Dr Muhammad Khan
It was strongly believed that the outgoing PML (N) government would redress the rievances of FATA people by mainstreaming them in the light of recommendations made by FATA Reform Committee. This reform and mainstreaming of FATA was part of election manifesto of PML (N) in 2013, which gave this party a majority to form the Government in the Centre. Unfortunately, this process could be implemented owing to hurdle created towards mainstreaming by two coalition partners of PML (N); Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam Fazal ur Rehman and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party of Mahmood Khan Achakzai.
The question arises, if PML (N) was serious to bring reforms in the FATA, why it could not persuade its coalition partners to mainstream the region and if they were still reluctant, why it could not take a decision of its own, despite having a majority in the National Assembly. Then, all other mainstream political parties; PPP, PTI and ANP were in the favour of these reforms. Most of the FATA MNAs were also part of PML(N) and wanted the mainstreaming of region.
It is to be pointed out that, besides these elected representatives, the FATA masses and intelligentsia is favouring to bring FATA at par with rest of Pakistan in all affairs of state, by doing away the discriminatory Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR). It is worth mentioning that, FCR is a curse, imposed on these brave people of FATA by British Colonialism. Unfortunately, the successive governments in Pakistan could not undo this criminal procedure, thus, keeping the brave sons of soil in the clutches of slavery of political agents and vested interests of few politicians.
Indeed, the merger of FATA with Khyber Pukhtunkhwa (KP) or else giving it a separate status of province has been under considerations for last few years. In 2015, Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif constituted a high level committee under the Advisor on Foreign Affairs; Mr 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 As per the reforms, proposed, the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) will be repealed and in lieu of this there would be a system of Jirga and Rewaj and this would be under Tribal Areas Rewaj Act, which will be implemented in phases.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 were that, 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. This Reform Package came under very severe critic in Parliament and even by the Human rights commission. The Coalition partner of the PML (N) Government, Moulana Fazulur Rehaman, and Mahmood Khan Achakzai strongly 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 of Pakistan and Peshawar High Court should extend their jurisdiction up to FATA, which runs contradictory to Rewaj Act, proposed in the same reforms package.
Nevertheless, the federal Government in consultation with all major political parties and stakeholders was inclined to its merger with KP. It was also decided that, initially, this merger could be for 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. As per the 2016, statement of retired Lt Gen Abdul Qadir, a member of FATA reforms committee “We have removed all the bottlenecks which came in the way of implementation of merger of Fata with KP.” However, since 2016, there have been many debates on the FATA reforms package, but unfortunately no concrete measure could be taken as yet on this most essential national cause, thus frustrating the FATA masses for taking extreme step.
On May 7, 2018 another attempt was made to coax the leadership of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami for the merger of FATA into KP or otherwise. Unfortunately, this meeting ended without any positive outcome, since both collation partners refused to accept the reforms package. It is worth mentioning that, over 5 million people of the FATA have a very low literacy rate with minimum basic facilities. There people were ignored by successive governments of Pakistan, thus remained under developed and educationally backward. Implementation of reform package, the mainstreaming could have enabled them availability of all these facilities as per constitution at par with rest of the Pakistan.
Pakistan Army and all other security forces have mostly cleared the area of terrorists; however, the civil administration has not been able to take over the area for the sustainable development and continuity of peace and stability. Had there been mainstreaming and reforms package implemented, the process of socio-economic development could have taken roots, the alleviation of the poverty and sense of alienation among the people could have gradually eroded. Obstructing the mainstreaming of FATA by political forces, the democratic parties is a big question mark on the form of democracy Pakistani political elites are pursuing in the country. Is this the democracy; for the people, of the people and by the people?
— The writer, Professor of Politics and International Relations, is based in Islamabad.