By Zia Ur Rehman

January 14, 2013

ISLAMABAD – Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) have enjoyed unprecedented political freedoms for more than two years, and a committee comprised of the country’s 10 key political parties is touring the country to gain support for more reforms that would empower the long-neglected region.

Parliamentary approval of the proposed reforms is necessary if they are to become law.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) activists May 5 set up an election camp in the Malagori area of Khyber Agency. Last year, for the first time in Pakistan’s history, political parties campaigned in the militancy-hit tribal areas before the May 11 general election. [Zia Ur Rehman]
The parties, united under the banner of the Political Parties Joint Committee on FATA Reforms, include the Awami National Party, Qaumi Watan Party, Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam (Fazl), the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), Jammat-e-Islami (JI), the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, the National Party and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).

The Committee’s activities : 

The parties January 13 agreed on a list of reforms to try to promote a stable peace in FATA, a region that has been afflicted by terrorism since about 2007.

The FATA reform committee, which was formed in late 2010, is fighting to help the tribesmen enjoy “access to the judicial system, constitutional guarantees and all fundamental rights like other citizens of Pakistan,” Ajmal Khan Wazir, central vice-president of PML-Q and member of the FATA committee, said.

The agreed-upon reform agenda proposes instituting local bodies’ elections, broad infrastructure development, and special funds for health and education, Wazir said.

During its nationwide tour, the committee will confer with the leaders of its member political parties and will hold media briefings in provincial capitals, Wazir told Central Asia Online.

The delegation January 11 visited Quetta to meet with Balochistan Chief Minister and National Party Central President Dr. Abdul Malik Baloch and discussed proposed reforms for FATA.

“We support the endeavors of the FATA Reforms Committee as it is a must for FATA residents to enjoy the same rights that has been enshrined in the constitution for every Pakistani national,” Baloch said during a January 11 press conference about the meeting.

Besides Quetta, the committee’s itinerary in January includes Karachi and Peshawar.

It earlier visited Lahore in December, meeting with JI chief Syed Munawar Hassan and other leaders.

1st party-based elections ever in FATA: 

The committee’s work comes on the foundation of historic reforms in 2011 that enabled FATA residents to fully participate in the country’s political life last year.

In August 2011, then-President Asif Ali Zardari amended the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), a British-era law curtailing FATA residents’ rights, and extended the Political Parties Act (PPA) 2002 to the tribal areas. The change allowed political parties to operate there as they do elsewhere in Pakistan and compete for votes in the May 11 general election.

Prior to the extension, FATA’s 12 assemblymen and 8 senators had to run as independents. Now, tribal candidates may stand for general elections as standard-bearers of political parties.

Political leaders and civil society activists hail the extension of the PPA, saying that more such reforms could help defeat militancy in the region.

“Tribal people are very thankful to … Zardari, who lifted a 64-year-old ban in August 2011 on the activities of political parties in the seven tribal agencies,” Akhundzada Chattan, a former parliamentarian from Bajaur Agency and a leader of the PPP, said.

The participation of political parties in the tribal areas in last May’s general election had a positive impact, Islamabad-based political analyst Kahar Zalmay said.

“There is no concept of basic democracy without the operation of political parties,” Zalmay told Central Asia Online. “FATA is no exception. When you allow people to vote and to campaign, you’re making them stakeholders.”

“Political parties carried out their campaigns, and a large number of the tribal people cast their votes in the first party-based elections,” Abdullah Afridi, a PTI supporter in Khyber Agency, said, suggesting that FATA residents have become frustrated with the militancy and have faith in democratic governance.

Even though terrorists issued threats and committed outright violence, FATA voter turnout in the 2013 general election was 36%, compared to 31% in 2008.