The prime minister of Pakistan violated the constitution of Pakistan by making an announcement in the National Assembly that Frontier Crime Regulation through which the tribal areas are being governed is abolished. It is interesting that the Taliban and terrorists have welcomed the announcement as now they will get full control of the areas.
The Constitution of Pakistan is clear about the status of tribal areas. According Article 246 of the Constitution:
- (a) "Tribal Areas" means the areas in Pakistan which, immediately before the commencing day, were Tribal Areas, and includes
- (i) the Tribal Areas of Baluchistan and the North- West Frontier Province; and
- (ii) the former States of Amb, Chitral, Dir and Swat;
- (b) "Provincially Administered Tribal Areas" means
- (i) The districts of Chitral, Dir and Swat (which includes Kalam), the Tribal Area in Kohistan district, Malakand Protected Area, the Tribal Area adjoining Mansehra district and the former State of Amb; and
- (ii) Zhob district, Loralai district (excluding Duki Tehsil), Dalbandis Tehsil of Chagai District and Marri and Bugti tribal territories of Sibi district; and
- (c) Federally Administered Tribal Areas includes
- (i) Tribal Areas adjoining Peshawar district;
- (ii) Tribal Areas adjoining Kohat district;
- (iii) Tribal Areas adjoining Bannu district;
- (iv) Tribal Areas adjoining Dera Ismail Khan district;
- (v) Bajaur Agency,
- (va) Orakzai Agency,
- (vi) Mohmand Agency,
- (vii) Khyber Agency;
- (viii) Kurram Agency;
- (ix) North Waziristan Agency, and
- (x) South Waziristan Agency.
According to The News International editorial which is supporting every dictorial step of the present government, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani's historic and unanimous vote of confidence from the National Assembly on Saturday gave the new democratic order a huge boost, sending all the right messages to the relevant quarters that the political parties of the country are now grown up and mature enough to run the affairs of the state without interference and uncalled for bullying by the establishment. Mr Gilani became one of the few politicians of Pakistan who have ever received such an across-the-board support of the political spectrum. Conversely he also has now the added burden to take everybody along on this new democratic path so that the institution of parliament entrenches itself strongly and deeply in the national polity. Aptly and confidently, the new prime minister went about accomplishing this onerous task immediately after the vote. His address to the assembly, and the nation, was a classic example of signalling a fundamental shift in some key policies, some cosmetic announcements to please the galleries, some hardcore assurances that basic bread and butter issues would be seriously addressed and a mass prayer to God that all this could be achieved in the shortest possible time.
Some key announcements included lifting of the ban on student and trade unions (a much delayed and a welcome step), a promise to increase the minimum wage to Rs6,000 per month, abolition of the dreaded and discarded Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) in FATA (another positive step that should have been taken years ago), abolishing the controversial National Accountability Bureau and transferring its cases to the judiciary, assuring provincial autonomy to the provinces and abolishing the concurrent list within one year, raising the support price of wheat substantially to help the farmer and a two-week deadline to the armed forces of Pakistan to pull out all their officers from civilian jobs. All these decisions would have a far-reaching impact on national politics and, if implemented, could turn parliament into a sovereign body, as everyone so desperately wishes.
The cosmetic part of the prime minister's package included an impossible-to-implement directive that ministers drive only 1600 cc cars, a 40 per cent cut in expenses of the prime minister's house, a promise to save 500 MW of electricity by distributing energy-saving bulbs, ordering his cabinet to travel only economy-plus when flying, assuring each household at least one job to an adult, and introduction of housing scheme for both rural and urban areas. Many of these moves may become controversial and invite charges of favouritism and corruption but this probably is a price every party has to pay to meet the enormous expectations of the people.
Though the prime minister described restoration of peace and security as his priority number one. His offer to talk to all those who surrender their arms, particularly in the terrorism-infected tribal areas and adjoining urban centres, will not make much headway as any condition attached to peace talks will be seen as a sign of arm-twisting and throwing a challenge to the already enraged and desperate extremists. This issue will have to be tackled more sensibly and with a finesse which was lacking in the military regime of President Pervez Musharraf. A quick de-linking of Islamabad's terrorism policy with the demands of the US military and political players in these areas could be a major confidence-building measures. More such CBMs would be needed to bring the insurgents and fighters down from the hills. Likewise a vague mention of a 'truth and reconciliation commission' for Balochistan will not in the short-term defuse the situation unless practical and tangible confidence-building measures are taken to assuage the angry Baloch.
No one expects these complex issues to be resolved in the first 100 days of the PPP-led coalition government, though it now has the full confidence of the entire house. Probably by design and as a strategy, the prime minister did not go deep into the highly controversial and sensitive issues of restoration of the judges, the independence of the judiciary or the fate of President Pervez Musharraf. He reaffirmed his commitment to the Bhurban Declaration which gave a 30-day deadline for the restoration of the judges but left the matter at that. Likewise on the issue of a free press, the prime minister seemed dithering because, as promised by the PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari a few weeks ago that the PEMRA ordinance will be withdrawn as the first step of his government, Mr Gilani announcement of handing over PEMRA back to the information ministry seemed like old news. A bold and clear stand on media freedoms would have been in order but it did not come. The immediate reaction in the press gallery was not very positive. No one expects that a political government which came after a robust and sustained movement led by the media would dilly-dally on the issue. The sooner this perception is cleared, the better.