After much deliberation and discussion with like-minded colleagues and friends, I have come to the conclusion that “FATA reforms” are not on the to-do-list of this government, at least not in the near future. The reason behind this pessimism is the lack of any development on the subject. Despite the fact that most of the lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are in favour of the approval of FATA reforms package, including but not limited to the annexation of FATA with KP, there has not been any progress in this regard. Allegedly, the federal cabinet has also put FATA reforms on the backburner; inviting severe criticism from various lawmakers, with some even going as far as comparing FATA to Kashmir.
Last year, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor, Iqbal Zafar Jhagra, had promised that local elections will be held in FATA by the end of 2017. This was definitely very encouraging for the locals, but there still remain certain ground realities that need to be considered before elections could be held. By saying this, I am not blaming the governor or his advisors for any mala fide intention, but only pointing towards the fact that there are a number of steps, which need to be completed in order for the elections to deliver results, desired or expected by the tribal population.
One of the most important and basic steps is holding the population census in FATA. This would form the basis upon which the local elections will take place. As most of us know, the population census exercise in the country will take off this month after a hiatus of 19 years. This will definitely change a number of things, both demographically and politically. On the basis of these results, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) would delimitate the constituencies.
If we talk about population census in FATA, there are a number of issues, which have been already highlighted by its parliamentarians. According to the approved scheme of the population census, FATA residents would be registered in their areas of residence instead of their native areas.
This scheme has been outrightly rejected by FATA parliamentarians, who have termed it discriminatory in nature. According to them, this scheme would reduce the population of FATA, which will result in a reduction of budget and other resources allocated to the area. We are aware that a significant population of FATA has already been relocated because of the worsening law and order situation.
The Pakistan Bureau of Statistics has, however, brushed the blame off its shoulders by saying that the procedure has been approved by the cabinet and the forms have been printed. Therefore, it is almost impossible to change the method.
The second important step before the local elections, also mentioned above, is the delimitation of constituencies. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is responsible for the delimitation, based on the demographics of each constituency. Since the population census has not taken place for the last 19 years, delimitation remains a necessary exercise before any elections could take place.
The third most important thing before the local elections in FATA can take place is the issue of its merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which has been recommended by the FATA Reforms Committee, and is also being demanded by most of the stakeholders. It is very important to finish this task before any election-related activity is held in the area. Any miscalculation on the part of the government can potentially result in a law and order situation in the tribal areas, which are already very vulnerable.
According to the Local Government Regulations of FATA, the municipal corporations formed after the local elections would require the approval of the Governor for spending any developmental budget, who will be the administrative head of the area. As all of us know, the local governments in other provinces are answerable to their respective governments or their parliaments. Therefore, the Local Government Regulations 2012 act also remains questionable.
Holding the general elections in FATA is an important exercise, which will definitely change the political landscape of the area. However, before this could be done, it is more important to fulfill the required prerequisites for the elections to be fruitful.
Ahmad, Gulmina. FATA elections: who, when and how? Daily Times, March 3, 2017.