Fata: the way ahead

IN my last article (Rethinking Fata, Oct 20), it was argued that Fata cannot be integrated with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, it cannot have a provincial status of its own because tribalism and an organised government fall on two different planes.

The provisions of the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) can be relaxed to some extent if the tribesmen are willing to surrender the privileges available to them under the system; and Article 247 of the Constitution needs radical amendment putting Fata under the purview of parliament.

Getting down to further brass tacks, deep organisational changes need to be achieved. The first that comes to mind are the maliks. These are hereditary positions, bestowed not without reason initially, but changing times have seen their importance wither away. Now, every agency should elect its own tribal jirga according to its population strength. I hesitate to call it an ‘agency council’; jirga is a more vernacular term.

The election process would produce persons who really can speak for the people and not defer to political agents as the maliks normally do. In law and order matters, the political agent could put them to good use but they should not have any legal powers.

The political agent should nominate from amongst them individuals to sit in jirgas constituted under the FCR. In bigger issues concerning inter- and intra-tribal matters, this elected body would prove of immeasurable help. Further, this body could be the interface with the government. The maliks who still retain influence should not fear elections as they would certainly get elected if they wanted to. Only those who are good for nothing would be eliminated.

In situations of higher national or tribal importance, the elected jirgas of all agencies would be called together to form a loya jirga. Once consensus is reached at such a high forum, this in itself would guarantee the success of implementation. Once we have genuine representative forums at the local levels, the alienation that the tribesmen feel would be adequately addressed.

There is a strong case for the antiquated Khasadar force to be turned into a regular agency police force. Its members would have to be recruited from the same agency and be posted, as they are now, in the same sub-tehsils until the system is fully established. The force would have to have proper service rules such as those of the district police, and its pay and other emoluments would have to be commensurate with that of the district police.

Unlike the present norm, their weapons and ammunition should come from the government and so should their uniforms. They should be officered by their own tribesmen, selected on merit and trained for the job. The political agent would, of course, retain the position of an inspector general of police with respect to the force.

Fata’s tribesmen live by their traditional laws called the rivaj (customary law). These differ from agency to agency and from tribe to tribe even in the same agency. There is no harm in living by such laws, but they are not at the moment codified. It would be a useful exercise to start doing this, and recording them.

However, a note of caution is necessary: we must restrain ourselves from trying to wedge in modern concerns in the codification, as these changes will come with time and education. Societies, particularly conservative ones, change but in small steps.

A good example can be borrowed from the history of Swat, which was just as lawless and tribal as Fata till the wali appeared on the scene in 1916. His rise to power owed to circumstances, but he made law and order and justice the cornerstone of his policy. He set out to provide a system of laws to his subjects — but not of his own making. He required each area to codify its own rivaj, both criminal and civil.

Local jirgas would decide cases according to their codified law, and side by side qazi courts were set up to decide cases according to the Sharia law. This, however, was not made the supreme law. The parties had to choose between Sharia and rivaj, and present their own case. The jirgas and the qazi courts were under one obligation and that was the speedy resolution of cases. The state would implement the decisions swiftly.

In murder cases, the wali had the power to overrule but their decisions were never interfered with except in two cases. By 1940, the wali was in a position to disarm the local population.

Education is important for the entire citizenry but in the case of Fata, it is doubly important. The lack of education and of employment opportunities has made Fata a fertile ground for recruitment by militants. One piece of advice King Darius gave at his deathbed to his son and successor was: “Continue the education reforms that I began, and allow your subjects to learn how to read and write and increase their intelligence; the more intelligent they are, the more you can rule with an easy mind.”

The above is not a full agenda for change, nor is it intended to upset the apple cart. Prudence is required when dealing with conservative societies. A good start, however, can be made and we can build on it. To borrow from Confucius, “It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.”