Anwar Ullah Khan from Bajaur agency is an old hand at journalism. He has the experience of working for both national and international media organisations. He still thinks working as a journalist in the militancy-hit tribal areas bordering Afghanistan is a lethal job, adding that whenever they have a news they have to first get it confirmed from the local administration. One could say there is no harm in doing so, but when most often their reply is not supportive; leaving stories unfinished.
Journalists like Anwar Ullah feel that right to information act extension to FATA would not only be good for them very much beneficial for common people. Even right to information is every individual’s right and civil service is obliged to furnish information. Another big problem is that majority of tribesmen are not aware of their rights. People in FATA are still living under centuries old British law called Frontier Crimes Regulations. This law must go and the people of FATA may be integrated with mainstream Pakistan.
Another journalist Mr. Zahid Jan says that right to information act’s extension to FATA is very much crucial for journalists. “We don’t have full access to much needed information and due to this inaccessibility sometimes our reports remain un-balanced.”
Another tribal journalist Noor Muhammad Benori first heard about RTI laws from PTI chief Imran Khan when he said that their party will implement it if they make government. He had said that people will have access to government spending details and revenues. Mr Benori thinks this act should also be extended to tribal areas so that people in authority could be made answerable to people.
People of the tribal areas are unique in a sense that they select members for the legislative assemblies but unfortunately these members are unable to legislate for good of their own people. President of Pakistan takes all major decisions on FATA. Things are, it seems changing in the tribal area for good. For the first time members of parliament from tribal areas have proposed and submitted an amendment to bring these areas into the mainstream. This historic amendment in the constitution was presented by parliamentary leader of FATA, Shahjee Gul with signatures of all the tribal members of the assembly.
Former president Asif Ali Zardari had extended political parties act to the tribal areas in 2012. By taking cue President Mamnoon Hussain should extend Right to Information Act to the tribal areas so that people could benefit from transparency in governance. One government after the other had announced huge development funds for these areas, but rarely people feel any change on the ground. The law will give them the right to ask questions from the officials as to where they are spending all these funds and what is their utility. The act should be implemented in same spirit as in the KP which states that “ Access to official information is right of every individual.” The government has already constituted a high-profile committee to decide fate of the tribal regions. It would be good if it also thinks about apart from several other rights giving the right to information too to the tribesmen.
The author is a senior journalist based in Khar, Bajaur tribal district.