Monday July 22, 2024

Fata merger: the clock is ticking

By Saleem Safi
May 13, 2018

Keeping Fata isolated in the shackles of the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) and preventing or delaying its mainstreaming is one of our strategic blunders. The current law and order situation in Fata is the result of our myopic policies and the rotten administrative structure in the region. The region has become a living hell for its inhabitants, and poses serious challenges to the security of the country. The merger of Fata and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is a very serious issue which needs to be addressed on urgent basis.

Luckily, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, during a meeting of the Fata reforms committee – attended also attended by the army chief and DG ISI – announced the abolishment of the Fata Development Fund and promised local bodies elections in Fata in October as well as legislation for the mainstreaming of the region. This is indeed a hopeful development but, like the past, the prime minister created doubts and ambiguity regarding elections in Fata for the provincial assembly of KP. In addition, Pervaiz Khattak announced that Fata would be merged with KP in 2019.

Giving representation to the people of Fata in the KP Assembly is the first step towards the merger process. Otherwise, the dream of merger and mainstreaming will remain an illusion. We want the merger to be done through those individuals and institutions – governor of KP, the bureaucracy and the Ministry of SAFRON – that are the main hurdles in Fata mainstreaming and who would never whole-heartedly support this just cause.

In the current setup, the governor is the chief executive of Fata, sitting at the top of the administrative and financial pyramid of the system. He runs the empire through political agents in the field and other officers in the Fata Secretariat. The region has become a black hole of corruption, beyond the reach of the auditor general and the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). I bet that if NAB is given a free hand to operate in Fata, the corruption exposed will break all previous records.

The ‘FATA Development Fund’ which the prime minister has abolished may have sounded like a catchy phrase to the rest of Pakistan. However, they would be shocked to see its reality. It gives discretionary power to the political agent to impose taxes on people just to meet administration expenditures. The political agent solely decides the rate of the tax and its collection mechanism. All items of daily use like flour, vegetables, cement etc – which enter Fata from KP or Afghanistan – are taxable; and these taxes are collected on the whim of the political agent. A huge amount of fund is being generated on a daily basis in the form of cash with no formal record or receipts. There is no audit of this fund and no one dare ask the political agents on what grounds the taxes are being collected and how the fund is being utilised.

This is why the post of the political agent has become such a lucrative posting, reportedly sold for Rs300 million to Rs500 million. The governor, being on top of this black financial empire, has matchless financial opportunities and benefits. It is important to note here that earnings though smuggling come as an additional bonus.

Now the big question is: in the presence of such financial opportunities, will the governor truly accept the merger of Fata and KP? If the governor accepts it, will the bureaucracy in the Fata Secretariat and in the field follow suit? Similarly, will the Ministry of SAFRON – through which the Fata fund is being transferred – surrender its vital financial role and accept the role of just coordination and post office in matters of Fata? I do not think so.

However, it is my strong conviction that if Fata merge with KP and the people get representation in the provincial assembly, they would be in better position to tame the bureaucracy as well as claim their due rights from the federal and provincial governments.

Constitutionally and administratively, there are no hurdles in the mainstreaming and merger process of Fata. But, unfortunately, the forces of the status quo are adamant to create hurdles and complicate the process. For instance, they create the impression –and also make the PML-N leadership think – that the new delimitation in Fata for the provincial assembly would take time due to which elections could be delayed. This is a baseless justification.

It is crystal clear that elections in Fata will be conducted for the National Assembly by the Election Commission, with support of law-enforcement agencies for which they have already made full preparations. These arrangements can also be used in the provincial assembly elections. A person who casts a vote for a National Assembly seat could cast another vote for the provincial assembly.

In addition, the delimitation issue for the National Assembly has not yet been finalised and complaints are still coming from different parts of the country. As per my information, the ECP could complete the delimitation process for the provincial assembly in Fata in just one week. Elsewhere in Karachi, Punjab and Balochistan, the process of delimitation is very controversial. However, it would not be problematic in Fata since it is already a new delimitation for the provincial assembly.

The urgency of provincial assembly elections in Fata is highlighted by the urgent need to link the Fata youth with the national political parties. Such political mainstreaming is only possible by engaging them in the coming election for the provincial assembly. For instance, South Waziristan would get 8 to 10 seats in the provincial assembly. That would enable the area’s aspiring youth to come out and contest elections from the platforms of various political parties.

However, as long as the merger process is delayed, it would create space that would be filled by other organisations like the PTM. Manzoor Pashteen was struggling for Fata’s merger with KP and his organisation, the Mehsud Tahaffuz Movement was also very active on this front. His ally and co-worker, Saeed Alam Mehsud, was even more active than me in promoting the cause of merging Fata and KP. Similarly, the Oalasi Tehreek – which is now part of the PTM – also made a historic struggle for Fata’s merger. However, when their voices were continuously ignored, they united in the shape of the PTM.

I am worried that if the process of Fata merger is further delayed and if the people are further denied their constitutional and political rights, it will only lead to political extremism.

Rationality demands that the process of Fata’s merger should not be delayed any more. There is a dire need of legislation on an urgent basis to merge the region with KP and give the people representation in the provincial assembly before the coming election.

I do not think that the requisite legislations will face any hurdles, since suggestions have been made by the current government which has allies like Maulana Fazalur Rehman and Mehmood Khan Achakzai. The PPP, PTI, ANP and JI have already been demanding the merger before the coming election. We do not have much time and cannot afford to miss this golden opportunity. It is a historical moment through which we can fix our past blunders. Without wasting any time, all the stakeholders must come forward to table the bill of FATA merger in KP and provision of representation to the people of FATA in the provincial assembly. Time is short, the clock is ticking and great opportunity is at stake.

The writer works for Geo TV.

Email: saleem.safi@janggroup.