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The Unwanted Federally Administered Tribal Areas

The Unwanted Federally Administered Tribal Areas

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There are few places in the world that do not afford its citizens basic human rights, or at least a garb of human rights. The Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan (or better known as “FATA”) are one of those areas.

FATA are the semi-autonomous areas in the northwest frontier of Pakistan, bordering both the provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan in Pakistan, and Afghanistan – all admittedly some of the most troubled regions of the world.  Although falling within the borders of Pakistan, FATA is not governed like a separate, or even inclusive, province, but as an “area” directly governed by the Federal Government of Pakistan; meaning, they do not have a provincial government or individual representation in governance.

Historically, FATA was taken over from Afghanistan by the British when they had colonized India. However, its mountainous terrain made it difficult to govern in a time where communication was delivered en pied. FATA has, thus, been administered by the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) from the time the entire sub-continent was under British colonial rule, which allows the local tribes to govern with little to no government intervention.

But what does all this mean? In simple terms, FATA is a part of Pakistan, it has been troubled since before partition but no government, the British Empire and Pakistan included, have wanted to take responsibility for it. It is the forcibly adopted child.

The FCR is made up of a set of laws applicable only to FATA, which place indiscriminate power in the hands of the local jirga (tribal counsel which has legislative and judicial functions/powers) and deny the residents of FATA basic human rights, such as the right to appeal their disputes to any High Court of Pakistan or to the Supreme Court and the right to legal representation or to present reasoned evidence. Article 247 of the Pakistani Constitution provides that no Act of Parliament applies to FATA, unless the president of Pakistan consents; therefore, the residents of FATA get no elected representation in the legislation or governance of their non-state-State.

FATA is the home to mostly pashtun families who later became the mujahideen that assisted the United States in fighting the Soviet Union in the 1980s. As the U.S. exited the region after defeating the Soviets, FATA, like the rest of Pakistan and Afghanistan, was again ignored.  In 2003, Taliban forces sheltered in FATA began crossing the border into Afghanistan, attacking the military and police. 2004 to 2006, the Pakistani Army, in line with US strategy, repeatedly entered FATA in search of Al-Qaida operatives, where they were met with fierce resistance from the Pakistani Taliban. In this way, the Taliban were able to take control of FATA in 2004, allowing the Pakistani Taliban a home of their own to flourish into what we today know as the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan.

All the while, the residents of FATA were continually ignored support and safeguard from their government, the Government of Pakistan, therefore, following the FCR, the general public was ruled by the Taliban without a say in the matter.

In 2011 there was an amendment in the FCR, which ensured, among other things, that entire tribes were not condemned for the act of one of its members, women and children were afforded protection from collective responsibility arrest and detention (a rule which requires entire tribes to be arrested and detained for the crime of one of its members), creating an appellate body to review decisions and allowing the right of appeal within the jirga system; therefore, power was retained by village elders. The amendments brought the FCR somewhat in line with the penal/criminal laws of the rest of Pakistan, but the residents of FATA were still not afforded protection of their fundamental rights and freedoms at a governmental level.

Recently, the citizens of FATA adopted a “Citizens Declaration for FATA” whereby they complained that the FCR was not being implemented in letter and spirit and that they were still being deprived fundamental rights under Pakistan’s constitution. They implored the government to make the following 19 changes:

  1. The constitutional provisions regarding FATA need to be amended to the extent that FATA parliamentarians could play a role or take part in the legislation for FATA. Furthermore, the constitution should be harmonized so that the fundamental rights enjoyed by the rest of country should be extendable to FATA;
  2. The status of FATA should be decided by its people;
  3. A FATA Council elected on adult franchised basis should be established in FATA, which should be empowered to suggest to the Ppresident of Pakistan regarding the future of FATA;
  4. Local governments should be established under FATA Local Governments Regulation 2002 (with some amendments, if needed) and the jirga system should be made more democratic, effective and representative;
  5. The political administration should be accountable to elected representatives of Local Governments;
  6. There should be reserved seats for tribal women in the National Assembly and Senate, like in the rest of Pakistan;
  7. The FCR should either be substantially amended or annulled to recognize the fundamental rights of the people of FATA;
  8. There should be separation of judiciary and executive as in the whole of the country;
  9. The jurisdiction of the High Court and Supreme Court of Pakistan should be extended to FATA;
  10. The civil armed forces, such as Khasadar and levies, should be strengthened and reinforced and adequately armed;
  11. Promotion of education at the grassroots level is needed in all of FATA, while vocational training and skills development also need special attention. Separate universities for male and female students, colleges and technical institutes should be established on priority basis in FATA;
  12. No person, male or female, should be deprived of property without due compensation, and the law of inheritance should be extended to FATA;
  13. Fully operational hospitals equipped with adequate facilities and experienced staff should be established in every agency and FRs of FATA. The hospitals should also have well-equipped trauma centers. Women’s and children’s hospitals also need to be established so that female and child mortality rates can be decreased significantly;
  14. Due attention should be accorded to a planned and phased program for infrastructure development in FATA;
  15. A comprehensive development package should be initiated which will help to bring prosperity and job opportunities for the people of FATA by exploiting natural and local resources;
  16. Press and publication ordinance and PEMRA ordinance should be extended to FATA;
  17. Actions in Aid of Civil Power Regulation 2011 should be abolished immediately;
  18. Reserved seats for FATA and FANA should be separated;
  19. Imposition of General Sales Tax (GST) in Budget 2013-14 on FATA is unanimously rejected and demanded of government to take its decision back immediately.

In the end, the citizens demanded restoration of peace in the region. That was more than two months ago. We have yet to see implementation of the declaration or any action from the government of Pakistan. Newly elected Prime Minister, Mr. Nawaz Sharif, made promises in his political campaign to take steps towards allowing residents of FATA the rights and freedoms granted to all other citizens of Pakistan, and possibly making FATA the fifth province of Pakistan, but no action has been taken to this end. Next year the U.S. and allied forces will be pulling out their presence from Afghanistan and the remnants of the War on Terror and the still vigilant Al-Qaeda, with the increasingly empowered Taliban, will be left for the Afghans and the Pakistani’s to deal with.

And, for the residents of FATA, nothing will change. Entire tribes will be denied all rights and fundamental freedoms any human ought to be afforded. They will be collectively dubbed and punished as part and parcel of the criminal Taliban. They will remain some of the only people in the world today that are not even given a shroud of constitutional pretense to guise the lack of basic human rights.



Sahar Said

Sahar, who grew up in Lahore, Pakistan, has obtained her Master of Laws degree from The George Washington University Law School, and worked with a non-profit in New York. She currently writes from Germany.

Sahar can be followed on Twitter @sahar_said.