Fata MNAs make a case for long-awaited reforms ISLAMABAD: Finally given the opportunity to highlight the plight of the country’s tribal areas before the National Assembly, tribal lawmakers spoke their hearts out during discussion on the report of the Committee on Fata Reforms.
But their words fell on deaf ears and mostly empty chairs in the treasury aisles.
The cathartic speeches by tribal MNAs called into question people’s basic understanding of Fata’s problems and tracked the changing trajectory of the region’s fortunes — from the days of the British Raj to 9/11 and its aftermath.
Some opposed the idea of merging Fata with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but all of them appreciated the government’s efforts to bring reforms to the forsaken tribal areas. Nearly all MNAs who spoke on Wednesday also offered their own suggestions on how to ease Fata’s transition into Pakistan’s mainstream.
Sajid Hussain Turi from Parachinar in Kurram Agency, who made one of the most impassioned speeches of the day, seemed to repeatedly check himself mid-sentence, lest he go too far. “Speaking on the floor of the house, I cannot even begin to tell you half of what we have to go through. We are patriots, but whenever one of us speaks out, they are branded traitors.”
Talking to Dawn, Mr Turi said that despite the military operations in these areas, there were still several elements — especially in his constituency, which has historically been a flashpoint for sectarian violence — that were making life difficult for locals.
Tribal lawmakers make impassioned pleas for revocation of FCR; give suggestions on committee’s reform proposals
“Things are very difficult, even for elected representatives; in certain agencies, even MNAs need a no-objection certificate before they can visit their constituency,” he told the house.
He called on the government to speed up the Fata development programme proposed in the reforms and urged the government to complete it within five years instead of 10. He also called for enhancing the proposed 3pc share of the tribal areas in the National Finance Commission award to 6pc. “All reforms up till now have been administrative, so I commend the government for introducing popular reforms for once.”
Recalling Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s promise to the tribal people that they would only be governed according to their customs and traditions and how this promise had been broken, the PML-N’s Shahabuddin Khan made an impassioned appeal for the revocation of the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR).
“For God’s sake, I implore you to open up the tribal areas. We have no facilities; no international agencies are allowed in, the media does not have access… the people of Fata have no way of making their voices heard.” He also opposed the idea of merging Fata with KP.
Khyber MNA Nasir Khan Afridi deplored that the tribal areas were ruled by unelected political agents, while elected representatives had no power at all.
By forcing displaced people to go back to areas that had been cleared of everything and were still uninhabitable, Orakzai MNA Ghazi Gulab Jamal claimed that the government was creating a new wave of displaced persons.
“Reconstruction is proceeding at a snail’s pace; it should ideally have been conducted on a war footing. How can someone go back to an area that has nothing?”
“One third of displaced persons are registered, the others remain unregistered for one reason or the other — they either have some discrepancy in their Nadra family tree or they didn’t fill out the voluntary returns form (VRF). Now the authorities are saying they won’t give reconstruction allowance to unregistered families,” he told Dawn.
He called for exercising caution before making changes to the laws of Fata, saying that changes should be well thought out. “The first ‘a’ in Fata stands for ‘administration’; the tribal areas are the only part of Pakistan that are administered, everyone else has an elected chief minister or prime minister.”
“The government supposedly allocated Rs100 billion for Fata’s development and the resettlement of displaced persons. Where has it gone?” he asked. However, Dr Jamal noted that things had changed in the tribal areas and that the security situation had improved considerably over the past year or so.
Although the session began with several MNAs filling both the treasury and opposition benches, government members were nowhere to be seen by the end of the session.
Just before the day’s proceedings were wrapped up, PTI chief whip Dr Shireen Mazari pointed out the government’s lack of interest in this all-important issue, gesturing to Minister for States and Frontier Regions Abdul Qadir Baloch, who was the only government minister who stayed for the duration of the debate.
Earlier, during Question Hour, the minister informed the house about the steps being taken under the Fata reforms. Listing the proposed measures, the ministry’s written reply stated that there had to be a transition period until the merger was complete, which would be used to accomplish important objectives and pre-requisites.
These included: restoration of a durable peace; return and rehabilitation of temporarily dislocated persons; reconstruction of infrastructure, houses and shops; the establishment of elected local bodies in Fata by 2017-end; introduction of judicial reforms including the extension of the proposed Rewaj Act and the jurisdiction of the superior judiciary to Fata; the capacity-building of law enforcement agencies and the computerisation of land settlement records.