The election fervour in the tribal areas, now merged into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) without proper arrangements to replace the old colonial system, was worth watching.
Their enthusiasm for their candidates was matchless, far greater compared to that in the adjoining settled districts. New faces came to light, defeating those who thought they were destined to win. An interesting development was the crushing defeat of former parliamentarians, the proponents of Fata’s merger with KP. Not a single seat was won by them, which is indicative of the public’s anger on the role they played in the process.
This time, the return of parliamentarians from Fata is not limited to independents or one odd political party. There is not a single parliamentarian who is not affiliated with one party or the other. They are a mixed bag, belonging to the PTI, PPP, JUI-F and PTM (the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement – not registered but known all over the country). Among these parties, the PTI got the lion’s share.
By giving the PTI reasonable parliamentary representation, the people have expressed their desire for peace and development. They want to live in peace and have their areas developed, as has been done elsewhere in the country. But whether the new government will do this or carry forward policies of the previous government is yet to be seen.
It may be recalled that the Fata Reforms Committee, also known as the Sartaj Aziz committee, had recommended developing the tribal areas first and then raising the question of merger or deciding their provincial status. But that was not done, and the previous government towards the fag end of its term passed a bill merging Fata with KP – without bothering to do its homework regarding replacing the system that existed. In other words, it went against the recommendation of its own committee.
Now the people of the tribal areas are in a fix and don’t know what is going to happen to them. Thus, it is extremely important to address this issue on a priority basis. The best course would be to engage experts who belong to Fata and can, within one month, recommend a better system of governance to replace the Fata Interim Governance Regulation, 2018 – a mixture of inhuman laws of the Frontier Crimes Regulation and Rewaj Act, through which Fata will be governed for the time being. This should immediately be repealed and replaced by a better system.
By doing so, the government will not only earn a good name, but also win the confidence of the people as they will be made shareholders in the policymaking and governance of the areas. Dealing with Fata’s issues casually or appointing outsiders on high-level positions for this – as done by previous governments – will be catastrophic. This impression needs to be changed and peoples’ concerns ought to be addressed on an urgent basis if the government is really keen on bringing some positive changes.
Another equally important matter to take note of is that Fata has been merged without safeguarding the interests of its people. As we all know, the tribal areas lag behind in development and other statistics, it is but natural that the people of such areas will have reservations over joining a system with which they are not familiar, and where no clear rules are put in place to define distribution of assets and resources as well as a share in services between them and the people of KP.
To ensure smooth transition in initial years, it would be in the interest of both the people of Fata and KP to devise a mechanism for proper distribution of assets, as was done after the reunification of the East and West Germany.
Since the area is to be developed, to bring it at par with the rest of the settled districts, great care needs to be exercised while assigning high-level positions. They should be given to the locals so as to enable them to develop the areas. An additional advantage of such an arrangement will be that the people of the land will be in a better position than anyone else to know the best location for each project, and also the nature of developmental activities to be carried out in different parts of the area.
To ensure that no injustice is done to the people, it will be in the fitness of things that in the initial 10 years important government and civil service positions were shared by Fata and KP instead of being limited to one area. If the chief minister is from one area, the governor should be from the other and vice versa. This arrangement should discontinue once Fata is developed and brought at par with the rest of the country.
Funds earmarked for the development of Fata must be spent in Fata and nowhere else. Such funds should not lapse, like the annual budget, but be made available for spending on required developmental projects till they are completed.
Fata has suffered the most. According to reliable survey reports, 75 percent of its people are living below the poverty line. This gloomy situation can be addressed through quick economic developmental schemes, installation of industrial networks and exploration of trade avenues through international routes passing through the area.
Until the region is developed and its people are provided with gainful employment, peace will not return to Fata. In short, the development of Fata through its own people is the key to success.
The writer is a former ambassador.