PESHAWAR: Former senior military officers, leading politicians and serving bureaucrats on Saturday favoured the Federally Administered Tribal Areas’ merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Though titled ‘Peace and Development in KP and Fata’, the one-day seminar organised by the National Defence University turned out to be an event, where most speakers focused their attention on the Fata-KP merger and supported the proposal.
The only expert, who differed with others, was retired lieutenant general Mohammad Tariq Khan, who suggested referendum to ascertain the opinion of tribal people regarding their region’s proposed merger with the adjoining province.
“We should start streamlining of Fata by holding a referendum in the area,” he said.
Speakers say tribal region will see massive uplift if merged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
According to him, there is a need to learn from the Malakand episode before making any decision about the future of the tribal areas.
In response to a quarry posed by a participant, he remarked: “Have we learnt lessons from crises in Malakand? Who did it and do we have a list of problems that were experienced in Malakand?”
Governor Iqbal Zafar Jhagra and Chief Minister Pervez Khattak also addressed the seminar.
Retired lieutenant general Tariq, who had commanded paramilitary troops in operations against Taliban militants in KP and Fata, particularly South Waziristan and Bajaur, said the common perception about Fata before 9/11 was that everything was going in the right direction but that was incorrect.
He said security forces had fought insurgents in 48,000 square kilometers area of which 35,000 square kilometers territory had been cleared.
“We’re fighting for our survival in 2007 but now, the Taliban are fighting for their survival,” he said.
When asked that key militant commanders, including Mangal Bagh, had escaped the combat zones, the former commander replied that the field army did not look for individuals and instead, it had to clear areas and re-establish the writ of the government.
He said military operations helped establish the writ of the government in KP and Fata.
Fata additional chief secretary Dr Fida Wazir endorsed the recommendation of the five-member committee for the integration of Fata with KP.
He said for the first time, Fata would get 3.5 per cent share in the National Finance Commission Award, while concessions had been sought from the federal government for industrial sector.
Dr Fida said socio-economic indicators in tribal area were extremely poor despite having huge deposits of gas, oil and minerals and other natural resources.
He said 15 blocks of gas had been detected in North Waziristan alone.
“Like KP, the Civil Secretariat Fata has also conveyed its concerns to the federal government about the ignoring of tribal areas in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Tribal people too should benefit from the project,” he said.
Retired brigadier Mahmood Shah, who is a former home and tribal affairs secretary, observed that the law and order situation in KP had deteriorated due to its close proximity with Fata.
A former Fata secretary (security), he called for putting in place a proper border management system and measures to eliminate financers and logistic network of terrorists.
He called for the implementation of National Action Plan to establish peace in the region.
Former MNA and noted lawyer Latif Afridi, who moderated concluding session of the seminar, said the people of Fata had been deprived of their rights for 69 years and that before 1973 Constitution, the region was ironically declared ‘excluded area’.
He said first head counts were conducted in Fata in 1998 but the figures about population census were inaccurate.
Mr. Afridi said there should be an independent commission to determine who had helped bring more than 26,000 foreign terrorists from Afghanistan to Fata after the US invasion.
He said the commission should also find out the people, who took away goods from more than 8,000 shops in Miramshah Bazaar after the launch of the Zarb-i-Azb military operation against militants in June 2014.
“The commission should determine that on whose directives, goods were taken from shops in Miramshah and where,” he said.
The lawyer declared the demolition of commercial and residential properties in Fata unlawful.
Former senator Afrasiab Khattak while speaking about the ‘challenges and reforms in Fata’ said Talibanisation of tribal areas was not indigenous as every area had its own model of Talibanisation.
He said the Colonial Empire had declared tribal region a ‘special area’, while the status quo continued there even after independence.
The former lawmaker said the entire tribal belt was used as the launching pad against Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
He said prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had begun reforms in the area and that Fata became part of West Pakistan after One Unit.
Mr. Khattak said the Afghan policy and black economy were major impediments to the mainstreaming of tribal areas because the belt was still used for war in Afghanistan.
He said the merger of tribal area with KP was more feasible than declaring it separate province.
“Some elements have long been opposing reforms in Fata as they want status quo there. There should be equal representation of tribal people in the KP Assembly,” he said.
Published in Dawn, September 25th, 2016