PPP lawmaker criticises govt over FATA reforms

  • Senator Babar demands audit by AGP of foreign aid for tribal areas

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader Senator Farhatullah Babar has said that the greatest obstacle in mainstreaming the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) is the congenital loathing of the civil-military bureaucratic complex to loosen their grip on tribal areas.

“Once this stranglehold was broken, all other facets of the reforms package whether merger in Pakhtunkhwa, local governments and extending jurisdiction of superior courts will automatically fall in place,” he said this during an All Parties Conference (APC) on FATA reforms package held here in the federal capital.

The multi-party conference organised by the FATA lawmakers was attended by representatives of different national and regional political and religious parties. MNA Shahjee Gul Afridi, Adviser Barrister Zafarullah Khan, Pakhtunkhwa Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser, Ghulam Ahmad Bilour of ANP, Tariqullah of Jamaat-e-Islami, Muhammad Ajmal of PML-Q, Mian Iftikhar Hussain, Zahid Khan, Hashim Babar of QWP, Javed Afridi, Senator Sajjad Turi and Senator Mir Kabir Shahi and Advocate Latif Afridi were among the speakers and the participants.

The PPP lawmaker said that the reforms package announced in August last year appeared more of a political stunt than a real effort at mainstreaming tribal areas. He said that it took nine months for the cabinet to approve the package on March 2 this year but the summary to seek the approval of the president was lying in the PM House even today.

The thrust of the FATA reforms package was towards further militarisation of the area instead of de-militarisation, he said and proposed a six-point formula to loosen the grip of the civil-military bureaucratic complex on FATA. He said that the Auditor General of Pakistan must be immediately authorised to carry out audit of the foreign aid received for the tribal areas and the amount spent by the bureaucracy during the past 10 years.

He said that the civil-military bureaucracy may be loath to civilian oversight but it must not be allowed to solely spend almost 80 billion rupees of development outlay annually without audit and without oversight. Senator Babar said that at present committees of the parliament, media and NGOs were not allowed to visit tribal areas on the pretext of ‘fragile’ security situation and development funds appeared to sink into a bottomless black hole.

He said that the elected representatives should be involved ensuring accountability, transparency and oversight. The 10-year developmental package costing Rs 800 billion must not be left entirely in the hands of the bureaucracy, he told the gathering. The Policy Committee and the Implementation Committee should include elected representatives to loosen the suffocating grip of the bureaucratic complex, he said.

If the chief secretary and the corps commander can be members of these committees why not elected representatives, he asked? The PPP senator said that the levies force in the tribal areas should be brought at par with the police and placed under the command of senior police officers instead of the political agent and military commander as at present.

According to the reforms package, the levies strength will be increased to nearly 35 thousands from 12 thousands which is almost half of the Pakhtunkhwa police strength. If the tribal areas were to be merged in the province in five years, it was necessary to merge levies in the police, he suggested.

He also said that the bureaucracy used the office of the president to impose regulations that suited their interests and not the interest of the people. He said that Pakistan must revisit its Afghan policy for carrying out reforms in the tribal areas. “There were several unanswered questions with regard to our Afghan policy dictated by the security establishment that needed to be answered,” he said.