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May 23, 2020

About the merger


May 23, 2020

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa merged tribal districts are experiencing exclusions that are multidimensional in character.

The 25th Amendment of 2018 was passed with the aim of according full citizenship to the men and women of the region and bringing the region at par with the rest of Pakistan. But we are still seeing exclusionary policies being practised in the region. Two decades of war had not only wreaked havoc but had destroyed the very social fibre of society. Many expected that mainstream recognition in the 25th Amendment for the periphery areas was the way out. And that the state will move forward with this basic assumption and recognition that the area’s extreme deprivation needs to be addressed and previous exclusionary policies will end.

The challenges to the merger project were always there but unfortunately, there is no ownership of the project. We have been witnessing delays in unanimously approving the 26th Amendment Bill, seeking an increase in the representation for the merged district in the NA and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly.

No institution is willing to carry forward the agenda, and it has now turned into a game of thrones between the Fata secretariat, civil secretariat Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the finance ministry.

Since its merger with KP, the merged district has been, at least on paper, provided significant funds to develop the area, rehabilitate IDPs and strengthen the security situation in the area, and offer opportunities to the youth of the area.

The PSDP’s original allocation for the relief and rehabilitation of IDPs in 2019-2020 was Rs32.5 billion and for security enhancement it was Rs32.5 billion, while the merged areas’ 10-year development plan was Rs48 billion for 2019-20.

Frustratingly, for the merged district all this has been revised at the cost of the development budget, which includes health, rehabilitation and education for the people. The merged area’s 10-year development plan progress (based on funds released) appears to be stalling as less than 50 percent of the 2019-2020 funds have been released by early May 2020.

Unlike other PSDP projects, the merged Fata districts’ funds are being managed by the finance division and there is no detail available on the progress on the projects under these categories.

In the current scheme of things, a major chunk of Rs15.5 billion has been reallocated from the relief and compensation of the IDPs by the Planning Commission to security enhancement, while the PM’s Youth and Hunarmand programme has also been slashed by Rs5 billion, from its original Rs10 billion, and all reallocated to the security budget, which has burgeoned to Rs53 billion for 2019-20, from the originally allocated Rs28.5 billion.

It is also not apparent why such reallocation was necessary and where the additional funds are being spent, considering there has not been any major deterioration in the security of the area.

The cut in the compensation for the internally displaced has been unfortunate since the military operation has triggered a mass exodus, forcing thousands of families to live as internally displaced persons (IDPs) in other districts, with their homes and livelihood demolished.

Even from the significantly reduced funds for IDPs (Rs17 billion) redirected to security, only Rs5 billion has been released. The rest of the amount lapsed, essentially suggesting that the rehabilitation process is complete or winding down.

However, the situation on the ground is very different with tribes from North Waziristan like the Utmanzai protesting for two months straight in Miranshah and then Peshawar; there is still one symbolic protest going on by the Mehsud tribe from South Waziristan demanding compensation for the loss of land and property.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Special Police Officer (Regularization of Police) Bill 2019 approved the integration of the Levis and Khasaddar forces into regular police. But the dilemma is that there is no capacity building for the police force and the process also lacks the required funds. Due to lack of resources and funds, their reach to all the merged districts is limited. The recent surge in target killings are some instances where the police were unable to make significant breakthroughs.

Then this begs the question: what are the additionally granted funds for security improvement being spent on?

Under the 25th Amendment, the most important and significant development was the extension of the judiciary to the merged district. The district judiciary of the merged districts (NMDs) started functioning and apart from the Khyber district, the judicial officers of Bajaur started functioning in the Bajaur khar main town, those from Kurram at Parachinar; from South Waziristan in Tank, those of Orakzai to function in Hangu; officers of Mohmand to work in Shabqadar, Charssada; and of North Waziristan to work in Bannu.

As people whose lives and wellbeing are critically affected by state decision-making, justice and access to it becomes the foremost reason for their inclusion. The government has not kept in consideration impoverished people's access to courts like ease of travel and distance to the courts for the merged districts. It is imperative that to transform past structures, which led to violence and breakdown of the past system, the government should pay special attention to lay a ground based on justice, equality and human rights.

While internet access might not be considered a basic human right to many in Pakistan, it still enables many to have access to rights like the right to online education. During the ongoing pandemic, the closure of universities, online education and classes have become the only route to learning but many erstwhile Fata students are deprived of this since the denial of internet continues in the merged district.

The colonial practices of the past need to end if the government is determined to improve the lives of the people and end exclusionary policies towards the merged districts.

The writer is from Fata and has adegree in human rights from theUniversity of London.

Twitter: @mo2005