Congratulation FATA by Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani

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Finally, all the constitutional requirements to merge the (now formerly) Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (Fata) with the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) have been fulfilled successfully. Geographically, Fata is a semi-autonomous tribal region adjacent to the Afghan border, consisting of seven tribal agencies and six frontier regions.

Fata has a rich heritage of waging freedom struggles against foreign invaders. Even at the peak of their power, the British faced tough resistance in controlling the tribal areas. Haji Mirzali Khan alias Faqeer of Ipi was one legendary freedom fighter who belonged to this region. Today, a road located in Islamabad also reminds us of his freedom struggle. To suppress insurgencies, the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) was introduced during the British Raj in 1901. Under the FCR, citizens were deprived of the right to appeal, to have a lawyer as well as present evidence. The law was labelled as a ‘black law’ that violates human rights, is ‘draconian’, ‘barbaric’ and even ‘un-Islamic’.

The tribal people also supported the Pakistan Movement to end the British rule. It is reported that a leader of freedom fighters, Maulana Fazal Elahi Wazirabadi, attended the historic March 23, 1940, jalsa in Lahore to represent the tribal population and endorse the Pakistan Resolution.

The unconditional love the tribal people had for Quaid-e-Azam was witnessed during his historic visits to the tribal areas. In 1945, a large number of people came out on the streets of Landi Kotal to welcome their beloved leader and the tribal people chose to associate their future with an independent and sovereign Pakistan. Similarly, Quaid-e-Azam also hugely respected the people of Fata for their loyalty, sacrifices and commitment for achieving freedom. Being the first governor general, Quaid-e-Azam addressed a grand tribal jirga in April 1948 at the Governor House in Peshawar to acknowledge the contributions of the people of this region. He also announced to withdraw armed forces from the area, calling the patriotic tribal people a frontline force in protecting the western borders.

Regrettably, the demise of the founding father after only a year of Independence resulted in the agenda of integrating the tribal areas into the national mainstream being ignored. It is quite hurtful that Pakistan decided to continue governing the area through the FCR law, inherited from the British. The neighbouring government of Afghanistan’s continuous attempts to interfere in internal matters by raising the baseless issue of ‘Pukhtunistan’ was also condemnable.

Although Fata was declared a part of Pakistan in the 1973 constitution, articles 247 and 248 restricted the jurisdiction of parliament, the Supreme Court and high court to the neglected tribal areas. The then prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, formed a committee under General (r) Naseerullah Babar, which included Hafeez Pirzada, Rafi Raza and Dr Mubashar Hassan. The aim of the committee was to create a framework for merging Fata with KP (then the North-West Frontier Province) for the then upcoming general elections.

Contrary to this, Gen Zia transformed Fata into a base for foreign fighters participating in the Afghan jihad. Twenty years later, in 1996, the government tried to introduce the aduItfranchise system in the tribal areas for facilitating a direct election of parliamentary representatives. The initiative failed to deliver due to the fact that constitutionally Fata was not a part of any province.

In 2002, the government tried to extend the Local Government Regulation to Fata. However, people showed no interest mainly due to the US’ attack on neighbouring Afghanistan. During Musharraf’s tenure in 2006, a Fata Reforms Committee was formed. But the law and order situation in the region again proved a hurdle.

Then again in 2014, the Political Parties Joint Committee on Fata Reforms, in its 11-point agenda demanded that the tribal people of Fata must also be given legal, political, democratic and constitutional rights. The successful operations, Zarb-e-Azb and Radd-ul-Fasad, also played a pivotal role in securing peace and stability in the tribal areas. The demand – raised by some people of the region – of declaring Fata a separate province named ‘Qabailistan’ would not have worked due to the geographic and economic situation of the tribal areas. These areas need KP’s support for rehabilitation and reconstruction of infrastructure including roads, communication networks and education and healthcare facilities.

Although Fata had a representation in the National Assembly and the Senate, in the presence of the FCR the parliamentarians were unable to play their due role in carrying out legislation in the interest of the people of Fata. But the Fata-KP merger has abolished the FCR as well as the separate status accorded to the tribal areas. Encouragingly, despite all differences, political parties showed unity. The commitment of Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, the people of Fata, KP government and all parliamentary representatives who participated in the voting is highly remarkable.

On this historic moment, Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Mehmood Khan Achakzai must also support the decision for the sake of Pakistan. Afghanistan must also understand that a peaceful Fata is in the best interest of the entire region. All Pakistanis warmly welcome the integration of Fata into the mainstream.

The writer is a member of the National Assembly and patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council.

Twitter: @RVankwani

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The News International (October 12, 2018)