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October 27, 2018

How to mainstream Fata

Opinion

October 27, 2018

The persistent struggle for equal rights and the matchless sacrifices by the people of former FATA, along with tireless efforts by activists, finally forced policymakers to work towards mainstreaming the tribal region. With the passage of the 25th Amendment, seven tribal districts and FR regions became part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Being a conflict-affected region, these seven tribal districts are not only lagging behind in education, health and other necessities and standards of life but also have little to no infrastructure (which was nearly destroyed). Therefore, it will be a test for the government to succeed in mainstreaming these people socially and economically by bringing improvements in rule of law and governance and carrying out developmental work. To achieve all this, issues of media freedom and access, NGOs and other civil society organisations’ role, people’s participation and check and balance through constructive criticism will be of importance.

Activists believe that there are still some areas in the tribal districts that have limited access to media, mobile and internet services. Although broadband works in some areas, cell-phone coverage is still limited. Sadly, in many cases, access of independent media and independent reporting and journalist outreach is also an issue. Similarly, NGOs’ activities are curtailed and regulated through NOC procedures, and are negatively portrayed. Regrettably, nothing much has changed in the lives of the tribespeople or the mode and pattern of the administration. What has changed is the name of the political agent and assistant political agent, who have now become the deputy commissioner and assistant commissioner, respectively. They continue to enjoy executive, administrative and judicial powers just as they were under the FCR.

In the coming days, it will be more than a challenge for the federal and KP governments to fill the vacuum of the legal and institutional framework in the tribal districts and ensure the smooth implementation of laws of which locals are ignorant. When the colonial laws are repealed in totality, the construction and setting up of police stations, prisons, judicial infrastructures, bar associations, prosecution and other key departments will be very important to give a modern criminal justice system to the tribal people.

It will also be important to establish, develop and mainstream systems of investigation, prosecution, probation and parole in these districts. But it seems impossible to mainstream these people without sensitisation to human rights, which is why restrictions on access to media and civil society organisations are discouraging.

What will happen to the jirga system in these tribal districts and how can it be made compatible with Pakistan’s legal mechanism when there are human rights concerns? At present, there is an absence of vision towards real reforms and genuine mainstreaming.

In the interim legal system in place, the government has allowed for the existence of draconian rules. In the coming days, how will it be possible to create a complete an institutional mechanism then? Would it be possible to attract international donor agencies to work and invest in these tribal districts, and to contribute towards real mainstreaming, when there are still clouds of restrictions around? The participation and inclusion of locals during the transition period is important, and this seems missing in the interim governance regulations. It would be interesting to see how the government organises the local government elections in these tribal districts, and how runs and delivers along with the FCR’s archaic rules.

The opening of the tribal areas to local and international media would not only help in digging out problems of post-repatriation but would also help local journalists work freely and fearlessly, enabling them to share their local problems and challenges. It would also help with developing an understanding of local tradition and the legal and institutional framework of mainstream Pakistan, national laws and their adaptability with the tribal norms. The removal of the FCR’s shadows can only be achieved if the government ensures right to information and encourages and facilitates civil society organisations. This would also help enable fairness in developmental work and encourage healthy competition.

Therefore it’s imperative for the government to seriously formulate cogent strategies for people’s inclusion in the mainstreaming process, and sensitization regarding laws, institutional frameworks and practices. Steps should also be initiated to provide more access – and security – to the media. Restrictions on civil society organisations also need to be rethought, and efforts made to support NGOs with expertise in awareness regarding the rule of law, the justice system, governance and human rights etc.

In order to achieve genuine mainstreaming, the government should involve the media to keep the people updated, and should also share all details regarding the training of officials, institution-building and sensitisation, awareness of the masses and development works.

The writer is a Peshawar-based lawyer.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: s_irshadahmad

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