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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A brief introduction to the political economy of governance in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan

This brief introduction to the political economy of governance in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan is written in the name of all those tribal people whose lives have been shattered in the ongoing violence between terrorists forces of Taliban and Al Qaeda.

I have come to believe that people living in urban centers of Pakistan who, though, takes interest in politics but do not entertain much attention to the reading and research have been rather confused in their opinions about the crisis in FATA. Its my understanding that to know what is going on in FATA, one must know the type of governance and politics in the region before any other aspect, for i totally disregard any cultural theory of violence in the region. This contribution is intended to support the thesis, which scholars like Abubakar Siddique, are putting forward that violence in FATA is an essentially a political issue not a culture or any other. 

Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan is an area of approximate size of 27,000 square km containing almost 2 percent of Pakistan overall population. Its one of the poorest region in Pakistan (Abubakar Saddique writes that poverty is as high as 60 percent in some areas) with abysmal literacy rate of almost 19 percent and poor social service provision. 

In constitutional parlance, FATA is referred to as a Special Area. Practically it means that constitution of Pakistan with all its legal provisions is not applied on the people living in FATA as it does to rest of the country, with exception of Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA) as well. FATA is ruled by a specially designed sets of laws known as Frontier Crime Regulation (FCR) regime, originally enacted by the colonial British regime in 1901. With some minor amendments, FCR still remain intact in the region. 

British considered tribal people "warlike", fanatic and opposed to modernity. This FCR regime was designed to rule FATA keeping in view the local power structure. Through it, Britishers collaborated with local elite of Maliks and Khans to maintain order in the region. It was an anti- people legal framework because the only beneficiaries of this political arrangement was the Maliks occupying hereditary office and the British colonial regime. 

In its post partition functioning, president of Pakistan, as head of the federation, rules FATA by decree. It  means, contrary to how governance takes place in other "settled areas of Pakistan" , (where parliament of elected representatives legislates, higher judiciary interprets and scrutinizes the laws thus made, and executive branch implements) in FATA president can issue a decree on his own, which is implemented through the following hierarchy. 

President........> Governor of Khybar Pakhtunkhwa........> Political Agent Office

One can add the office of Maliks and Khans at the end of the hierarchy, but since, they have no say in a kind of decree issued, except for informal recommendations, the actual hierarchy with essential power ends with the Political Agent office.   

The above mentioned hierarchy which governs FATA is not elected, and can promulgate any kind of  laws  it deems appropriate for keeping the order in the region. Political Agent (PA), who sits in FATA civil secretariat in Peshawar, (capital of Kybar Pakhtunkhwa) is a bureaucrat, with tremendous power invested him.

Before, writing down some of the man features of FCR regime, one point which must be readily discernible to the reader is that there is a clear conflict of interest in the way FATA is governed. For example, in "normal" mode of governance, if parliament makes a certain law, and some section of the civil society deems it contrary to the citizens rights, an appeal can be made to the Supreme Court of Pakistan for the scrutinization of such a legislation. However, since in case of FATA , all powers, i.e. legislative, administrative and judicial are invested in one single hierarchy, the functioning of accountable and transparent mode of governance becomes impossible due to the conflict of interest. For example, if PA considers a particular law must be enforced in FATA, and if tribal people find it contrary to their interest, there is no mechanism that allows them to appeal against it because, with all judicial power also invested in the PA, its absurd to assume any complaints being entertained against such laws due to the conflict of interest. 

It must also be noted that the local elite class of Maliks and Khans is the only class politically relevant within the FCR legal framework, although with no formal power whatsoever.This only politically relevant class of  Maliks and Khans have found their interest historically tied up with the status qou for following reasons.

1- Al though with only symbolic and nominal powers, they are paid, and the position itself is a source of prestige and access to the State.

2- The post is hereditary therefore its in the interest of Maliks and Khans that status quo is maintained. 

