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Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Tribes protest in Islamabad: demand elections in FATA along with KP; will ECP agree?

News Analysis |

Although political parties managed to merge the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province, yet many of challenges are still there to be addressed and resolved amicably. The latest challenge stemmed from the day the FATA was formally merged with KPK and an announcement was made by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) that elections for the provincial assembly in FATA would be conducted in 2019 due to some administrative challenges.  Some sections of population from tribal areas (Previously FATA), however, wanted the elections to be held at the same day in tribal areas and KPK.

“We informed the ECP on 23rd July 2018 about this matter, but nobody paid attention,” he added. Chairman MQP Mr. Habib Malik Orakzai also spoke to GVS and demanded the upcoming polls be held at the same day in the province.

A few tribal elders and natives staged a protest outside the office of the ECP and demanded simultaneous elections in tribal areas and KPK. Later on, a meeting was held and the members of the district government and the ECP managed to convince the protesters that due to some ‘administrative affairs’ it was not possible to conduct the elections across the province at the same day. The protesters then called off the protest.

In another development, the members of Muttahida Qabail Party (MQP) launched a March and sit-in on Friday in the federal capital to demand that the upcoming elections for the KPK assembly seats from the tribal areas be held in 2018, not in 2019. The participants also marched from D-Chowk to NADRA Chowk in the federal capital and presented their demands before the media and public.

Read more: The Constitutional Matrix of FATA

Speaking to GVS, the Vice Chairman of MQP Malik Habib Noor Orakzai said that their demand is genuine and they will not move anywhere until and unless the ECP addresses their genuine concerns. “We are peaceful people and we are protesting in front of the Islamabad Press Club to demand our rights,” said Habib Noor. “We informed the ECP on 23rd July 2018 about this matter, but nobody paid attention,” he added. Chairman MQP Mr. Habib Malik Orakzai also spoke to GVS and demanded the upcoming polls be held at the same day in the province. “Tribal areas constitute 15% of the total of population of KPK. There are 21 seats for the provincial assembly. How can an assembly be complete if 15% of its people are not being represented?” asked Malik. He also warned that the sit-in will not be called off until the ECP accepts their constitutional demands. “We will march to the office of the ECP today at 9:00 am. We want to be heard,” he said.

A lawyer Chaudhary Ramzan who is also representing the MQP spoke to GVS and urged the ECP to ensure the rule of law without compromising on principles. ‘If the elections are not held under the supervision of a caretaker government, the next government will influence the electoral process and results if they are held next year,” Chaudhary Ramzan said. He further told GVS that there are three petitions filed by the tribesmen to request the ECP to hold elections at the same day across the province.

Another Pashtun, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told GVS that these problems are due to improperly planned merger. “This means that the merger has been done without first taking care of the prerequisites,” he said.  “It would be constitutionally odd as well. A provincial assembly would elect a government that would not be representative of the entire province,” he further said. Since the merger took place during the last days of the government, this opinion that careful deliberation was required to address all the prerequisite to avoid any social or political challenge seems genuine.

Read more: Government aims to provide basic facilities to FATA

Now when the merger has been done, it is up to the ECP that how it treats the demands of the tribesmen. There are three options available with the ECP; one, the upcoming elections can be delayed to conduct the polls at the same day across KPK which is now very difficult; two, immediate administrative challenges be addressed and the polls should be held at the same day across the entire province; third, pacify the protesters and convince them that the elections, if held in 2019, will not be influenced by any government. The last option is the most important one but, at the same time, it is most unlikely one.

The ECP needs careful deliberation before they decide anything. Any reckless, disorganized attempt to silence these people may generate more chaos and social instability because of prevailing horizontal as well as vertical cleavages in Pakistan where ethnic faultiness are the most powerful weapon to unite or divide people.