A challenging transition

Fata’s merger with KP might face a lot of hardship in the face of uncooperative tribal elders and weak strategies

A challenging transition

The merger of the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (Fata) with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) has changed the geography of the province, making it more important strategically in the regional context. The merger adds 27200 sqkm to the current 101741 sqkm of KP and over five million persons to its 35,525,047 population, raising its total area to 128941 sqkm, and population to 40,526,723. This, undoubtedly, remains one of the biggest events of our national history, at least during the current 21st century.

For those having the experience of serving in the previous tribal areas in an administrative capacity, it will not be hard to appreciate the socio political pattern of the society and the peculiar way its people lead their life. Therefore, while implementing the post-merger reforms agenda, due care will have to be exercised by those entrusted with the task of getting the reforms sail smoothly.

Interviews with some senior bureaucrats and tribal/business leaders have revealed that a general fear exists among national leaders about the post-merger scenario.

Majority of the elders and Maliks of the area -- known to be the direct beneficiaries of the British-era’s exploitative system of governance -- along with some parliamentarians, did not support the merger bill in the parliament. Such dissensions are but natural, because in situations where needs of a group are reduced to a common denominator, individual preferences begin asserting themselves. In the given circumstances, completing the task is undoubtedly going to be a tough exercise, requiring administrative acumen, patience, tactfulness and a high degree of commitment with the cause.

Azmat Hanif Orakzai, a retired grade-22 DMG officer having served in both ex-Fata and settled districts of the country and presently posted as chief commissioner KP Information Commission, said the ultimate objective should be to take out the hapless people of the  former Fata from stagnation to development and from an exploitative system of administration to a modern system of governance, where citizens have an individual and collective right to provision of services by the state and public officials, in a transparent, responsive, participative and accountable manner. "This will help achieve the over-arching objective of building trust between the state and its citizens."

Orakzai said the task of merger is supposed to be completed by the Directorate of Transition and Reforms -- a separate body due to be set up by the provincial government. "The parliament has played its part by passing the relevant amendments. The time has now come to develop a methodology to implement it."

"Annexing a large chunk of territory, measuring 27200 square km and transforming a population of more than five million into a more civilised society is a gigantic and arduous task," Orakzai added.

However, with the clarity of vision, sincerity of purpose and a professional approach, the task can be completed within the stipulated period. The lead role in this regard will have to be played by the provincial government.

Reorganising the administrative structure in the seven new districts, as a result of the merger, and bringing these on par with other districts should be the priority of the government.

Certain measures need to be implemented, like re-designating the political agents (PAs) as deputy commissioners, allowing them to exercise administrative authority through the Fata Interim Governance Regulation 2018 and authorising the Fata Home Department and Civil Secretariat to oversee the implementation of the reforms.

"Time is always of essence in such matters," Orakzai said. "The composition of a separate cell for implementation may not necessarily be the same as recommended in the report. However, it should be a composite body comprising subject specialists of administration, police, judiciary, local government, finance and monitoring and evaluation, etc."

Another senior bureaucrat, Sajjid Khan, said the cell should be headed by a chief operating officer (CFO) who should either be a retired senior bureaucrat -- having experience of service in the provincial government as well as the erstwhile tribal areas -- or a senior army officer. The chief operating officer should be selected by the KP apex committee so that it has full support of both the civil and army authorities.

He further said the cell should work under the supervision of the chief secretary KP, and be fully assisted by the civil administration, both at the provincial and district level. A steering committee, comprising elected representatives and headed by either the chief minister or the governor, should periodically review the merger process.

The cell, they said, should also work on time-specific and result-oriented terms of reference (ToRs) such as:

•              Drawing up a plan for holding of local bodies elections in the new districts of KP under the KP Local Bodies Act 2013, with required modification. This would require updating the electoral rolls, finalising constituencies and compilation of rules/regulation, and establishment of district secretariats for the newly elected local bodies’ councilors in the seven new districts.

•              Increasing the police force in the new districts through fresh recruitments and conversion of levies/khasadar. Similarly, construction of offices of DPOs, police stations and police lines should start simultaneously. Other requirements, like training of the new police force at Police Training College Hangu, purchase of vehicles, equipment, etc should also be taken care of.

•              Facilitating the setting up of judiciary and bar associations in the new districts in consultation with the Peshawar High Court.

•         Establishing human right offices in the new districts, and establishment of its linkages with the Directorate of Human Rights Government of KP.

•         Promotion of sports activities through establishment of the districts sports offices, and merger of the previous Fata Olympic Association with the KP Olympic Association.

•         There are areas in the new districts which are still inaccessible due to their geographical location and absence of infrastructure. These include Shawal in South Waziristan, Maddakhel and Saidgi in North Waziristan, Tirah and Morga in Khyber and Baezai area of Mohmand. A methodology will have to be evolved whereby the concept of collective responsibility (as was available in FCR) is adopted for these areas, till such time these remote territories are fully brought under the writ of government through the construction of roads and allied infrastructure. For this purpose the Fata Interim Governance Regulation 2018 will have to be amended accordingly.

•         For the developmental activities of the hitherto neglected areas of the old Fata, the federal government has announced a special development package, spreading over a period of 10 years with a projected spending of Rs100 billion annually. Expectedly, the donor agencies will also contribute in the social-economic uplift of the area. To execute the developmental package, it will be in the fitness of things to set up a Special Development Unit (SDU) with its field offices in all the new districts.

The existing Fata Development Authority (FDA) which is currently working in the irrigation, mineral development, skill development and industry sectors should be merged in SDU.

A challenging transition