Political Reforms, Local Elites and Power: A Study of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan

  • Abid Shah

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


There is continuing global concern around security in the unsettled and politically sensitive region of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in Pakistan, bordering Afghanistan – a region widely considered ‘ungovernable’, and one of the global centres of terrorism and extremism. The global response has been articulated around governance concerns anchored in liberal and pluralist ideas of democracy. For the most part, development interventions and accompanying scholarship tend to focus on technical aspects of governance using a strong normative lens. Consequently, the focus has largely been on what is missing or lacking or ineffective in developing countries. As such, this approach is inherently substractivist. One of the most radical and recent interventions designed to promote good governance in the FATA region was the introduction of the Political Parties Act 2011 (PPA). This Act has the explicit aim to alter the balance of power so as to confront and stifle militant influence in the region. My thesis emphasises the developed world’s lack of focus on the inner (and complex) realities of politics attached to political reform. It deliberately moves away from a normative framework towards showing the importance of everyday politics of reform in the FATA region. More specifically, this thesis offers a detailed examination of the dynamics of elite competition and leadership triggered by the introduction of the PPA. At present, local governance in the FATA region is politically controlled by tribal chiefs (known locally by Maliks) under the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR), under which political power is passed through the male hereditary lineage. In contrast, the extension of the PPA enables local political actors to compete for political leadership through an adult franchise system, supported by political parties in Pakistan.This thesis offers a detailed examination of the impact of the introduction of the PPA in FATA, with a particular focus on the way it affects elite leadership. Drawing from the theoretical framework of political settlement (North, Wallis and Weingast, 2009; Khan, 2010), and through a collection of primary data using ethnographic methods, this thesis seeks to explore from the local perspective how the PPA has evolved, unravelled and enmeshed itself in a rather complex social and political structure, and the many political actors that are either impacted by it, or impact upon it. My thesis argues that the PPA has triggered a profound change in core power relations in the region with new entrepreneurial political actors breaking the monopoly of traditional Maliks. I further argue that the strategies and tactics used to legitimise claims to power are mostly similar for both the entrepreneurial political actors and the Maliks. Legitimacy is therefore secured through loyalty (personal money, social welfare, local elite pacts, and access), networks (political parties, bureaucracy) and rhetoric (discourse of morality). The discourse of morality, of democratic citizenship and of tradition is used by new political elites and tribal Maliks respectively to gain their legitimacy. The significance of politics and competition among local elites suggests that political settlement becomes defined by informal interactions between local elites. The ‘normative’ governance roadmap therefore needs to take much more account of these informal interactions as they become very powerful levers of political reform in the FATA region.
Date of Award28 Jul 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorJoe Devine (Supervisor) & Luisa Enria (Supervisor)

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