FATA, these members did not have the power to legislate in Parliament. In the former FATA, any law that was issued was only by order of the President.
Dr Syed Irfan Ashraf, Assistant Professor and Writer, Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Peshawar, says it is a positive development that tribal people have received the right to be represented in the KP Assembly for the first time. But, Dr Ashraf maintains, no notable work has been done.
“The tribal people say they were betrayed in the name of integration. The happy picture that was painted was all based on lies and deception,” he adds.
Dr Ashraf believes the abolition of FCR alone is not the solution to all problems. He points to the fact that students are still protesting for an important need of this age like the internet.
“They were deprived of it before, and if this trend continues even after the merger then it is a grave injustice and is dangerous for the people of these areas because if the government can’t provide something as important, and basic, as the internet then what message are we conveying to the youth of FATA? That the state cannot fulfill their needs?” he asks.
A senior government official from the tribal district, speaking on condition of anonymity, tells Naya Daur Media that corruption and abuse of power are still rampant in the merged districts. The official says corrupt officers, who have been accused of corruption and misappropriation in the past, have been posted to important government departments. “Government postings in various departments in the former FATA have always involved bribes. But instead of decreasing, the trend has increased. There is no system of monitoring, which is making matters worse,” he claims.
According to him, government schemes are still selling like before – the commission market is hot and public representatives are also involved in these acts.
In FATA, a lot of work has taken place in the past under governments that used to rule the party centre and the province at the same time. In the 2018 general election, PTI formed a government at the centre, and in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – where it was already in power since 2013 – it was given a huge mandate the second time, which increased hopes that the government would speed up the work in the merged districts. But this did not happen, which is why the hatred of the people against the new system is growing rapidly.
The JUI-F was opposed to FATA’s integration from the very beginning but now some local organisations have joined in as well, gradually increasing the number of the opponents of the integration.
Khyber Qaumi Jirga is a local organisation in Khyber District. It has recently emerged against the integration of FATA. Initially, Khyber Qaumi Jirga was limited to Khyber District, but now it has been extended to other tribal districts and the name of the organisation has been changed to FATA Qaumi Jirga, which now includes representation of all the merged districts. The head of the organisation, Bismillah Khan, is a retired government employee.
Bismillah Khan tells Naya Daur Media that the integration of FATA has been done illegally as no legal procedure has been adopted to change its status. He further adds the provision of the constitution under which the move was taken didn’t follow a legal process, and the system was imposed illegally and unnaturally.
“FATA was a unit of Pakistan and in order to change the status of such a large population it was necessary to hold a referendum – as the constitution also dictates – but the then government bulldozed the opinion of the tribes and acted hastily,” he maintains.
There was no tribal member in the Sartaj Aziz committee. How could they take the right decision when the members of the committee were not aware of the ground realities?”
Bismillah highlights that there was no tribal member in the Sartaj Aziz committee. “How could they take the right decision when the members of the committee were not aware of the ground realities,” he asks. Integration was not on the agenda of the committee but in the end the government decided in favour of the merger and thus the constitutional amendment was made without the consent of the people, he insists.
According to Bismillah, the promises made by the government at the time of FATA’s integration were not fulfilled. He claims people do not understand how to resolve their mutual disputes and the promise of 3% funding in the NFC award was not fulfilled.
“25,000 special forces and levy forces were to be recruited and more jobs were to be given to the tribes. Instead, the entire recruited force has been eliminated and land disputes are escalating, causing many deaths,” he says.
The merged districts were to be declared a tax-free zone for ten years and the quota for students in professional educational institutions was to be increased. But the promises, he stresses, have not been fulfilled yet.
Bismillah adds he has also filed a petition in the Supreme Court challenging the FATA merger. “My struggle would continue till the 25th Amendment is overturned and the tribal people are given their due as per their will.”