And interestingly, this class, part of the political order,  was one of the first target of another class which emerged in past decade, contending to be the only politically relevant class, i.e. Taliban.
As said above, FCR is a regime through which State has historically governed FATA. Here i outline some of the basic features which i believe do not require lengthy explanation to reveal their oppressive and draconian nature. 

a- According to FCR, the only voice that tribal people have in the way they are governed is through the class of  Maliks and Khans. Even if it is assumed that Maliks and Khans genuinely represent the interest of the tribal people, yet whatever they put forward are just counted as non-binding recommendations. However, in practice this class have found it interest better served by allying with State through the office of PA. 

b- Persons who are likely to commit breach of peace can be arrested, and asked to fill the bond with PA. In case if bond can not be filled, person(s) can be detained for the period of at least 2 years without any recourse to legal procedures against the detention (Section 39, 40, 41 and 45). 

c- According to FCR, no appeals can be made against such arbitrary detention in any civil court whatsoever. Appeals can only be made (according to Section 48) to Deputy  or Assistant Commission of the District adjoining the agency where the arrest took place.

d- Most draconian of the FCR regulation is of Collective Punishment as pronounced in section 20, 21, 33 and 34. Before  2011 amendment in FCR, any tribe considered hostile could have its property seized, members jailed, their homes demolished and imposition of fines. Later amendment, however, excluded women, children below 16 and men above 65 from collective punishment. 

e- FCR also empowers the PA to impose collective punishment on the whole tribe in case crime is committed within their territory. That means, if i am your enemy, and i secretly commit a crime in the area you inhabit, then the responsibility falls with you to legal price for such a crime. 

f- Collective punishment empowers PA to impose economic blockade on whole tribe, seize their property and dismantle their infrastructure, such as homes and business, on his whim. 

g- FATA people have been historically kept politically disenfranchised. FCR did not allow any sort of functioning of political parties and civil society movements. Though 2011 amendment did allow political parties to function but it was too late for the region was already in flames of insurgency. Moreover, people who did make to the assemblies, were not allowed to legislate for their own region. 

These are just few highlights of some of the oppressive sets of rules through which FATA has been historically ruled. Two questions that i believe need to be addressed is that, why such a draconian regime was kept in place all along? Secondly, what has been its political implications? 

To understand that why such a ruthless regime was never abolished, except for some amendment which were shamelessly meaningless in extent, is fundamentally related to another question that who has been the beneficiary of such a regime. Whose purpose does it serve to keep FATA people politically disenfranchised, out of the political mainstream and oppressed through such a anti Human Rights a regime as FCR( According to Amnesty International FATA is human rights free zone). The answer is simple, its the bureaucracy. Political Agent enjoys the same power as an infallible king would enjoy in his domain. With administrative, judicial and executive power, invested in one office, its in the interest of the bureaucracy to keep such power structure intact. Along with these powers, PA has access to funds (which till 2011 were never legally required to be audited)  which he can use as he pleases.

All sorts of regimes have toed the line of bureaucracy when it came to keeping FCR intact. It was only in post 9/11 period when FATA became a hotbed of extremism that under intense international pressure, Islamabad was forced to undertake some formal amendments in the FCR which enacted in 2011.

Adult franchise was introduced in FATA in 1996, but it was only in last election that political parties were allowed to operate in the region. Despite it, elected members from FATA, or in fact the whole parliament could never legislate for the region, thus making the whole exercise a political nonsense  By keeping the region disenfranchised, Islamabad impeded the development of any civil society in FATA. 

Maliks, occupying hereditary post, have found their interests tied up with Islamabad,  and have proven to be the second line of defense of the PA's and bureaucrats against any proposed amendments of FCR. It is this lack of political opportunities and any say whatsoever in the manner one is governed, absence of any civil society and political modernization that led to the empowerment of the clerical class in the region. Clerics have remained an important section of the tribal societies due to the over all prevalence of conservative and religious culture, but under the oppressive conditions as those prevailing in FATA, clerical class successfully counted on people grievance to emerge as political class ready to bargain for power with the State. Their strength was further augmented by the emergence of overall Jihadi culture from 1980's onward; another legacy of State's political maneuvering. 

Local extremists who came to spotlight in post 9/11 period in FATA  were the part of the youth which grew up in a politically disenfranchised society and charged by the overall unfolding Jihad culture. 1980's Jihad also developed international networks between local militants, clerics and international Jihadis, as due to its proximity with Afghanistan, FATA was a launching pad  of Jihad and concentration point  international coalition of Jihadies against regime in Kabul. 

