Reflections on Fata reforms
B Y EJAZ A. Q URES H I | 9/21/2015

THE Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) have been in turmoil for quite some time but the military operations have added to people`s woes.

Almost two million people one-third of its total population have been displaced. The Fata Reforms Commission (FRC) was tasked with coming up with recommendations to restore the people`s trust in the state. Its deliberations resulted in a report, presented to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governor a few months ago, containing suggestions for reforms that could pave the way for improved governance structures in Fata.

The proposed reforms cover areas on which there is broad consensus among the people, especially parliamentarians, tribal elders and ulema. For contentious issues, a mechanism is proposed whereby tribal people themselves would work towards a resolution within a limited time span. The purpose behind this approach was to work on common desirable objectives immediately, while allowing time and wider consultation for thorny issues. Any hasty, kneejerk action would be extremely counterproductive. We have many examples of the latter in our recent history; e.g One Unit, merger of states comprising the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas without a well-thought-out plan, etc.

The proposals in the report cover several areas prioritised and identified by the stakeholders including peace and security, temporarily dislocated persons, the justice system and legal framework in Fata, local governance, quick impact projects for socio-economic revival and institutional frameworks.

Post 9/11, the situation in Fata deteriorated so much that there was no option but to carry out military operations to curb militancy in the region.

Without restoring peace, however, no reforms can be long-lasting and fruitful. The Commission has proposed that 500 levies personnel be trained in each of the seven agencies that comprise Fata, and 200 in each Frontier Region (FR), as well as new Frontier Corps (FC) wings for border security and to support the political administration in maintaining law and order. It has recommended that a coordination cell should be set up in the Fata Secretariat to institutionalise the levies` capacity building in Fata on a regular basis under the auspices of retired military or police officers.

Similarly, for better coordination in the maintenance of law and order in each agency, the Commission has proposed the establishment of an agency security and intelligence committee under the political agent concerned, which would comprise the FC commandant, the heads of the ISI, MI and IB along with a representative of the army. At the macro level, to ensure that it is a fully empowered body, it is suggested that the existing apex committee, headed by the KP governor, be further expanded to include the inspector general FC, the heads of the KP ISI, MI and IB and the ACS Fata with the chief secretary of KP as its secretary.

With respect to temporarily displaced persons, an issue that did not directly fall within the Commission`s terms of reference but was taken up because it is a matter of immense human hardship, the reform body recommended the provision of immediate funding by the federal government until their safe return and rehabilitation. For the long term, a revolving fund of Rs10 billion is proposed to be maintained in the Fata Disaster Management Authority whose institutional restructuring should be undertaken along the lines of the KP Provincial Disaster Management Authority.

As for the justice system and legal framework in Fata, there was no convergence of opinion among the stakeholders about how to address the shortcomings. Their views varied from extending the authority of the superior courts to Fata to more traditional ideas about streamlining the local jirga system.

Opinion about the Frontier Crimes Regulation was also divided, ranging from abolishing it completely to retaining it with major reforms. Ultimately, the Commission recommended that the handling of the FCR and access to the superior judiciary in Fata be linked with the area`s future status, an issue that has far-reaching implications, and therefore any decision regarding this should be taken by the people of Fata themselves. To enable this, the Commission recommended the establishment of a representative council for constitutional reforms in Fata.

Additionally, the Commission proposed the expansion of the Fata Tribunal and the abolition of the existing appellate process of appeal to the commissioner. The Tribunal should be headed by a retired high court judge and assisted by another member from the legal fraternity, a retired civil servant having served in Fata and a person of knowledge and integrity from the civil society. Moreover, an additional political agent (judiciary) post is recommended in each agency to cater to all judicial matters. This set-up is recommended for the interim period, after which an independent judicial hierarchy may be put in place headed by judicial officers independent of the political agent.

Further, in the existing system, there is no institutional framework at the agency level that involves local people in identifying their development needs and to ensure transparency in implementing the development initiatives as per these requirements.

To embark on establishing a local governance system in Fata, the Commission proposed an agency council/FR council to provide a platform for local participation that would consequently squeeze the space for non-state actors. Moreover, it would revive the state-citizen relationship and strengthen the writ of the state by engaging local people and restoring their confidence in state institutions.

The Commission also urges that a representative form of governance be provided in Fata by expanding the local governance structure to the level of governor in the form of a governor`s advisory council that would include women and a minority member from Fata. Such an institutional set-up would help overcome the disconnect between the KP governor, the Fata Secretariat and the people of Fata. The proposed structure of the governor`s council would be for an interim two-year period. Once the local governance system is expanded in Fata, and a census held, 90pc of the council members would be elected while the remaining would be nominated by the KP governor.

The Commission has thus recommended an appropriate institutional framework to address the administrative and governance related weaknesses in Fata. The underlying objective is to enhance organisational efficiency through leaner structures and develop a cost-effective institutional set-up in order to gain greater value for public money in public service delivery at the grass-roots level in Fata.• The writer was chairman Fata Reforms Commission, and is former chief secretary KP and Sindh.

Published in Dawn