Dr Minhas Majeed Marwat
THE process of FATA reform is a significant step towards addressing the serious challenges confronting FATA and their implications and ramifications for the whole country. These days, many official including experts on FATA are discussing the status of FATA as an independent province or its merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. While many of them favour FATA merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, there are others who oppose it and suggest holding a referendum to seek the opinion of the inhabitants on the status of FATA but the debates revolving around its status as independent province have almost died down.
History is witnessed to the misery of the people of FATA who have been deprived of their rights since independence. FATA has remained a neglected area during various governments but the area itself has ‘blessed’ those who served here to administer it or those who represented its people in the Parliament. The tribal people remained at the mercy of these “blessed’ ones despite huge deposits of gas, oil, mineral, and other natural resources, due to which the socio-economic indicators of the area are very poor. The living conditions of the tribal areas are poor as sixty per cent of the population is living below poverty line with a huge unemployment rate that ranges between sixty to eighty per cent. There was always a sense of deprivation among the people of the area who want to get rid of the colonial era black laws including FCR and its replacement with Rewaj Act – 2017. .
The proximity of FATA with Afghanistan and Pakistan’s alliance in the war against terrorism has further deteriorated the socio-economic indicator. The Political Parties Order 2000 was extended in August 2011 and the Frontier Crimes (Amendments) Regulation 2001 was introduced as steps towards bringing the area into mainstream national politics. A Committee on FATA Reforms was set up in November 2015 by the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to propose a way forward for the political mainstreaming of Tribal areas after consultation with all stakeholders. Ironically, there was no representation of from FATA in the Committee.
Examining the positive aspects on merger, the people of FATA will come at par with the rest of Pakistan in terms of legal rights. As Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has well-established administrative structure; hence, it will be easier to extend it to FATA, which as a result will fulfill an important element of administrative mainstreaming. The question, however, is whether the elders and people of FATA with a tribal mindset committed to Rewaj and Jirga system would be ready to except the merger? Second, whether Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with its scanty financial resources would be in a position to spare sufficient financial resources for a fast socio-economic development of FATA? Moreover, bringing FATA at par with the rest of the country in terms of key indicator, will the Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa be able to take full responsibility for FATA development without the assistance of Federal Government when it is itself struggling for its economic rights with the Centre. In case of the other scenario, that is, if FATA was to become a province, would it be able to generate the required resources?
These are very important questions and the Government, putting aside political difference among political parties, should pay heed to them. Keeping in view the security situation of FATA, the proposed 5-year transition period will be too less a time for the Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to build administrative infrastructure and the capacity of the administrative and legal institution to deal with the new dispensation. This would mean that the Armed forces would still be burdened with security of the area.
Those supporting merger argue that the merger of FATA with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is more feasible than declaring it a separate province. The supporter strongly believe that challenges, like extremism and terrorism have their roots in poverty and backwardness of the area, can only be tackled with the socio-economic development of the region which would be possible through merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The political circles are critical of Government’s indecisiveness on the issue. An alternative that was considered in a meeting of the National Committee on the Implementation of FATA Reforms and deliberated in the Senate was the creation of a new post of the Chief Operating Officer (COO), in order to fast track the mainstreaming of the region, that probably will be filled by a grade 22 civilian or military officer. This, however, will not help in mainstreaming the area since a civilian COO will be seen as a Political Agent and military is already playing its role in restoring peace in FATA through military operations. Moreover, the Constitution of Pakistan also defines that the governance in the tribal areas is the prerogative of the FATA Secretariat.
One option could be that the Government mainstream FATA on the model of Malakand division. The constituent parts of Malakand include the six districts of Malakand Division, all of which fall under the administrative control of the Chief Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The merger could also be designed by dividing the seven Tribal Agencies and six Frontier Regions into administrative units, headed by Commissioners, appointment of senior police office (Deputy Inspector General of Police), establishment of district courts and establishment of Brigade level cantonments as in other settled areas.
The Government seriously needs to pay attention for securing broad based political consensus for FATA Reforms. Instead of suggesting and deciding a roadmap for the 5-year transition and later on its completion period and the 10 – year reform package to bring FATA at par with other developing areas of the country. The Government should bring all the stake holders including the people of FATA to sit at the table and talk because further delay will undermine the army operations in the Tribal areas.
– The writer is Assistant Professor, IR Dept, University of Peshawar.
Dr Minhas Majeed Marwat