Dr Muhammad Khan
THE merger of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan with Khyber Pukhtunkhwa (KP) or else giving it a separate status of province has been under considerations for last few years. As per recent developments, the federal Government in consultation with all political parties and stakeholders is finally heading towards its merger with KP. Initially, this merger would be for a five years transitional period and thereafter; a permanent solution will be sought, taking into considerations the ground realities, the will of the people and surely keeping in view the outcome these five years.
Irrespective of its future status, the immediate attention, the tribal areas need is its economic prosperity through peace and stability in the region, which will be attained through; rehabilitation of displaced people, provision of civic facilities and opportunities of economic activities in the region. Unfortunately, ever since US invasion in Afghanistan in October 2007, the Tribal Areas of Pakistan have undergone a crisis situation. The military operation in all Agencies resulted into the displacement of huge population.
Apart from the seven Agencies of the FATA, the entire frontier region and parts of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa have undergone the process of transformation. However, the law and order has improved over the years, yet the elements of stability, peace and economic prosperity are far from being actually taken roots. The military operations, particularly Operation Zarb-i-Azb has crossed the psychological barrier of impossibilities and there exists optimism that, nothing is impossible. Besides, the majority of the displaced people have returned back to their parent areas, started reconstruction of their houses and business centres. However, still, there is a huge number of the people, awaited to return back. These left over people have either decided to settle elsewhere or waiting for harsh winter to get over, before they move back. The Government has also asked all displace people to get back to their respective areas or face the cancellation of their registration as temporarily displaced people’s status. In all eventualities, there is an urgent need for the provision of basic facilities in entire FATA with priority goes to rehabilitation through reconstruction of houses and civic facilities.
The Federal Government decided to bring constitutional and reform package in FATA. In November 2015, Prime Minister of Pakistan constituted a high level committee under the Advisor on Foreign Affairs; Sartaj Aziz to prepare reform package for the mainstreaming of the FATA. The committee under Sartaj Aziz presented the FATA Reform Package in August 2016. The salient of the reform package is that, FATA will be gradually integrated into Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP). The proposals of the reform package were debated by the Parliament. As per the reforms, proposed, the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) will be repealed and in lieu of this there would be a system of Jirga and Rewaj and this would be under Tribal Areas Rewaj Act, which will be implemented in phases.
The other salient features of this reform package are; there will be party based local bodies’ elections, which will be held by end of 2017. While Levies force will be beefed up with 20,000 more troops. This is primarily to cater for the security needs of the FATA. Unlike the current practice, the package proposed that, Afghan citizens will only be allowed into FATA areas once they have proper documentation. Pakistan has already decided for introduction of new border rules at all crossing sites along the Pak Afghan Border, as part of border management. Foreign Secretary, Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry emphasized that, “This border management is in the interest of both Pakistan and Afghanistan.” The Afghan Govt is very critical to this type of the border management.
FATA Reform Package came under very severe critic in Parliament and even by Human rights commission. The Coalition partner of the PML (N) Govt, Moulana Fazulur Rehaman, has opposed the on many aspects. Besides, Mahmood Khan Achakzai too opposed the bill. JUI (F) chief proposed a referendum to decide, whether FATA people want to be part of KP or would like to have their own separate province. The committee proposed Supreme Court and Peshawar High Court should extend their jurisdiction up to FATA. This aspects runs contradictory to Rewaj Act, proposed in same reforms package.
Nevertheless, the parliamentarians belong to FATA want implementation of the reform package and merger of FATA into KP. Following the heated debate in Parliament, the Government of PML(N) has been able to persuade the opposing groups within coalition and got their consent for the adoption of this bill. As per the Minister for States and Frontier Regions, Lt General (retd) Abdul Qadir, “We have removed all bottlenecks which came in way of implementation of merger of Fata with KP. We have addressed concern of JUI-F and PkMAP and implementation of Fata reforms is a matter of few days.” The FATA reform package, if implemented would be a major breakthrough in the history of Pakistan. These people were ignored by successive governments of Pakistan, thus remained under developed and educationally backward. The reform package would enable the mainstreaming of FATA region, thus doing away with the FCR and many ills, associated with it. Nevertheless, there has been remarkable reduction in number of terrorists’ attacks in FATA region and elsewhere in Pakistan. However, the decrease in numbers of terrorist attacks does not bring complete peace, but positive social engagement, leaving no space for miscreants and militants, would bring real peace and economic opportunity in tribal areas.
Whereas, the locals of the tribal areas are key to this all, the administration and particularly the federal and Provincial Govt of KP need to play their roles. The local administration must take over the areas cleared by Pak Army, rehabilitate the internally displaced people, and create the opportunities for the economic activities, which need to take place on priority through good governance. Following the reform package and successful military operations, the Tribal Areas of Pakistan can become an ideal place, provided, a dedicated effort is undertaken for proper rehabilitation of displaced people through a sustained peace and stability, which would surely pave the way for economic prosperity and social harmony.
— The writer is International Relations analyst based in Islamabad.