PESHAWAR -- Pakistani authorities are considering expanding the national Police Act to set up a new police force in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) as part of an effort to improve law and order.
The move is part of the planned merger of FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).
Currently, law and order duties in FATA's seven tribal agencies and six frontier regions are the responsibility of the Levies Force and Khasadar tribal police. The army has also been deployed in FATA to combat terrorism and militancy.
KP Police ready to serve
The extension of the Police Act would form a regular police force from among existing security forces in FATA, which the KP Police would train.
"Under the FATA reforms, the deployment of KP Police in tribal areas is under discussion," Iftikhar Firdous, bureau chief of the Express Tribune in KP, told Pakistan Forward.
The deployment would be a gradual process since the mainstreaming of FATA is expected to take place over five years, he said.
"If the reforms kick off as planned, the decision-makers want a deputy inspector general-level police officer appointed for FATA within two years, and the duty of policing will be handed over to Levies, whom the KP Police will train," he said.
KP Police have been doing a great job in maintaining law and order in the province and they will do the same in the tribal areas once they are asked to perform there, said KP Inspector General of Police Salahuddin Khan Mehsud.
"If we are asked to look after the law and order situation in FATA, we can give results within one year," he told Pakistan Forward.
"We will train Levies and will develop a proper system there so the army can gradually start withdrawing from softer places within a year, leaving law and order to police," he said.
Changes already under way
Last month, the federal government extended a modified version of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Act 1974 to five villages close to the Torkham border in FATA.
The move transferred immigration powers to the Levies Force deployed along the border and gave the political agent judicial powers.
"The FIA Act has been modified to empower the assistant political agent and the tehsildar at Torkham to exercise the powers of the [Khyber Agency] administration," FIA Deputy Director in Peshawar Imran Shahid told Pakistan Forward, adding that the FIA will assist those officials in keeping records of individuals crossing the border.
The change is considered to be the first major move towards extending the Police Act to the tribal areas.
Demands for mainstreaming FATA
Much of the public and of the political leadership have been urging the merger of FATA with KP to bring the tribal areas of the country into the mainstream.
On October 9, various political parties held a rally in Islamabad to seek an early merger rather than having to wait five years.
KP is administratively and financially ready to take over FATA, said Imran Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.
FATA needs a new system as the existing one benefits only corrupt bureaucrats and not the public, he said during an October 6 news conference in Peshawar alongside KP Chief Minister Pervez Khattak.
"The government must reform FATA and merge it with KP without any delay to benefit from the [counter-insurgency] gains from military operations," Khan said.
Khattak plans to discuss with military officials the withdrawal of the army from areas in KP where peace has been restored and where police can take over, said Khan.
"The people of FATA want the controversial laws and system in the tribal areas to be abolished immediately and for tribesmen to be treated like residents of other provinces," Munir Afridi, a resident of Bara, Khyber Agency, told Pakistan Forward, referring to the Frontier Crimes Regulations that have applied solely to FATA since British times.
FATA needs courts and a proper police system, and each agency's political agent should merely head the agency administration rather than having near-absolute powers, he said.