After 9/11 and subsequent US attack on Afghanistan, and as Al Qaeda moved into the FATA, the region got enmeshed into a intense bloody political crisis between religious extremist on one hand and State on the other. However, answer to the question that why some tribal people, mostly youth, supported the religiously inspired international revolution propagated by Al Qaeda, must be seek not through the narrow parameters of war on terror but within the context of political history of FATA region. Al Qaeda along with some of the tribal youth, that latter emerged as fanatic terrorist organization as Tehrik Taliban Pakistan,  tried to substitute themselves as alternative to the oppressive State. They spearheaded an indigenous revolution and first attacked the Maliks, the allies of the State, and the State itself. 

Reader must notice that the political culture as we understand in the settled areas never existed in case of the FATA region. Mostly the debate tends to credit the instrumentalist factors such as Afghan Jihad, influx of Al Qaeda etc as reason of ongoing Islamist insurgency in Pakistan. But what such view does not adequately answer that why some people in FATA supported such fanatic insurgents? Al though its not that this question has never been raised in scholarly circle, but the answer to the question has tended to be infested with what Mahmood Mamdani calls as Culture Talk. However, in my opinion, its not the culture, rather its the political factors that have overwhelming bearing on the trajectory of political developments in FATA region. 

The oppressive hierarchy that ruled through draconian laws over the tribal people thwarted any prospect of political modernity. The status quo was maintained.,opposing  emergence of any civil society, political parties that cut cross the tribal and sectarian differences. Political climate which was further radicalized by the State sponsored Jihad, and along with the local conservatism, made religiously inspired fanatic political violence as only form of meaningful political activity.   

Taliban has been atrocious in uprooting the maintained power structures in the region. Their brutal policies have tyrannized the majority of the population which is sandwiched between the State and the terrorists. If we suppose a division within Islamic world of people living in settled areas and tribal areas (using State's own vocabulary), we find number of similarities and difference in the trajectories of economic and political development. While in settled areas, the State sponsored capitalism resulted in a social backlash by the disadvantaged communities, which in recent times, have taken an overly religious flavor, yet it led to modicum of development and distributed benefits and service, no matter in how much limited and asymmetric form to the society. 

In contrast to it, the State did not just politically oppressed the tribal people with colonial type excuses of maintaining order, but also thwarted any economic modernization too. The State was simply not interested in economic development in the tribal areas. In settled regions, the areas which are in the political mainstream,  political parties have to be more or less responsive to the demands of people. Dictators and bureaucracy have to be more or less responsive to the demands of their particular community, lets say ethnic and sectarian groups. This did cause a modicum of development to take place and power to be distributed if not much widely.. In contrast to it, in tribal areas State has been totally insensitive to economic needs of the people. For example, PA whole rule the tribal areas is an alien to the tribal people. His interest are not tied, in any degree whatsoever with the masses inhabiting  the area. Its his interest to maintain the political status quo. And rigid political structures of the manner as exist in tribal areas, essentially maintains an economic status quo too by discouraging any sort of enterprising behavior.  

Taliban, in all their brute form, with all their terrorizing features and threats to humanities cherished values, were not a force that befell from the sky and went on a killing rampage. They emerged and thrived within a political environment which was conducive to such political trajectories as we realizing today in tribal areas, and until unless, this political environment is understood people of Pakistan will stay alien to real nature and causes of some of the most immediate threats to their lives. 

Politics is about how society negotiate and distribute power. The system of governance and distribution of power in FATA has remained fundamentally skewed against the people inhabiting the region. Its this equation that a very brutal force, in the form of Taliban,  tried to subvert. If Taliban thrived in tribal region, it does not mean that tribal people are more violent than any other, rather its the oppressive conditions which made some people among them to be attractive to the appeal of brutal religious forces challenging the status quo.  


  1. State's heedlessness towards such issues can never be attributed to its ignorance. It is a crime for the very crimes we have paid in 1971. Your article is very informative and is perhaps a fundamental take on issues that government had to take into account. It is not that they didn't take it into account, it is that the government is ignominious to a degree that it simply does not care.

    This war is not going to bring peace, as wars never do bring peace. It seems that what comes next would be more horrid and inevitable. All the attention is focused on FATA while Balochistan is forgotten all together.

    May Allah give us strength to spread peace among ourselves.

  2. Somehow it missed publishing my comment. I had written that i totally agree with you on this. FATA issue is too much complex and it is highly unfair to judge its merits without taking into account the historical factor. Those who says force is the only solution are condemned to be judged by history, for its not a cultural its a political issue. Those who make culture as an excuse for violence, only produces more violence for the coming generation.