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Opinion

February 2, 2017

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The merger of Fata

For the first time in the history of our country, an evolving discourse regarding the merger of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa  is taking place. This will end Fata’s seven-decades long separate constituent position and start a new debate on its integration with the rest of Pakistan.

The initiative became possible when the prime minister formed a committee on the Fata Reforms in November 2015 which submitted its report in August 2016. The process included several subsequent deliberations as well. The federal cabinet in the coming weeks is going to change the course of history by approving the proposed merger of Fata with KP, outlining a roadmap with respective five-year reforms and 10-year development packages. It will also outline the areas where some constitutional provisions need amendments.

Since the birth of this country almost 70 years ago, Fata, instead of serving as the strategic depth that was envisaged regionally, generated a plethora of controversies. It is now known for being a stronghold of the Taliban.

Over the last many decades, Fata has been in isolation – a no-man’s land for the rest of country and its people. More than the merger, it broadly needs integration on all – political, administrative, financial and cultural – accounts. This can harmonise and streamline Fata not only with KP but also the rest of the country. Before being associated with today’s radical Islam, this region was also the cradle for two of the earliest civilisations on earth – Hinduism and Buddhism – with strong links with Sikhism and British colonialism. For all Muslim rulers and invaders, it was a gateway to enter South Asia. This strategic importance attracted great powers of all ages – the British, the Russians and the Americans – from the last three centuries.

The British forces tried hard but were unable to conquer this territory. The Russians wanted to roam its undefeatable mountains that were torpedoed by the Americans. The US, after failing on the ground, resorted to using drone attacks. The move, however, backfired as the entire region served as the surrogate in a war against terror. And so Fata, and by extension Pakistan, became a regional forerunner in a war that was fought by the US. By merging Fata within the provincial boundaries and bringing it within the ambit of normal law and order, Pakistan can better safeguard its western border.

Fata’s land is spread over an area of 27,200 sq kilometres. According to the 1998 Census, it consists of a population of 4.8 million. Newer and more recent figures indicate that the population has increased to 15 million. Geographically, locked between KP and Afghanistan, its transitional merger with KP can be the best possible solution.

However, this merger could not take place in the past 70 years or so. In 1948, Quaid-e-Azam himself agreed to grant Fata a special status. It was added as a constituent part of the country but not as a part of the then NWFP. Throughout the last four decades, there have been several efforts towards reforming Fata rather than integrating it with the country. On introducing local governments with the rest of county, some attempts also failed on structural and security grounds and Fata kept working under the federal government or through its representative governor, and the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (Safron).

However, the consultative process by the PM’s Committee on Fata Reforms was rather selective. None of its members belong to Fata, all key deliberations took place outside the region and it focuses more on the option of merging the region with KP – keeping in mind the political mileage that the PML-N and its allies could gain in the next general elections.

The reform committee, headed by Sartaj Aziz comes with a five-year transition period for introducing a reform package. It also envisages a 10-year comprehensive development plan through Fata Development Authority. Both plans outline broader themes on reforms and development and leave its operationalisation untouched.

Administratively, how all the agencies of Fata would work as districts of KP and function responsively and responsibly is yet to be seen. On the electoral front, all existing MNAs and senators would switch to becoming parliamentarians from KP, though it is unclear on what criteria. More importantly, the financial allocations within merged KP and its prioritisation would also remain the bone of contention that may lead to confrontations within and outside the province.

If this merger is not undertaken calculatedly, it can create another form of disconnect – this time from Peshawar instead of from Islamabad. This merger and integration is not just a task for the government, but a national imperative. This is a national task that has always remained undone. We need to ensure it is inclusive so that harmony can prevail for generations to come.

 

The writer is an Islamabad-based
anthropologist and analyst.

Email: [email protected]

 

 

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