Local Government in FATA
The establishment of an elected local council system is critical for democratic reforms in the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA). There is consensus among all the major political parties for holding local councils elections in FATA at the same time as in other provinces. But no decision has yet been taken by the federal government on their timeframe. This has already become a source of frustration among the people of FATA.
Under the Local Government Regulation for FATA introduced in 2012, the Municipal Councils were to be elected on the basis of adult franchise for a term of four years. These Municipal Councils are supposed to be responsible for social services with some restricted powers to levy local taxes. The Council is authorised to spend funds provided by the federal government with the approval of the governor of Pakhtun Khawa, who is also the administrative head of FATA.
While the local governments in other provinces have greater administrative and financial powers, the proposed local councils in FATA do not have the authority even to carry out development work in their areas without the approval of the governor.
The installation of an elected and empowered local government system has become imperative to fill the void created by the collapse of the old system of Maliks (tribal leaders). The decade-long fighting in the tribal areas has rendered ineffective the Maliks who worked as liaisons between the tribes and the Political Agent (PA), the chief administrative officer of the agency.
FATA’s current judicial system is enshrined in the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) promulgated in 1901, a hybrid colonial era legal framework that mixes traditional customs and norms with executive discretion. The FCR concentrates discretionary police, judicial and executive authority in the centrally appointed Political Agent. FATA is further divided into three jurisdictions: inaccessible areas, administered areas and protected areas.
In the protected areas, the tribal Jirgas (councils of elders) deal with civil and criminal offences in accordance with the local rawaj or custom, even though the PA can take executive action to deal with any offense against government officials or interests of the state, using force or the good offices of the Maliks. In effect, the FCR preserves the Pashtun tribal structure of the Jirga to which the PA can refer civil and criminal matters.
Until 1997, FATA did not have adult franchise, but instead only a handful of handpicked Maliks were granted the right to vote, and political parties were banned from operating in the area. This ambiguous status has largely been the cause of the social and economic backwardness and lawlessness of the region.
The rise of the Taliban has also weakened the influence of traditional tribal Jirgas that served as an alternate dispute resolution system in the territories where no formal state legal system exists. The Jirga system can coexist with the more representative elected council until the normal laws of the land are extended to FATA.
The argument that local government elections cannot take place while fighting continues in FATA does not hold either. Tribesmen turned in out large numbers to cast their votes in the general elections.
In fact, the local council elections could help restore peace in the Tribal Areas by getting the tribesmen involved in running their own affairs. Denial of their basic human and democratic rights is a major reason for the growing alienation of the people of FATA. The region is the country’s most underdeveloped in terms of even basic facilities like health care and education. For the democratisation of FATA and, ultimately, its political integration with the rest of the country, it is imperative to shift the legislative power for FATA from the President to the Parliament, to establish elected local governments for effective local self-governance and service delivery.