What do the people of the newly merged districts want ? | By Akbar Jan Marwat


What do the people of the newly merged districts want ?

WE all know that our Establishment wants the TTP fighters to lay down their arms and peacefully merge into the mainstream.

The TTP, on the other hand, wants the government to withdraw its troops from the former FATA districts, reverse the merger of the newly merged districts with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the implementation of the Sharia in the Malakand Division.

The irony is that, while we know what the above mentioned two parties want, but are not fully aware of what the most important stakeholders, the people of the merged districts desire.

According to a survey conducted by FATA research centre in 2016, 69% of the respondents in former FATA region demanded the full abolishment of the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) and the introduction of a new governance system.

It was further highlighted by the survey that 74% of the respondents endorsed the option of merging FATA with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

On the other hand, the idea of turning FATA into a separate province was supported by 26% of the respondents.

Only the other day, Pakistan’s Ambassador to Afghanistan, Mansoor Ahmed Khan, said that the Afghan Taliban government was facilitating Pakistan in the talks with groups like Tahreek-Taliban Pakistan.

He further added that the Taliban government of Kabul was thankfully facilitating these talks and that the talks were taking place within the framework of the Constitution of Pakistan and that Parliament was briefed about the process of negotiations.

As we can see from the statement of Pakistan’s envoy, the wishes and aspirations of the people of the merged districts have hardly been taken into consideration.

This is being done, with the knowledge that in case of success of the peace talks, which seems to be a remote possibility, the ex-TTP fighters would be allowed to live in those very newly merged districts.

A big majority of the inhabitants of the ex-FATA districts would not be happy and willing to accept the ex-TTP fighters to live amongst them.

The idea of profusely thanking the Taliban government of Afghanistan for helping Pakistan in the peace talks with the TTP would not go down well with many people in Pakistan.

People of Pakistan expected much more than just acting as mediators from the Afghan Government.

A project sponsored by the UN to work with the district administration was implemented in the newly merged districts.

The Project helped bridge the information gap between local communities and government departments for the improved working of the latter to provide better and specific services to the communities.

Before the merger, these services were not available at all. The project also helped increase social cohesion for community development.

The majority of young people living in the ex-FATA areas tend to strongly support the merger in principle, because they were not happy with the draconian system of FCR and the unlimited powers of the Political Agent.

These members of the youth were also not happy with the institution of the Jirga System, in which the community elders or tribal Maliks played the role of intermediary between the Political Agent and common people.

Many segments of the ex-FATA community were happy that the merger will provide them constitutional rights like any other citizen of Pakistan.

People were hopeful that they would now be able to appeal against the decisions of the Jirga in the high courts, thus enabling them to get fair trials and timely decisions.

Inhabitants were also happy to get rid of the draconian part of the FCR like collective and territorial responsibility.

People also hope to get more developmental work done in their areas, in peaceful situations and better living conditions.

Women folk also felt that their lot will improve considerably with the merger of their districts with the province of KP.

They felt that the repression that they faced in the old system would be ameliorated to a great extent, in the new system.

In spite of these hopeful aspirations, the residents of the ex-FATA region seem to be disappointed with the government on many fronts for not coming up to their expectations after the merger.

People complain about the delay in the administration of justice, the rise in crime rate after the merger and the level of corruption that has increased with the expansion of the government offices after the merger.

Government officials on the other hand complain of paucity of funds to run the new districts and the lack of proper planning done before the process of merger.

There also seems to be an acute lack of awareness and confidence in the lengthy government procedures.

Some people believe that the new system after the merger is not delivering promptly as the informal tribal system did before the merger.

The deterioration in the security situation after the increased pressure of TTP fighters in the former FATA districts, plus the across-the-border attacks by the TTP have greatly disturbed peace of the newly merged tribal districts.

Overall, however, as shown by the surveys of the FATA research centre, an overwhelming population of the ex-tribal areas are in favour of merger with the province of KP.

It is hoped that the teething problems caused by the change will soon be overcome. Understanding the aspirations of the residents of the newly merged tribal districts, which are completely at odds with the illegal demands of TTP, it cannot be stressed enough that these demands and aspirations of the newly merged districts must be kept in mind by the establishment while negotiating with the Pakistani Taliban.

Every effort must be made by the government to not only remove the genuine grievances of these people, but also assure a progressive future for them which is based upon their wishes and aspirations.

—The writer, based in Islamabad, is a former Health Minister of KP.


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