On Thursday, March 2nd 2017, Pakistan’s cabinet met in Islamabad and approved plans to reform FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas). The area lies in northwest Pakistan, by the Afghanistan border, and has long been known for its lawlessness. For the past several decades, FATA has been governed under the Frontier Crimes Regulation. This regulation states that residents do not have the right to three basic human rights including the right to request a change to a conviction in court, the right to seek legal representation, and the right to present reasoned evidence. Most cases in FATA have been governed by local customs.
Once considered one of the most dangerous areas in the world, its lack of formal law has also made it a popular area for armed groups, such as al-Qaeda and the Taliban. It was only in 2016 that Pakistan’s military was able to successfully regain control of North Wazirstan – the last region of FATA still under Taliban control at the time.
The approval to reform the area is a win for the human rights movement. FATA will take on Pakistan’s constitution and penal code. One of the main differences noted is that individuals will be tried and punished based on their own acts. Previously, an individual’s crimes led to the collective punishment of their family or tribe due to the Frontier Crimes Regulation. Residents will now also be granted fundamental rights, such as voting for representation provincially and locally. Sartaj Aziz, the PM’s adviser on Foreign Affairs, has said FATA residents will be able to vote in Pakistan’s next parliamentary elections, held in 2018. In addition to this, the reforms have come with a focus on improving the quality of life. Pakistan’s cabinet has proposed to fund infrastructure and social services, such has schools and health care. The ultimate goal of the reforms, as identified by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, is to “…end the ongoing deprivation of [FATA] areas.” The reforms will take place over a five-year period, although some sources indicate that at least 10 years are needed in order to make significant changes in the area.
Before approving the reforms, the committee met with a number of FATA representatives, consisting of seven tribal agencies and six frontier regions. The committee also met with over 3500 tribal maliks as well as a variety of representatives from each agency, including people of different ages, gender, careers and from different political parties. Aziz says that the approved plans have “accepted all the demands of the people of the tribal region.”
Nisar Mohmand claims that due to political backlash from others, previous governments and ministers have ignored this area. For example, both the JUI-F and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami parties both opposed some aspects of the six-member committee report. Most strongly opposed was the aim to merge FATA with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. In an act of compromise, the word ‘merger’ was later replaced with ‘mainstreaming’. In contrast, the Pakistan Tehreek Insaf (PTI) has welcomed the reforms. Chairman Imran Khan has said that the whole nation is happy with the federal cabinet’s decision to end deprivation and suffering in FATA.
The mainstreaming of FATA hopes to bring a sense of equality, community and order. Considering the immense opposition that this project has faced over the years, it is a huge victory for Pakistan’s cabinet to have finally approved the reforms. While some argue that the plans are far too ambitious, it is clear that Sharif is determined to ensure that all citizens of Pakistan have access to their fundamental human rights.