The Fata reforms package introduced by the government last month, positive though it was in many ways, had one glaring omission: none of the people who developed the reforms were from the tribal areas. The elected representatives of the residents of Fata finally had an opportunity to speak out about the reforms in the National Assembly even though, in a symbol of the apathy the rest of the country has always displayed towards the region, it was in front of a near-empty chamber. There was some dissent on the package, with one MNA opposing the proposed merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and others demanding Fata be given a greater share of the National Finance Commission Award. There was near unanimity both that security had improved post Operation Zarb-e-Azb but that the rest of the country still did not come close to appreciating the difficulties of everyday life, with even MNAs often having to obtain no-objection certificates to visit their constituencies. Even the money meant for development and the resettlement of IDPs had been utilised and there was very little improvement in the quality of life, they claimed. These are the voices which should have been central to the debate when the reforms were being considered and not presented to them as a fait accompli. Even when they were given a chance to speak there should have been more than just the Safron minister present.
The speeches did make clear that some revisions may be needed to the tribal areas reform package. The gradual transition from Fataís current status to integration with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is supposed to take from five to 10 years and that may be too long a time frame. There certainly needs to be an interim period while procedural changes are brought in, such as setting a uniform way of settling land disputes. The Tribal Areas Riwaj Act, which is being brought in for this interim period, seems like just another name for the archaic colonial-era Frontier Crimes Regulations. This too should be amended in consultation with the Fata MNAs. As important as these tweaks to the reforms are, laws alone will not fully integrate Fata into the rest of the country. That can only happen when there is a realisation that people from the tribal areas are Pakistanis like anyone else and that for all of our history they have been denied the right to full citizenship. It is the people of Fata themselves who should be allowed to chart their own course and we have to fully support them in that endeavour.
Source: Daily The News