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April 19, 2016

Fata: merger or provincial status?


April 19, 2016

The writer is a former ambassador.

Whether to make Fata a province or merge it with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – these are the two options being debated at various forums in the tribal areas and elsewhere in the country.

While the people of Fata themselves are divided on the issue, the government also appears to be confused, not knowing what to do with the matter. Therefore it has constituted a five-member commission to visit all the seven tribal agencies, hold meetings with all the stakeholders and then make appropriate recommendations for the future status of Fata, which the commission considers to be in the best interests of the people there.

Fata, some argue, is just a narrow strip of land on the border with Afghanistan, having no direct road to connect it with major towns from Bajaur to South Waziristan. The counter-argument is that although Fata is considered a separate entity and not a part of KP, it is still administered from the province’s capital city of Peshawar. Why was this objection not raised during the last 68 years? And, why is it being raised now? Is Fata destined to be ruled by outsiders and not the children of its own soil?

As far as connectivity through a direct road is concerned, whose responsibility was it to build such a road in the almost seven decades that have passed since independence? If roads and motorways could be constructed all over the country, why was Fata left unattended? Who was responsible for that, the rulers or the ruled? Should one still blame the downtrodden people of Fata, who had no say in the administration of that area or with those who were governing them and still continue to do so? What prevents the current PML-N government, which is crazy about building motorways, signal-free bypasses, metro trains etc, all over the country, from doing so now?

Fata was neglected on purpose; otherwise, linking it from one end to the other through a direct road would have been no problem whatsoever. That can easily be done even now. The army, after moving into Fata, wanted to do that but for reasons better known to the government, that idea was abandoned. Issues such as this have bred the feeling among its residents that the ones ruling over Fata are not sincere about developing the area. If they really cared, they could have easily brought Fata at par with the rest of the country many years ago. But their only interest in Fata is in using it as a pretext to mint money, and that too without any fear of accountability.

Another argument against making Fata a province is that it lacks the sufficient infrastructure to accommodate the machinery of a new provincial government. Trivial matters are being blown out of proportion to turn people against the idea of Fata as a viable separate province. It stands to reason that if it can be administered, under the existing arrangements, from Peshawar and by outsiders, it can be administered by a provincial set-up with the rest of the machinery remaining the same for the time being.

There are many examples all over the world of facilities of the same city being shared by two provinces. Nearer to home is the example of Delhi, where the same capital is shared by two provinces. One fails to understand what stops us from doing the same till such time that alternative arrangements are made in Fata to accommodate the new government.

There is no doubt that Fata is the responsibility of the federal government, but the provincial government of KP cannot wash its hands completely of Fata, as all the line agencies working in Fata belong to KP. All officials working in FATA are posted and transferred by the provincial government and not by the governor, in his capacity as a representative of the federal government. Officials in the six frontier regions of Fata are under the direct control and supervision of the KP provincial government. Needless to say that all governors and other senior officials who ruled Fata, barring a few, have invariably belonged to KP.

The infrastructure that we see today, with the exception of a few additions after the induction of the military, was developed by outsiders long before Partition. We only contributed to its destruction over time. Sadly, I must state that all of these high and mighty appointees meted out a step-motherly treatment to Fata and never contributed towards its development.

In this context, it is worth mentioning the plight of certain southern districts of KP. It is indeed a sorry state of affairs there and the area lags far behind in development compared to other districts in the South. Tank, D I Khan and Bannu are cases in point. Had the state of affairs of those districts been somewhat closer to that of Peshawar, Mardan and Charsadda, it would have convinced the people of Fata to not seek provincial status but to merge with KP. It is likely that Fata will suffer similarly if it opts for a merger with KP.

Therefore, if the merger comes about, it should be accepted on the condition that a grace period of 10 years be given for the development of Fata and that substantial funds be earmarked for that purpose. During this 10-year period, the governor of the province should be from Fata, in order to ensure that the money is properly spent and the development projects are completed on time.

Last but not least, it is of the utmost importance that there should be a willingness on the part of the people of KP to accept the merger of Fata. Let us not forget that the people of Hazara want to get the status of a separate province for themselves and they will have their reservations on this score.

The newly appointed KP governor has announced that he will soon initiate the process of mainstreaming Fata, in consultation with the people there. In the process of settling down, he will receive briefings from officials to apprise him with the situation there. It would be unwise of him to rely on their input alone. He should certainly be briefed by the officials but at the same time, he should not ignore the views of the common people of Fata.

An accurate reflection of the sentiments of the people is equally important if he is to make any headway in mainstreaming. Disregarding the views of the common tribesmen and acting only upon the advice of the officials will take him nowhere. If he does that, he will be doomed to join the ignominious list of former governors, who are only remembered by the people of the area in impolite terms.

As Governor Jhagra carries plenty of clout with the current government, the people of Fata have lots of hopes and expectations from him. One can only hope that he will live up to their expectations and not disappoint them by just doing the bidding of the unseen forces.

Email: [email protected]


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