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Opinion

September 16, 2015

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From Fata to Pata?

The writer is a former ambassador.
Parliamentarians from the tribal areas have moved a bill in the National Assembly for merger of Fata into the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Whether they will be able to muster enough support for the bill to be passed when presented in the House and whether the political parties responsible for incorporating Article 247(7) in the constitution vote in favour of bringing Fata back into the jurisdiction of parliament is yet to be seen. Nonetheless the very fact that it will be debated in parliament is a step in the right direction.
These parliamentarians have probably not done their homework for securing the required two-thirds majority to amend the constitution and thereby merge Fata into KP. It appears they are only banking on the sympathy wave for mainstreaming Fata; they have neither held meetings with the top political leadership to garner support of their parties in parliament nor do they seem to have convinced ‘the powers that be’ to let the bill sail smoothly.
They expect the political parties will support this move simply because earlier they had agreed on the 11 points for reforms in Fata. I would like to reiterate something I had said some time back when invited to speak at one of their meetings. My suggestion to them was to not waste time in seeking support afresh by travelling from place to place but to focus on their members in parliament, where they all had the required majority, to amend the constitution. However, instead of doing that they are playing politics by only paying lip service to the cause of Fata. If they really want to help the people of Fata they can change its constitutional status in no time. Either they do not want to or are not allowed to change its status by those calling the shots in that area.
Another important factor that contributes to the unresolved problems of Fata is the lack of unity among the members of parliament from that area. They have neither displayed a united

resolve to extinguish the flames of militancy that have engulfed Fata nor made efforts to stop further destruction of houses, villages and market places in Fata. They have also not been unified in their struggle for the quick return and rehabilitation of IDPs from their area.
Soon after announcing unanimity on the proposed change in the status of Fata through a press conference three of their members were ‘kidnapped’ and taken to a palatial house in the capital of that province. According to well-informed sources they had fallen prey to the tactic of buying members to derail the process. The rest, however, put their unity to test the very next day in a meeting. How many of them will remain together to support the bill will be seen in the days to come.
One agrees with the need for reforms in Fata but this process should not be done in haste at the risk of a disaster, which is likely if people’s participation is not ensured. Not too far back the case for Scotland’s independence was decided not by the few members in their parliament but by the general public through a referendum. Similarly Fata’s case should be referred to the public rather than leaving it to the few in parliament.
One idea that is floated from time to time is that if Swat and Malakand could become Pata in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa why not turn Fata into Pata as well? Let us not confuse the two while dealing with a very sensitive subject. The two have vast differences in almost every field including history, culture and tribal customs and traditions. The case of Fata thus cannot be compared with that of Swat and Malakand, which were merged into the province without doing any homework which is why what happened later cannot be corrected even to this day. So let us not repeat that in Fata. The tribal areas have already suffered a lot from the ill-conceived policies of those ruling over them. Fata cannot afford to suffer more in the name of reforms on the pattern of Swat and Malakand.
One is not against any change for Fata but change should be for the better in the quality and life of its people not otherwise. Those of us who have lived abroad or in the country elsewhere can accept any change, adapt accordingly and live under it happily. But for those who have no alternative and live there permanently any new system, different to the one they have been used to for centuries, will need to be looked into thoroughly before it is implemented. Otherwise it could lead to difficulties and resentment.
Whether they agree to the overnight replacement of the tribal system by the law of the land and whether it will be beneficial for them and the state is what matters and needs to be deliberated upon while deciding the future course of action for the tribal areas. The people there have lived under that system for ages and are not used to the ‘thana culture’. Replacement of that system would require them to report matters to the police and resolve disputes through the tedious and time-consuming judicial system instead of the expeditious tribal jirga; that would be asking too much of them and too fast. It would certainly invoke widespread reaction which is neither good for them nor for the state at this particular time.
Nobody denies the importance of mainstreaming Fata but it should be done gradually, in harmony and with the will of the people living there and not otherwise. The difference in opinion about mainstreaming our tribal areas lies in the way one goes about the process and nothing else. The devil, as they say, is in the implementation and not in the actual mainstreaming of idea itself.
Experiments conducted on Fata for the last 68 years by people from ‘outside’ have ruined the area. What Fata is today is only because of the wrong policies of outsiders ruling the area and not the people there. They (outsiders) do not care what happens to Fata or its inhabitants as long as their wishes are carried out because there is no one to question them or seek an explanation for their actions. This must stop; the people of the tribal areas should decide for themselves what is good for them and what is not instead of others doing that for them.
Now that the fate of the people of Fata is to be decided it is even more important that its people are involved in the process. They must be allowed to exercise their due right and decide, through a referendum, one of the three options that have so often been debated in the media – Fata to be made a separate province; Fata merged into KP; Fata remaining as it is but with a separate governor/administrator, with a ‘Fata Council’ to decide matters for themselves.
In order to ensure that the referendum is conducted fairly and not influenced in any manner, someone with impeccable character and credentials from Fata should be appointed as governor/administrator for the interim period since ‘outsiders’ have lost their credibility and will not be trusted in such an important matter. A referendum under their supervision will not be acceptable under any circumstances to the locals.
The outsiders should refrain from playing with the destiny of the people of Fata if the area is to remain an integral part of this country. The people of Fata will be within their constitutional right to reject a system imposed on them by others.

Email: [email protected]

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