Of participation

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Of the people, by the people

 

To merge or not to merge is the question that is staring the FATA inhabitants in the face.  For most of us, FATA is the Wild West, our strategic “buffer zone” where guests are welcomed and which has now been “cleared.”  Since I have never been to FATA, I cannot comment on whether all of the above is true – not that it has stopped my other friends.   In the sleepy city of Islamabad, you come across so many FATA experts who – sitting on Hayat Furniture plush chairs – are experts on the area.  There are, of course, native FATA residents who one can engage for insight. However, half of them have either been stopped at the check posts or are toiling away in Karachi’s trenches.

So, why am I droning on, you will ask my dear reader? Well, this isn’t about FATA. It is about representative, participatory democracy and effective, responsive governance.

In this day and age, there is a significant landmass and population of this free state of Pakistan which is governed by the Frontier Crimes Regulation. A lot has been written about the FCR but even if a thousand volumes are added it won’t change this fact:  this law, by its very name talks about Crimes and Regulation which essentially means that it is not citizen centric. It looks   upon residents as criminals who can only be governed through punishments and regulation.  By its very name, the FCR is designed not to facilitate citizens’ socio-political or economic development. This 1901 law needs to be reconsidered for the citizens of 2017. FATA is also caught in an Orwellian moment of “ All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.” A FATA resident is not equal to other Pakistani citizens. S/he is not governed by the same law nor has the same access to neither justice nor freedoms that are available to other Pakistani citizens.

Perhaps considering this, the 22nd constitutional amendment is being discussed which is designed to improve FATA’s governance. Specifically, through this amendment, changes are being sought in the Articles 1, 246 and 247 to change the constitutional status of the area and its people. A  FATA Reforms Commission (FRC) formed by the Governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has recently recommended that FATA should be merged with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province for a period of five years. It is further recommended that the transition period should be served to bring about the required structural changes in the existing governance structure of FATA. Socio-economic development including judicial reforms should also be a part of the restructuring.

However, these recommendations have been rejected by some political stakeholders as evidenced by Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) and the Jamiat Ulema Islam- Fazal (JUIF) objections.Not only the recommendations but the commission itself has been rejected by these political parties claiming that they are not representative and have not engaged FATA residents. The Commission begs to differ. Thus, both sides discourse is about residents’ participation or lack of.

According to the Commission in 2015, FATA Parliamentarians had earlier presented the 22nd amendment proposing the inclusion of FATA into KPK. However, they changed their stance in later meeting and included other options i.e. to create a separate province of FATA or give it the status of an executive legislative council similar in structure to Gilgit-Baltistan. Whether the latter’s residents are more representative in the council or has governance improved as a result in Gilgit-Baltistan is another matter.

In this whole “we-did” “no-you-didn’t” debate on FATA, enters the rather comprehensive report by a civil society organisation: the Frontier Resource Centre (FRC) .This report is based on data extracted with the help of surveys, interviews, FGDs and consultations. According to the report a large number of the respondents i.e.:  74% are in full favour of merger of FATA into KPK, out of this 54% are fully in favour while the rest of the 20% are partially in favour. Furthermore, 18% of the respondents are not in favour of the merger fully while 5% of the respondents are not in the favour partially. The report further mentions that 68% of the respondents want FCR to be abolished and wanted a new governance structure to be introduced. Similarly, 18% of the respondents were in support of the executive legislative council, while 53% did not agree to this option.

The matter is about determining the will of the people residing in FATA. When it comes to the question of whether to believe the Commission, the opposing political parties or a civil society organisation, to each his/her own poison. However, if we introspect and ask ourselves: what is the best way of determining what the local population wants?  Answer: ask them.

There is a very effective administrative system in FATA in place that controls it to date. It bestows collective punishment on the tribe. The administrative system through its Political Agents “regulates” the population by implementing the FCR. Why can’t it be put to use to ask the people what they want? Do they want a merger with KP? If all of us can be ruled for over a decade through referendums in the past and if today globally Scotland can vote to stay or exit, or whether Britain stays or exits the European Union then why can’t we conduct a similar exercise in FATA?

This outlandish idea might be a good starting point for representation. Who knows where it might end – elections, political parties, media presence perhaps?