GENUINE representation in the federation fosters a sense of ownership that strengthens specific
regions as well as the country as a whole. Unfortunately, parts of Pakistan continue to be marginalised, left out of the political mainstream at a time when national unity is of the essence. The most extreme case in this regard is that of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, a region that falls within Pakistan’s territorial boundaries but is not bound by its laws. Nor do the ordinary residents of Fata enjoy the same rights and privileges that, in theory at least, can be claimed by even the most deprived sections of society in other parts of the country. It is argued by some that tribal people have their own unique cultures and codes of conduct, which is true in the main. What is sometimes overlooked here, however, is that increased participation in the socio-political affairs of the country does not automatically lead to an erosion of intrinsic cultural values. If anything it empowers people and allows them greater freedom to live a life of their own choosing. Middle classes grow when the grip of a few is loosened to whatever extent, and with options and relative prosperity comes the prospect of peace. Alienation and poverty, needless to say, serve as an ideal breeding ground for militancy.
As speakers at a conference in Islamabad pointed out on Tuesday, we can start addressing at least some of the myriad problems facing the tribal belt by bringing the region into the national mainstream. Perhaps the first step in this direction should be to extend the Political Parties Act to the tribal areas so that people there get more options when it comes to choosing who represents them in Islamabad. The Frontier Crimes Regulation system that was imposed by the British a century ago and is still shaped by draconian concepts such as collective responsibility for the actions of individuals or families ought to be phased out and replaced by the Pakistan Penal Code. It will take time to right the wrongs of the past but a beginning must be made.