Reform in Fata is in the news again. Political parties who have any claim to represent Pashtuns are again turning it into a game of petty point-scoring. I am presenting my opinion regarding the reforms in Fata as an outsider and admit at the outset that I have no claim, no right, to either represent people of Fata or make decisions on their behalf. I reiterate that only the people of Fata can decide their future and are best positioned and well-equipped to understand their status and decide what is best for them. It is disappointing, to say the least, that in all this debate the voice of people from Fata is missing and people living in Quetta, Peshawar and Islamabad have taken it upon themselves to strip people of Fata of their voice and authority and instead impose solutions on them, not for their betterment, but to forward narrow political agendas. It would be best that all parties put their trust in people of Fata and let them decide their future, through referendum if possible. My opinion is that of a fellow Pashtun and fellow citizen of the country who genuinely believes that the current arrangement is dehumanizing, a shame to every facet of constitutional democracy, and a mockery of every form of legal justice.

First the myth that Fata is autonomous and self-governing should be done away with. Fata is not autonomous; Fata is the worst kind of subjugation of people by state that can be found in any of modern constitutions throughout the world. Political Agent and Assistant Political Agent rule the agencies with ironclad hand, with no regard to basic principles of law and justice – in fact his words are law and justice in the current constitutional setup. Absence of legal, judicial, and political institutions, which are functional in other parts of the country, doesn’t make a place autonomous. It surely makes a place different, but then difference can either be good or bad. With no recourse to appeal or a court, and the fact that whims of a man rather than codified law decide the fate and determines the justice, is called arbitrary anywhere else in the world.

The second myth that Fata is self-governing is also a construction of the federal government and the state. Fata is ruled by few men who are not elected and the elected representative have little say in what is done to the people and at the lower level there is no local government. The Jirga, which is touted as equivalent of local bodies, and as the instrument to gauge public opinion and decide judiciously, is a self-serving legacy of bygone imperial era for the few Malaks and the state.  The Jirga is used to give legitimacy to whims of the bureaucrats and the nefarious agenda of using Fata as a strategic backyard for the purposes of strategic depth. The Jirga has no real authority and even if it does, the institution needs overwhelming reform in structure, constitution, and working to make it more democratic and representative.

Collective responsibility, which was draconian even by the standards of its time, still is frequently used as punitive measure and a tool to keep the population in check. If nothing else then only this travesty of justice should be enough to dispel the two mentioned myths regarding the current status of Fata. While the rest of the citizens of Pakistan have it as their constitutional right to not be punished for crimes of others and not to be tried twice for the same crime, the people of Fata are required by state to account for crimes or doings of a person they had the unfortunate accident of sharing part of their genome. How can you be autonomous if you are made, every now and then, to answer for someone you have never met in your life? And mind you the state interferes at will to carry out the callings of collective responsibility.

In the current arrangement, the people of Fata have no basic human rights. The articles of constitution of Pakistan which guarantee basic rights of its citizens are not applicable to people of Fata. The people of Fata, thus, have no recourse to appeal against judgment and order of a political agent, who is an 18-grade officer from administrative departments, but in Fata he is the executive, the administrator and the judge at the same time. Because of lack of accountability there is no development in Fata. In all of seven agencies the agencies’ main hospital doesn’t have enough resources to carry out a little complicated surgery. Fata is dependent on hospitals in adjoining districts when it comes to health. A minor health issue, which requires a simple visit to a physician, becomes life-threatening when the patient has to travel hundreds of miles to see a doctor. Where does this colonized treatment fit in the narrative of equal and sustainable development?

Another myth about keeping the status-quo in Fata is the constructed, imagined, bigoted and dehumanizing attitude toward the people of Fata that they are not fit for democracy, that they are so rigid in their culture and cultural code that they would rebel against any lawful and legal order. Even if this myth or argument is right then it becomes paramount duty of state to ‘civilize’ people of Fata. But as I said this is only a myth. The state has tried its best to keep the people of Fata uneducated simpletons, but take any random educated person from Fata and he would amaze you by his knowledge of constitution, constitutional democracy and general understanding of the strategic games wrought on his land. We tend to know our torments better than the tormentor know themselves. FCR, the shame of a law, which governs Fata is tormentor-in-chief of people of Fata and they know what needs to be done to throw away this yoke.

Keeping in mind all these arguments, one can’t help but feel disgust towards the arguments of status-quo in Fata. Fata is deprived of education, development, and the people of basic human rights with made-up contexts and premises. The government makes committees for reforms in FCR and Fata but ironically those committees don’t have a single representative from Fata. Outsiders decide the future of Fata. What does this attitude of government towards Fata and people of Fata signify if not the savior-complex and over-lordship of the federal government? Fata is in grip of militancy for too long now; the question that needs to be asked is: who is responsible for all this militancy? Are the people of Fata responsible or the deliberate, meticulous attempts of state?

The people who oppose merger of Fata with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, or any other reform in Fata, on the basis that Fata now enjoys special privileges as in jobs quota etc. are treading a weak line. If people of Fata are campaigning to get equal treatment under constitution and law they understand that their symbolic privilege, i.e. few seats in federal department through quota system, has to go away. The political parties that oppose reform in imperialistic governance system of Fata on the basis that it is against their political vision or grand scheme are willing accomplices of state in perpetuating the misery of people of Fata. There is no legal, political, and moral ground for keeping the status-quo in Fata; the only ground is the myopic insistence of state on short-term goals. Will the state renounce its policy of using Fata as a strategic backyard and accept the people of Fata as equal citizens of state? The very foundations of our democracy depend on this.