November 14th, 2021
By Farooq Mehsud
DERA ISMAIL KHAN
On May 31, 2018, what were formerly referred to as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) were officially integrated into the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province under the 25th Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973. Under the amendment, all laws and regulations passed by the KP assembly and all provisions of the Constitution extend to the merged areas following, at most, a two-year interim period during which the transition was managed by the federal government.
Now, about three-and-a-half years later, dissatisfaction among tribal residents is soaring to new heights, with a majority preferring the British-era Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR), which actually denied FATA peoples the right to appeal a conviction in any court, the right to legal representation and the right to present reasoned evidence.
“We were all initially happy because we thought we would finally get facilities and work opportunities. But things have only deteriorated since the merger,” says one resident. “Instead, people from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are being given jobs in FATA.”
Another local hailing from the tribal belt now residing in the settled areas claims that the laws that apply to the province are regrettably not being implemented in former-FATA.
“The FCR was better in this regard. No uplift work is being undertaken here, there is no system,” he says.
South Waziristan elders say that a great many tribal leaders had expressed reservations or outright rejected the merger, however they were snubbed. They further said that locals, especially those of North and South Waziristan, are forced to live as refugees following years of insurgency and military operations, therefore public opinion should only be sought after peace is restored and displaced families resettled.
In order to raise awareness among the youth, activist and founding member of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) Hayat Preghal is spending the better part of his prime years conducting protest rallies, door-to-door campaigns and highlighting the social and political fallout as a result of FATA’s integration with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He too is unhappy with the government’s attitude toward tribal issues and lack of action in addressing the grievances of the regions’ peoples.“I feel like we have been left dangling in the middle. The FCR has not been repealed properly while alternate legal systems are gradually taking affect. As a result, practices like collective punishments which were rampant under the FCR are still common place while at the same time the FIRs are also registered against people under the new legal framework,” says Hayat Perghal, member of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM).
Proponents of the merger believe that it would sound the death knell of erstwhile-FATA’s centuries-old jirga system, but reality appears to belie these expectations as jirgas appear to be flourishing once again.
In the tribal districts, the number of civil cases including land disputes swelled post-merger. Rather than frequent courts, residents would rather have jirgas resolve the matter, explains high court lawyer Asad Aziz. Moreover, since the government failed to lay the groundwork for former-FATA’s successful integration with the province, the judicial system suffered for it.
Mufti Abdul Shakoor, a Member of the National Assembly and head of the former-FATA chapter of the Jamiat Ulama-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F), a party opposed to the merger, believes that the integration had unleashed further chaos in the tribal districts. He posited that locals reject the merger and want things to go back to how they used to be prior to 2018.
While the government had announced the annual disbursement of Rs. 100 billion for developmental work in the tribal districts, sources however say only a paltry sum from the promised Rs. 300 billion has so far been spent. Meanwhile, the people of the region are already taking matters in their own hands: tribal elders and youth organizations are taking to the streets in protest of the government’s failed promises, while the Supreme Court is currently hearing a plea against FATA’s merger.