Recently there has been hue and cry in the National Assembly of Pakistan from the opposition benches regarding the failure of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) federal government to table the FATA Reforms Bill on the floor of the house to make it into a law. Almost all the leading political parties, including the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) along with many smaller groups have been calling for introducing and passing the FATA Reforms Bill in parliament. The government has also been promising to introduce the same sooner rather than later. However, despite several walkouts by the opposition parties and the subsequent promises, the government did not table the bill. Perhaps the government might introduce the said law bill by the time these lines appear in print, but this would be out of sheer compulsion rather than choice.
The government did not table the FATA Reforms Bill on December 20, as promised and the situation so deteriorated in the NA that the PML-N’s own Speaker of the NA, Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, had to say harsh words for his government’s minister in-charge of FATA, Lt. General (R) Abdul Qadir Baloch. There are several reasons for the government’s inability or hesitance to introduce the FATA Reforms Bill in parliament. The government knows that if the FATA reforms are introduced at once, it would lead to another string of crises and conflict in the country.
It must be remembered that in March last the federal cabinet ultimately had decided to introduce reforms in FATA including the merger of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. Despite that decision by the cabinet, the government has been unable to implement its decision; this points towards the fact that the government has come to realize that it would lead to several conflicts. At the same time it must be recalled that the decision to merge FATA with KP taken by the federal government was vague and was not comprehensive as it provided only for the merger over the next five years. In fact, the merger over five years was originally recommended by the Advisor to PM Nawaz Sharif, by the Sartaj Aziz-led FATA Reforms Committee. However, the PTI, ANP, PPP, Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and certain other political groups have been demanding immediate merger. Whereas, the JUI-F and PkMAP, two key coalition partners of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) have been vehemently against the merger.
The JUI-F very rationally has been suggesting that the merger of FATA with the province should be subject to a referendum in FATA. In fact, the merger must be linked to referenda in both FATA and KP. The vague decision by the PML-N government to merge FATA with the KP province was aimed at shifting responsibility from the present government and let the next dispensation implement it. However, the present decision to merge FATA is seemingly not going to be implemented anytime soon. In other words, execution of the policy decision regarding the merger would be very difficult to implement. There are different reasons for that. For instance, implementing the proposed reforms would entail amendments in various articles and clauses of the 1973 state constitution. This would require political consensus between the major political groups having representation in parliament. In case most of the parties are able to arrive at the draft constitutional amendments to make FATA part of the province, it would require considerable time. If things were to be rushed, this would be akin to sowing the seeds of future conflict.
The PML-N government with the aim of shifting responsibility to the next government regarding the future of FATA has come under severe pressure from the opposition parties for introducing the reforms and it may give in to that pressure also. However, the mounting of so much pressure by the opposition parties and making it a matter of life and death is, indeed, very surprising.
Another important feature of the reforms which were given a go-ahead by the federal cabinet in its special meeting held on March 02, 2017, regarding determining the future constitutional and political status of FATA was the repletion of the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR). The FCR is the legal framework, through which the affairs of FATA have been managed to date, since it was first implemented by the British colonial rulers of India in the year 1901. Ironically, the FCR would be replaced by another proposed legal framework named as “Tribal Areas Riwaj Regulation”. This was, indeed, strange. If a specific legal framework has been designed for FATA, then what is the need of merging the region with KP? Because KP has its provincial assembly, which is authorized to legislate laws for the province. There is inconsistency, rather conflict, in the two proposed reforms that is merging FATA with the KP province and also having a separate legal framework for the former. How can one province have two sets of legal frameworks and then how would the provincial legislative assembly deal with this situation? If FATA is merged with KP and the Tribal Areas Rewaj Regulation is also enforced that would be a grave mistake resulting in an explosive situation.
The government may also have realized that having a specific legal framework for FATA to replace the existing FCR at the time of merging it with KP is tantamount to the fact that FATA has a special status and its residents want to be governed by their specific customary laws. If these customary laws have to be codified in the Tribal Areas Rewaj Regulation so the laws have to be implemented within the territory through a legislative body. This legislative body could be created in FATA and the regulations could not then be enforced through the legislative assembly of KP. By proposing to have a Tribal Areas Rivaj Regulation is the admission that having a separate constitutional and political entity in the shape of a separate province or regional authority is indispensable.
The real issue in FATA has been to replace the colonial and draconian FCR with another code of law. Incidentally, sans a few dreaded provisions like the 40 FCR, which has largely been reformed through the FATA Regulation 2012 by former president Asif Ali Zardari, most of the FCR incorporated the customary or Rivaj laws into the FCR. The best option, thus, could have been to repeal the FCR and replace it with a modern, civilized legal framework. In fact, the proposition of the Tribal Areas Rewaj Regulation means that the government has not been in the mood to take a drastic, but much-needed, step to change the social and economic complexion of FATA. One is of the view that a new legal order incorporating the ultraconservative customs and mores would be able to address the multi-dimensional and multifarious problems of FATA.
The PML-N government has been under so much pressure, particularly regarding the corruption case of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his henchmen that the party has not had time to focus on real issues of the country, what to talk of reforms in FATA. If the PML-N government under pressure passes the FATA Reforms Bill this would be another grave mistake by it.