The cabinet’s decision to merge Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with Fata has been widely appreciated by all the stakeholders. The people of the tribal areas termed this step ‘a hallmark decision’
The decision to mainstream Fata was a truly historic move on the part of the federal government. The people of Fata have been deprived of their fundamental rights since decades.
The tribespeople are happy with the proposed reforms because they believe that they will finally become part of the state they had lived in but had never been recognised by. They are grateful that their sacrifices will be recognised by everyone. The people of Fata had defended the country and its sovereignty on many occasions. Many eminent poets from Kashmir also acknowledge the contributions of the people of the tribal belt.
Fata is a semi-autonomous region, bordering Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, and is under the control of the federal government. It includes seven tribal areas and six frontier regions. The total area of Fata is 27,220 square kilometres while its estimated population is 4,452,913. Its administrative centre is Peshawar. At least 12 seats are allocated for Fata in the National Assembly. The region is represented by eight senators in the upper house of parliament with no representation in the provincial assembly. The people of the area have been governed by a special set of laws known as the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR).
In 1901, the British government implemented the FCR to rule the people of Fata in their own way. The FCR is called the ‘black law’ because it gives enormous powers to the administration. Very few articles of the constitution deal with the administration of Fata and none of them extend fundamental rights to the tribespeople. Even the jurisdiction of the superior judiciary of the state could not be extended to this area – in fact Fata has been specifically barred from the rule of the courts under Article 247 of the constitution.
The final report of the committee on reforms in Fata has proposed merging the seven agencies of Fata with KP. It has also criticised the idea of holding a referendum in this regard. The report was prepared by a high level committee after eight months of deliberations headed by Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz. The Reforms Committee comprised Lt General (r) Abdul Qadir Baloch, Law Minister Zahid Hamid, Adviser on National Security Lt General (r) Nasir Khan Janjua, KP Governor Iqbal Zafar Jhagra and Safron Secretary Arbab Shehzad. The report was appreciated by almost all the political parties of the country.
The merger of Fata with KP has been long overdue. It will bring the isolated region to the mainstream. The people of Fata and KP have many similarities: they share the same religion, language and culture. A few people who favour the status quo and do not want Fata to prosper have opposed the merger.
Given the international scenario coupled with the aspirations and expectations of the inhabitants of the area, the merger of Fata with KP is a logical solution. This step would also answer certain questions regarding the status of the Durand Line and end the wave of confusion surrounding the topic.
In the present scenario, the people of Fata are suffering and it is the duty of all of us to put aside our differences and political affiliations and assist in bringing the people of Fata into the mainstream.
It is the duty of the government to implement the Fata reforms in letter and spirit immediately. The harsh treatment meted out to the people of Fata under the FCR have existed for a very long time. It is time to bring an end to it. The delay in implementing the proposed reforms is creating serious doubts among people which the government should try to dispel immediately.
The writer is a Peshawar-based lawyer of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.