All major political and religious parties have shown rare unity to call on the country’s election commission to ensure fair, transparent and accessible general elections in the insurgency-hit FATA or the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
The call from the Political Parties Joint Committee on FATA Reforms (FATA Committee) came just months ahead of the parliamentary polls as political parties prepare to participate in elections in FATA for the first time in history. The forum has highlighted five key concerns that require urgent action by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).
The 10 political parties making up the FATA Committee recommend that the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) and the ECP take swift measures in FATA to increase Computerized National Identity Card (CNIC) registration and voter registration. Historically disenfranchised, FATA voters deserve increased efforts to facilitate their participation in the upcoming general elections.
The FATA Committee also recommends that the ECP allow internally displaced persons (IDPs) to cast votes from camps and host communities for candidates in their home constituency. Political parties also urge government authorities to ensure that judicial officers from neighboring settled districts serve as returning officers and district returning officers, just as is planned for elections throughout Pakistan.
In line with other recommendations from political parties, the FATA Committee requests that the ECP ensure polling stations are within two kilometers of voter homes as required by the Supreme Court. The FATA Joint Committee recommends the ECP regularly meet with the leadership of political parties in FATA to work together in addressing the numerous and complex electoral challenges in FATA.
In a letter delivered on Tuesday to the ECP and NADRA, the Political Parties Joint Committee on FATA Reforms submitted the consensus recommendations listed below for their immediate consideration and action. The letter was also delivered to President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari, Governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Syed Masood Kausar, and the SAFRON Ministry secretary.
1. NADRA and the ECP should increase efforts to register FATA voters – A targeted campaign should be launched immediately to provide FATA citizens with Computerized National Identity Cards (CNIC) and to register them as voters with the ECP. The campaign should place special emphasis on women throughout FATA and on internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in camps inside FATA and in adjacent districts. By opening additional offices, deploying mobile registration units, and expediting processes, the issuing of CNICs for these groups should be improved significantly. The ECP and NADRA should communicate deployment schedules of additional registration efforts directly with political party leadership and also work together closely and as quickly as possible to ensure that all those receiving new CNICs are also registered to vote.
2. ECP should allow absentee voting for FATA IDPs – More than 150,000 internally displaced FATA citizens face voter disenfranchisement in upcoming general elections. International law is clear about the voting rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and to ensure equal access to democratic participation, all IDPs from FATA should be provided with the opportunity to vote. Specifically, all citizens residing in camps should be permitted to cast their vote for the candidate of their choice in their home constituency in FATA. For example, an IDP originally from Bara in Khyber Agency but currently living in the Jalozai IDP camp in Nowshera should be permitted to cast his vote in the NA-46 election from a polling station inside the camp. Due to the security situation, many IDPs from FATA are prohibited from returning home. These voters should be provided with an alternate mechanism for voting in home constituency elections even while living currently in an IDP camp elsewhere. At a minimum, absentee voting should be facilitated for FATA IDPs living outside their normal constituencies in the following camps and host communities: Togh Serai camp, New Durrani camp, Jalozai camp, D.I. Khan, Hangu, Kohat, Kurram, Peshawar and Tank.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR, Article 21), the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR, Article 25) and the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (UNGPID) indicate that IDPs must be provided the right and opportunity to vote in elections, whether or not they are living in camps. Pakistan is a signatory to the UDHR and the ICCPR and therefore obligated to protect the political and human rights of its citizens in FATA.
3. Judicial officers should serve as election officials in FATA – On November 17, 2012, the National Judicial Policy Making Committee’s (NJPMC) decided to allow judicial officers to serve as ECP returning officers and district returning officers in the upcoming general elections. To ensure equitable election administration throughout Pakistan, this decision should also apply to FATA. As there are no judicial officers in FATA, officers from adjacent districts (Lower Dir, Malakand, Charsadda, Peshawar, Nowshera, Kohat, Karak, Bannu, Lakki Marwat, Tank, and D.I. Khan) should be sent to FATA to serve as election officials.
4. ECP should provide polling stations two kilometres from voters – As directed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in Constitutional Petition No. 87 of 2011 (order dated June 8, 2012), article 28, page 31, polling stations should not be “at a distance of more than two kilometres from the place of residence of voters”. To ensure equal access for voters throughout Pakistan, this decision should also apply to FATA.
5. ECP should engage directly with political party leaders in FATA – The FATA Committee and agency-level political party leaders in FATA are open and available for direct negotiations and problem-solving with the ECP regarding the implementation of the recommendations above. FATA voices are typically excluded from national-level dialogue with political parties and should be included in direct provincial-level outreach initiated by the ECP. Additionally, close coordination between ECP officials and political party leaders at the FATA agency level will allow the identification and mitigation of other local election problems as they arise.
The Political Parties Joint Committee on FATA Reforms (FATA Committee) was established in 2010 to identify and advocate for areas of consensus on reform priorities, including amendments to the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) and the extension of the Political Parties Order to FATA. The committee engages in discussions with stakeholders from FATA as a way to build consensus, increase awareness and promote dialogue on existing and future reforms in the tribal areas.
With complete support from political party leadership, 10 political parties are represented on the FATA Committee: Awami National Party (ANP), Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam F (JUI-F), Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), National Party (NP), Pashtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-e-Azam (PML), Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Qaumi Watan Party (QWP).