THE Pakhtuns of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas ought to be congratulated on the success of their relentless struggle, with the support of the Fata political alliance, to shed the shackles of the draconian Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR). The extension of judicial jurisdiction to Fata and election of representatives to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly in 2018 are welcome steps. The federal government’s commitment to rehabilitate and repatriate the displaced Fata Pakhtuns by April 30 should also be appreciated.
At the same time, one can’t help but identify some pitfalls in the plan. The first and foremost is introducing the Rewaj Act, which might in many ways be considered synonymous with the colonial FCR. One wonders why a parallel judicial system is required if meaningful mainstreaming is to take place. The entire criminal justice system needs to be revamped — as was pledged in the now ‘buried’ NAP — instead of a creating parallel apparatus.
The second pitfall is that the merger is to take place in stages. The five-year timeline might either land the plan in a lethargic, bureaucratic pigeonhole, or allow for more resistance by vested interests. Over the past 35 years, two types of interconnected economies have taken hold in Fata. The economy of war was established, which was oiled through the black economy. Sizeable groups in Fata’s various agencies, in connivance with some state institutions, have permeated these economies. Hence, the power of the black economy should not be underestimated.
Potential pitfalls in the merger plan remain.
The president might extend judicial jurisdiction to Fata with a single stroke of his pen. A constitutional amendment to Article 247 might be brought in for debate in parliament within weeks. Line departments of KP have already been working in various agencies of Fata. Why take five years when something can be carried out within months?
The rational approach to a KP-Fata merger would be to hand over the implementation plan to the government of KP. Instead of the Fata Development Authority, the relevant KP departments must be given a lead role in implementation. So far, we’ve seen little to no role of the provincial government in the plan.
It’s also strange that the capacity of the Levies is to be enhanced instead of merging Fata’s law-enforcement apparatus with the law-enforcement structure of the KP government. Keeping the Levies force intact might develop a parallel law-enforcement apparatus, which may create confusion on jurisdiction. Merging the two will require more resources and, hence, Fata’s share in the divisible pool must not be less than four per cent.
Another major pitfall in the current scheme is the establishment of a local government after the 2018 election. Doing so before 2018 would provide a level playing field to all political parties, ensure the participation of and representation for all groups, and enhance the capacity of the provincial election commission for the 2018 polls. Establishing a local government immediately will also ensure the effective implementation of development plans.
For effective, smooth mainstreaming, the inclusion of the youth and women must be considered an essential component of the plan. Public service delivery for both groups must be carried out with diligence and at an enhanced pace. Besides providing a quota for Fata students in provincial and federal educational institutions, the government must quickly ensure qualitative and quantitative improvement of Fata’s educational infrastructure.
As far as the development plan for Fata is concerned, it is of utmost importance that infrastructure and institutions be established to enhance indigenous skills for developing products from local resources. Substantial possibilities of exploring minerals and developing agriculture exist, which can lead to large-scale industrialisation.
The idea of connecting Fata with CPEC is admirable, but trade activity and market expansion can only increase when Pakistan and Afghanistan mend fences. Both can benefit if land routes are open on more than a dozen links. It is, therefore, essential for Pakistan to rethink its Afghan policy and let the paradigm of ‘strategic depth’ die a natural death.
China’s One Belt One Road initiative, the Tapi pipeline, initiatives by the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and the recent declarations at the Economic Cooperation Organisation summit can lead to excellent opportunities for Pakistan’s economic growth, prosperity and political stability if Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Iran, China and Russia agree on finding common interests. Instead of using private militias against one another, the states of the region must move towards the paradigm of geo-economics and human security. Here, perhaps, lies the key challenge in effectively mainstreaming Fata.
The writer is a political analyst based in Peshawar.
Published in Dawn, March 6th, 2017