Pakistan’s tribal area needs social and political reforms – by Jan Assakzai

FATA needs change

The more important thing at this point is not whether Pakistan`s tribal region is linked with the failed terrorist plot in New York, but whether their should be speedy reforms in FATA to prevent its causing the next 9/11.

Some people in Pakistan might think that if the economic and security situation improved and peace returned to the country, there would be no necessity to deal with the crisis facing the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. But that is not so, because the situation remains potentially explosive in the tribal regions because of the anachronistic Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR).

Because of this, time is not on Pakistan`s side. The ideal of a peaceful, democratic Pakistan, at ease with its minorities as well as with its neighbours and the rest of the world, will not be achieved if nothing is done, and quickly, to sort out the mess in FATA.

Much has been written about the problems of FATA and the possible reforms there, but little has been done. The FCR remains law, even thought it is a legacy of colonial times that gives administrative powers to political agents. The agents were first appointed the British, to serve as links between the Raj and the people of the tribal areas. The result is that lack of political freedom, absence of permitted political activities, collective punishments and other forms of gross abuse of human rights are still the norm in FATA.

The solution to the crisis is the region`s integration with Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Before the breakup of Pakistan in 1971, FATA representatives were part of the NWFP Assembly and, in the 1960s, of West Pakistan Assembly. At the same time, parliament should be entrusted with all administrative and legislative powers in FATA, instead of the president, as now. The separation of executive and judicial powers should be ensured through the extension of the jurisdiction of Pakistan`s courts` to FATA.

The argument that the residents of FATA do not want these reforms is preposterous. Indeed, it is an insult to them; it is as if they are sub-humans who do not deserve even basic rights, such as that being tried by the country`s courts. The notions of collective punishment and territorial responsibility under the FCR should be abolished.

For political freedoms to be ensured in the region, the Political Parties Act of 2002 should be extended to FATA. This will enable the political parties to organise themselves there. That, in turn, will encourage people to stand up to terrorists. The wishes, aspirations and opinions the residents of FATA have to be taken into account.

Economically, the Afghan transit trade will be extremely advantageous for the Pakhtuns of FATA and Balochistan. Their livelihood will be guaranteed if cross-border trade is encouraged in the border regions. Utilisation of known minerals in FATA, introduction of modern-day techniques in agriculture and establishment of an Economic Opportunity Zone (EOZ), as proposed by the US, will go a long way in turning around FATA`s economy.

In order to end the isolation of FATA, communication links should be improved, including the building of a new highway connecting North and South Waziristan.

The government on its own cannot cause all these reforms to happens, and the army will have to extend a helping hand, particularly in terms of security.

The change will ensure that FATA does not become another base of Al Qaeda and the Taliban with the capability of launching trans-national attacks. Otherwise, the spectre of another 9/11 will loom larger than ever. If another possible 9/11 is traced to back to Waziristan, the consequences will be disastrous for Pakistan.

The writer is based in London. Email:

Source: The News, May 13, 2010



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