FeaturedVolume 14 Issue # 05

Exigent need for local government

While the process of integration of the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) into the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province finalized in May last, is far from complete and military operations like Zarb-e-Azb and Raad-ul-Fasad have become somewhat slow after achieving their strategic objectives, renewed terrorist attacks in the tribal belt have raised alarm bells once again.

On October 2, seven terrorists were killed by Pakistan security forces in North Waziristan when they attacked a Pakistani security post. Terrorists, according to Pakistan security officials, had launched the attack from adjoining Afghanistan. An increase in terrorist attacks could be seen in former FATA in recent months which is not a good omen for peace in the region. In September alone, nine terrorists were killed but unfortunately, seven security forces personnel also lost their lives in different attacks in North Waziristan (NW).

The new terrorist attacks in FATA, particularly in NW speak volumes for the importance of establishing normal governing institutions at the earliest, as well as securing the international border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Insofar as the establishment of the normal governing institutions is concerned, they are, indeed, important. In the last approximately 14 years, the unprecedented terrorism unleashed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its foreign affiliates like Al Qaeda, which emerged in the tribal belt of Pakistan, totally destroyed the region economically, politically, administratively and even psychologically. Whatever minuscule state apparatus was extant in FATA was attenuated due to terrorism. But after the successful military operations against the local and international terrorist groups in FATA, the region was somewhat stablized but far from normal. Although the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) last federal government, along with all leading political parties, the PPP and presently ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), together changed the constitution to merge the erstwhile FATA with KP, this has been a controversial step.

Nevertheless, whatever happened is now history and, therefore, the tribal belt would now be subsumed into KP, but there are numerous challenges to it. This is evident from the fact that the government, when it realized the problems of integration and the vacuum which emerged after the FATA merger with KP and the discontinuation of all the existing regulations in the region and impediments in enforcing the laws of KP in FATA, enacted the FATA Interim Regulatory Framework. The interim arrangement has replaced the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR). At present, FATA is being governed through this provisional legal order.

Now, the far more important question regarding FATA is not its integration, but putting in place normal and self-sustaining governing structures there. In this regard, the most important is the holding of local government elections in FATA and also elections for 16 provincial assembly seats which would likely take place in March next year. The local government elections in FATA were promised by the previous PML-N government to be held by October this year. The present PTI government is fully committed to the promise, but certain snags have hit the plan.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has now decided to come up with a uniform local government system in the country. Moreover, he has also directed quarters concerned that local government elections in KP and FATA should be held at once. While PM Khan desires to have a uniform local government system in entire Pakistan, it may require constitutional changes, as presently every province is empowered to have a local government system of its liking. However, making constitutional amendments to bring a uniform LG system is not possible for the PTI’s weak federal government. Against this backdrop, holding municipal elections in FATA in the immediate future is not possible, although the region direly needs it. Therefore, the PTI government and PM Khan have to come up with a prompt solution as FATA exigently need local government councils, perhaps more so than any other area of Pakistan. There are various reasons for that.

Al Qaeda and other international so-called Jihadist organizations and individuals find an extremely conducive environment in FATA to make the region their base for regional insurgency and international terrorism in the name of Islam. All these negative developments in FATA have their roots in the long-existing political and legal vacuum in these areas, specifically due to absence of local government structures. This long existing political and legal vacuum in FATA was also among other factors due to the non-existence of any form of self-governing local government institutions there. Due to which the establishment of the state writ in the region remained a far cry; it could not be developed while the provision of fundamental needs of the people could not be ensured.

As profound social, political and economic changes have occurred over decades, particularly in the 21st century, the legal and administrative structure of FATA, which has its roots in colonial times, could not respond to the complex problems and needs of the growing population. This slowly and gradually made the existing administrative apparatus redundant which eroded whatever little state writ had obtained in FATA. Every kind of negative trend pervaded and thrived in the region. Local, national and international terrorists and militant groups took full advantage of the situation and cultivated their bases in the region. Criminal gangs like kidnappers and extortionists also use the territory for their activities. There has been little, if any, realization within Pakistan’s policymaking institutions regarding formulation of a new administrative system for the region.  There was no serious effort to introduce a local government or municipal councils system in FATA to provide a rudimentary modern system of administration. According to Mohsin Saleem, former interior secretary of Pakistan: “After independence we generally, failed to manage the area in the tradition successfully set-up by the British. This appears, mainly, to have been caused by lack of dedication, objectivity, integrity and petty-minded micro-management despite some honourable exceptions.”

So FATA needs a local government system at the earliest and if the government fails to establish such structures there, the people’s lives in the region would become increasingly difficult and the state writ which has been restored in FATA with so many sacrifices would become meaningless.