The clamour for holding local government elections in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) is growing in a region where a governance system is non -existent at a local or provincial level.
A new research study by the FATA Research Centre (FRC) titled ‘Local Government in FATA, Past failures, Current challenges and Future prospects’ highlights the century old political vacuum in the region coupled with bad governance and corruption which has resulted in a gap between the state and society in this volatile tribal belt.
The growing exclusion of people from the political process has created a sense of deprivation and frustration among the masses, the report says and this disconnect was the reason that Taliban were able to consolidate their position in FATA by cutting away at the existing political system and killing the tribal elders and maliks. Speakers at the launch of the report on Tuesday referred to FATA as a classic example of alienation and said the region was run by remote control in an administrative and political vacuum. The report reflects the wishes of the people and their desire for political participation.
Presenting the study, Sharafat Ali Choudhary said people have a Constitutional right to self government and there is a local government draft for the region in 2012. Legally, he said there is no bar on holding local bodies’ elections, especially when Parliamentary polls have been held several times. The Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) is a draconian law which still operates there and power is wielded by the all powerful political agent even today. Lt Gen (retd) Abdul Qadir Baloch, the minister for States and Frontier Regions said there are no two opinions that local government elections should be held in FATA and he said the driver of reforms must be the people themselves. Slamming the corrupt institution of the political agent, he said even Jinnah had given assurance to the people of FATA that they would have a government of their choice.
Senator Farhatullah Babar said the FATA region which was a buffer zone earlier to press the strategic depth policy was now a strategic threat.
The report showed how FATA was governed differently from Pakistan with a special set of laws called the FCR, 1901, which was a top down authoritarian rule without accountability. The first draft for Local government regulation was prepared in 2002 and a controlled form of elections with limited participation was held in 2004. Another local government regulation draft was prepared in 2012 but this has to still be made into a law.
Spread over 27,220 sq km , and home to a dozen Pashtun tribes and scores of clans and sub tribes, this region is made up of seven administrative units called agencies and smaller Frontier Regions.
Adult franchise was introduced in FATA in 1996 but the right to representation did not give the right to legislate for the region.
Under Article 247 of the Constitution FATA comes under the executive authority of the President.
For the first time people in FATA voted in a general election in 1997.
The region has 12 seats in the National Assembly of the 342 and eight in the Senate.
The first ever political parties based elections in FATA were held in 2013 after the extension of the political parties order. FATA has 1,738,313 registered voters including 596,079 women and the turnout last year was 37 per cent. The election recorded a higher turnout than 2008 specially that of women, despite threats against voters from the Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The report recommended a time frame for passing the local government law and for the elections, working for devolution of power at the local level, strengthening the jirga system, increased participation of women and involvement of political parties in elections.
Ayesha Gulalai, member of the National Assembly from FATA, said that while taxes were collected from the region there was no acknowledgement and FATA did not get a share from the National Finance Commission. “We talk of democracy but FATA is a dictatorship. There is no accountability and the jurisdiction of the attorney general is not extended to the region,” she said.
The Political Parties Joint committee on FATA Reforms on Wednesday released an 11 point charter of demands which included a call for holding local bodies’ elections. Formed in 2010, the ten parties in this forum called for amending Article 247 to shift legislative powers from the President to the Parliament. Among the demands was separation of executive and judicial powers and strengthening of civil armed forces. It called for the extension of the jurisdiction of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority so that the media can have access to FATA.