Fata’s four problems

Delayed reforms head to merger but much groundwork left

Fata’s four problems
In a top-level meeting between the civil and military leadership, the awaited Fata Reforms have finally been approved this month. But does this mean that everything will transition as specified on paper and ultimately the Federally Administered Tribal Areas will become like the rest of Pakistan?

The reforms package includes a number of decisions that require across-the-board collective political will to implement. It will be difficult work because it doesn’t just mean giving the people of Fata their rights; it also means the eviction of the forces that were denying those rights. This work includes tinkering with the complex bureaucratic setup of the Fata administration as part of the five-year merger plan with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Aside from this, there are four basic changes that have to be made if this region is to be brought at par with the rest of Pakistan.


The Tribal Areas Rewaj Act (Tara) is the cornerstone upon which the entire edifice of the reforms has been erected. TARA will replace the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), called a Black Law, which was introduced by the British in 1901 and which has continued in the tribal areas with minor amendments. “They want us to continue with the FCR by changing its form and content,” said MNA Shahabuddin Khan from Bajaur Agency, a strong advocate of the reforms, after he attended a meeting of a committee to which the Rewaj Act was referred to for consensus. “It is unacceptable in its current form because it not only legitimizes the same old jirga system but also guarantees little freedom.” TARA has also been criticized by feminists and rights organizations for not taking into account the rights of women.

Additionally, the federal cabinet approved on September 12 a bill for Parliament to approve to extend the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and Islamabad High Court to the tribal areas. The decision was taken during a meeting of the federal cabinet with Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in chair.

This would extend the jurisdiction of the superior courts and laws of the country to the tribal areas. This would be backed up by massive development to be paid for by setting aside more money from the divisible pool. A National Implementation Committee under the prime minister has already been formed to oversee the political, legal, administrative and developmental mainstreaming of Fata.
The reforms package includes a number of decisions that require across-the-board collective political will to implement. It will be difficult work because it doesn't just mean giving the people of Fata their rights; it also means the eviction of the forces that were denying those rights

Local government

The Local Government Act for Fata had been in hanging limbo because political parties cannot agree on timing of implementation. The Jamiat-e-Ulema-Islam-Fazal (JUI-F) is of the opinion that local body elections must take place in Fata after the General Elections. The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has insisted that since the ultimate plan was to merge Fata with KP, it was best for local body elections to be held before the polls. This was why the LG Act for Fata was handed over to the KP local bodies department so that any deviation from the provincial law could be sorted out in time. However, the final draft of the law has yet to be prepared.

“The local bodies in Fata are empowered to make financial decisions based on local requirements,” said an official from the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (Safron). “Donors who will ultimately fund the project would want to see the disbursement of funds through the people rather than the Political Agents,” he added, citing the unchecked use of public money by the Political Administration in Fata.

Land settlement

It was only during the British Raj that some land records were created in Kurram Agency and North Waziristan Agency. There are, however, no records of which land belongs to whom in Fata, which mostly relies on oral tradition preserved by the tribes as far as land rights are concerned.

Background work for GIS mapping of the area has started but the major chunk of work, to actually verify the owners and computerize the records, is in limbo. “There will be mobile vans that will physically go from house to house to collect data,” said an official on the project who was initially hired to design it. “However, it’s one of the most difficult tasks within the reforms,” he explained. He added that Fata’s land records not only include individual land settlement cases but also “Shamilat”, a term used to identify the land of the tribe which is shared. The project only looks at the land which can be verified without dispute, while disputed territories among tribes are still unexplored terrain.

National Finance Commission

The development of Fata solely depends on the 3% allocation of the National Finance Commission that has been set aside for the tribal areas within the reforms. This amounts to almost Rs120 billion. What is needed next is consensus among the provinces to give up a portion of their share to divert to Fata once it is mainstreamed.

According to the UNDP multidimensional poverty index, the rate of incidence in Fata during 2013-14 was 73%. The national average in Pakistan was 38% during 2014-15 by comparison. An amount of Rs177 billion is the estimated shortfall during five years (from 2010-11 to 2014-15) as a result of not including Fata in the NFC Award, previously.

However, if the reforms go ahead as planned, the federal government, followed by the Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan will have to re-adjust their share accordingly. Will the provinces agree? Khyber Pakhtunkhwa might agree because it stands to gain if the plan is to finally merge it. But what will the other provinces do?

“The decision to hire a chief operating officer for the Directorate of Transition and Reforms is an indication that the reforms are serious,” said Sartaj Aziz, who was also heading the panel that drafted the reforms. But will the current administration of Fata cede space for the reforms? Will there be political consensus during the current government to implement the reforms as claimed by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi? None of this can be taken for granted since the reforms agenda has already been delayed.

The writer is a senior journalist based in Peshawar