History of FATA

The areas that today make up FATA were once part of the battleground, on which the great game of imperial domination was played in the 19th century. For the British colonial administrators of India, effective control of the region was important for the defense of their Indian possessions, serving as a safeguard against Russian expansionism in Central Asia. It proved difficult, however, for the colonial government to establish its writ in the tribal areas.

Colonial administrators oversaw but never fully controlled the region, through a combination of British-appointed agents and local tribal elders. The tribal people were free to govern internal affairs according to their tribal codes, while the colonial administration held authority over all matters related to the security of British India in the administered areas.

Although, various tribes cooperated with the British in return for financial incentives, this arrangement was never completely successful. Throughout the latter half of the 19th century, British troops were involved in repeated battles with various tribes in the area. Between 1871 and 1876, the colonial administration imposed a series of laws, such as the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR). These regulations prescribed special procedures for the tribal areas, distinct from the criminal and civil laws that were in force elsewhere in British India. These regulations, based on the idea of ‘collective territorial responsibility’, provided for dispute resolution to take place through a jirga (council of elders). However this arrangement also proved to be ineffective to control the region.

Frustrated in their efforts to subdue the region, the British in 1901 issued a new ‘Frontier Crimes Regulation’ that expanded the scope of earlier regulations and awarded wide powers, including judicial authority to administrative officials. In the same year, a new administrative unit, then North-West Frontier Province was created by carving out parts of then Punjab province and adding certain tribal territories to it. The province, as it was constituted at the time, included five settled districts (Bannu, Dera Ismail Khan, Hazara, Kohat and Peshawar), and five tribal agencies (Dir-Swat-Chitral, Khyber, Kurram, North Waziristan and South Waziristan), and was placed under the administrative authority of a chief commissioner reporting to the Governor General of India (Hunter et al., 1840-1900).

The institution of the Political Agent was created at this time. Each agency was administered by a Political Agent who was vested with wide powers and provided funds to secure the loyalties of influential elements in the area. It was also during this period that the Maliki system was developed, to allow the colonial administration to exercise control over the tribes. Under this system, local chiefs (Maliks) were designated as intermediaries between the members of individual tribes and the colonial authorities, and also assisted in the implementation of government policies.

Despite these efforts, supported by repeated military campaigns, the colonial administration retained, what was at best, a weak hold on the area until the British quit India in 1947. Soon after Independence, the various tribes in the region entered into an agreement with the Government of Pakistan, pledging allegiance to the newly created state. Some 30 instruments of agreement were subsequently signed, strengthening this arrangement. Mohmand Agency was included in FATA in 1951, and Bajaur and Orakzai in 1973.

The agreement, signed at the time of independence, did not include political autonomy of the tribes. The instruments of agreement, signed in 1948, granted the tribal areas a special administrative status. Except where strategic considerations dictated, the tribal areas were allowed to retain their semi-autonomous status, exercising administrative authority based on tribal codes and traditional institutions. This unique system was crystallized in Pakistan’s Constitution of 1973.