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January 1, 2016

Let’s save Fata


January 1, 2016

Mainstreaming Fata is not a joke; it should not be left just to the few parliamentarians from that area or the five-member committee constituted by the government for that purpose. It must be carried out with the participation of the people of that area, and with utmost diligence, due care and sincerity.

Let me state at the outset that mainstreaming Fata is not only a requirement of the time but is demanded by everyone from that area. It is inevitable and has to take place sooner or later. However, the catch lies in the way it is done and to understand that one must be fully acquainted with the implications of the proposals so widely circulated through the media, without which it will not be possible to do this in a fair and judicious manner.

Everyone is fully cognisant of the fact that the government has the authority to implement whatever decision it takes. But doing so without the participation of the people of Fata will not serve the purpose. They must be taken into confidence as they are the ones who would be directly affected by the decision. They must have the right to decide which option they want to follow.

The decision whether they want to be merged into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or have the status of a separate province for Fata should be taken by them alone, and not imposed by outsiders who are neither direct stakeholders in the matter nor familiar with the pros and cons of either decision.

What the residents of Fata want is their genuine right as citizens of Pakistan. Their demand is neither unlawful nor unconstitutional. They simply want to have a say in a matter that concerns them directly and will not be deceived through catchy words like ‘in consultation with them’ without being actually consulted. It would not be out of place to mention that a committee member is on record as having said that if the boundaries of KP are altered by the merger of Fata into it then other changes would also follow suit. I will refrain from dilating on what he really meant by that but only say that he made his intentions clear, which compromises his position as a neutral member of the committee.

As reported in the press, the five-member committee will embark upon a tour of the seven tribal agencies. Some of them would be visiting Fata for the first time, to hold jirgas through political agents to ascertain the position of Fata residents with regard to the future constitutional status of that area.

The committee members are either unaware of it or are following in the footsteps of an exercise conducted in 1948 where a similar jirga (read maliks and other allowance holders – not common tribesman) was sent by political agents to Peshawar to meet with the Quaid and demand the continuation of the colonial legacy of ruling Fata through the Frontier Crimes Regulation. That group of people was never a representative body of the tribal people but was portrayed to be so by the officials concerned (who had vested interests in the matter).

Any repeat of the same charade will not do no matter how many times the committee visits Fata. If anyone believes that the outcome of such “consultations” will be quietly accepted by the people he is living in a fool’s paradise. Those days of 1948 are long past. Times have changed and in this day and age of democracy the reaction will be like stirring a hornets’ nest. Now the people of FATA want a change and a change for the better; it cannot and will remain static and backward forever. Those who pine to keep it that way, to be lorded over in a colonial way must take heed.

An important factor to be borne in mind is the holding of the consultation/referendum in a free and fair manner but the word ‘referendum’ has so thoroughly been misused by dictators in the past that the very mention of it makes people suspicious of the process before it commences. Therefore, it is vital that this time it is conducted in a way that is completely above board and transparent. And for consultation/referendum to remain above board it must be held under the overall supervision of a neutral person, preferably from Fata.

Let us not repeat the mistakes of the past. Let us not forget that some of the factors that contributed to the rise and spread of militancy were ill-conceived policies that kept the people there backward, poor and illiterate. This was further compounded by delay in timely action. Had the government paid attention earlier to development and encouraged other national institutions to initiate projects for the uplift of Fata, things would not have deteriorated as much as we have now seen.

Neglecting the area so long had disastrous consequences. It not only tarnished the image of the government in the eyes of the people but also contributed towards weakening the relationship between the people of Fata and those in other parts of the country. Needless to mention, it deprived the people there of the opportunities to earn their livelihood with honour and dignity. It also denied their youth proper education or gainful employment, and increased the level of poverty beyond imagination.

Fata is at a crossroads, and everything depends on what policy the government follows for the ‘mainstreaming’ of that area. The involvement of the people will be a step in the right direction. Imposing a unilateral decision, without their involvement, will unnecessarily complicate matters with serious negative repercussions. The amount of suffering that the people of Fata have endured for so long has left a deep mark in the minds of the tribesmen. They just do not have the patience or the capacity to undergo more of the same.

So far these people of the tribal areas have borne everything with patience in a stoic manner but now one can discern that they have reached the limits of tolerance. Therefore, it would be prudent not to push them to the wall. Let us not give the enemy waiting in the wings a chance to churn the quiet rumblings in their chests into a violent outburst.

The people of Fata have proved their loyalties to the country in these difficult conditions beyond the slightest element of doubt. It would be in the interest of that area and the country if the people of Fata are fully involved in the process of decision-making and impartially allowed to choose one of the two options they are debating – to merge with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or have the status of a province for Fata. If this opportunity is missed by playing ‘clever’ through shady means or on some pretext or the other we will never gain their unstinted support again.

The writer is a former ambassador. Email: [email protected]

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