My friends still remember how, when I was finishing with my high school, I was going through a very traumatic time. My father was incarcerated in Haripur jail under sections of the Frontier Crimes Regulation that governs Fata.
A few days after his arrest, my father’s only brother died. Despite this painful experience, my father would go on to spend five years fighting alongside security forces against militants and would be twice elected as MNA.
The reason behind writing this painful story is that, despite this, I consider myself to be from one of the more privileged families from Fata in terms of access to education, employment and healthcare. If we had to go through all of that, imagine the lives of the average person under the FCR, which can at times create tragic and ridiculous situations. Like how drivers in Bajaur Agency were recently being penalised for not having a driver’s license or car registration papers; the fact is that neither a driver’s licence nor car registration can be made in Fata.
In economic terms, things are worse. Fata does not have direct access to the national grid so the few minutes of electricity that we get comes from the provincial distribution network. There is no gas in an area equivalent of eight districts. Fata does not have a single industrial estate so the local products in markets here are from the Peshawar, Gadoon or Hattar industrial estates.
Amidst all this, the abolishment of the FCR has been agreed to by every stakeholder – civil or military, government or opposition, insiders or outsiders, privileged or deprived tribals. The exception to this is the bureaucratic setup of Fata. The reason is simple: they do not want to let go of the goose that lays the golden egg.
The current government, despite all this support, has opted to politicise and defer the recent proposal to merge Fata with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and abolish the FCR.
This decision has been made at the behest of its two allies, Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Mehmud Khan Achakzai who, ironically, are not even from Fata. The Maulana seems to think that the local populace should be consulted again and again till they give the answer he wants or sufficient reward is offered to him for losing votes. Achakzai wants the government to take Afghanistan into confidence first, at the expense of the wishes of the locals.
All these counter-arguments forget to tell the rest of Pakistan one thing. Fata has already de facto merged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The administrative setup for Fata is already from KP. With the exception of a few Pakistan Administrative Services officers, the rest are from the Provincial Management Services of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (everyone, from the patwaris up to the assistant political agents and the staff from line departments).
The chief executive of Fata is the governor of KP, who cannot be from Fata after the 18th Amendment. Secondary and higher secondary schools as well as degree and post-graduate colleges are all affiliated with the boards and universities of KP. Even the newly established Fata University, the first ever, is nearer to the adjoining KP districts than the agencies of Fata.
The benefits of merging are countless, from freeing up military and paramilitary forces already heavily overstretched in Fata to regulating transit trade with Afghanistan and generating crucial revenue for the state. We will have millions of people finally getting a chance at living a normal 21st century life with access to justice and basic rights.
For now the battle lines are drawn. We have the political allies of the federal government, the retired and current bureaucrats of Fata as well as the local Maliks versus the demand of Fata parliamentarians, students, youth, lawyers, traders and families of those who fought along the security forces to get back control from the militants.
With the recent wave of terror, the whole issue has gone to the back burner. But unless Fata is mainstreamed by opting for the sanest option – a merger with KP – the tribal areas will keeping haunting the rest of the country through news like that of the Lahore blast facilitator being from Bajaur. If you have to beat terrorism and are aiming for sustainable peace, this is the only way – and unfortunately the only chance.