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The merger question

October 22, 2017

IT is heartening to note that the National Implementation Committee on Fata Reforms has directed the finance minister to pursue the allocation of Fata’s share from the divisible pool with the National Finance Commission over the next 10 years. The committee has outlined four interdependent aspects of mainstreaming: political, legal, economic and security.

Though the only viable option chosen by Fata’s residents and taken up by the 10-party political alliance on Fata has been a merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, some circles still doubt its viability. Two reservations are usually presented. First, the will the people of Fata must be ensured before any merger — implying that perhaps the majority of the people might not support it. Second, there should be an exceptional arrangement for Fata’s governance because of its peculiar nature and because of the dysfunctions of state institutions.

Four indicators suggest that an overwhelming majority in Fata support the merger. First, the 10-party political alliance — consisting of all the major political parties in KP and Fata, except JUI-F — supports it. Second, all the 19 elected parliamentarians of Fata, both MNAs and senators, had asked the federal government to merge Fata with KP through tabling a private bill in parliament in 2015. Third, all governmental and non-governmental surveys, reports and commissions have so far found that an overwhelming majority of Fata’s residents support the merger. Fourth, activists, civil society groups and literati of almost all Fata’s seven agencies have recently held numerous demonstrations in favour of a merger.

Where the second reservation is concerned, perhaps few observers and analysts can claim a substantial difference between its culture and that of the settled districts of KP adjacent to the seven agencies. Even if differences are observed, they are a result of keeping Fata’s people in isolation through a weird colonial administrative system.

Any delay in Fata reforms prolongs its people’s misery.

Nobody can dispute the need for structural institutional reforms in Pakistan. For this to happen, a paradigm shift on the policy level is needed to transit from a security to a welfare state. It is implausible to assume that a model of separately reformed institutional structure can be put in place in Fata that is different from the rest of Pakistan. Advocating a separately reformed institutional structure for Fata, howsoever well-meaning, might create another excuse for delaying reforms. This means that the people of Fata will remain living under inhumane colonial governance, and Fata as an area will remain a black hole to be used for irrational strategic purposes for an indefinite period of time.

It’s now beyond any doubt that an end to the draconian regime of the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) is the only valid policy option for the government and state of Pakistan. Events on the regional and international horizon necessitate immediate administrative, judicial, political and economic reforms in Fata.

It is, however, significant to note a few anomalies in the Fata reforms recommendations, suggestions and discourse in the power echelons of the federal government. The suggestion to substitute the FCR with the Tribal Areas Rewaj Bill, 2017 is self defeating, as the bill seems to contain many ambiguities. Having the governor and not the chief minister of KP head Fata’s development council might be considered self-contradictory. Creating a new designation of chief coordination officer for Fata during the transition period might lead to misgivings among the people. Putting off local government elections in Fata until after the 2018 election might hinder the tribal areas from attaining cultural dynamism, social evolution and political participation.

The most viable option for reforms and the mainstreaming of Fata seems to be its constitutional and ad­­m­­inistrative merger with KP. Adminis­­tra­tive, judicial and political reforms might be considered an eyewash if a merger is excluded from the whole reform project.

All the tribal agencies have more geographical proximity and cultural similarity with some settled districts of KP than with each other. Agencies in the northern and southern parts of Fata have no communication between them; hence, communication among these agencies is carried out through the settled districts of KP. To add, various public service delivery departments of KP are already functional in Fata. Almost the same bureaucracy works in the province that serves in Fata. There will be few or no bottlenecks in the transition to regular governance.

The most critical argument in favour of Fata’s merger with KP is linked to a collective identity. It is high time that the transition from the anachronistic identity of tribal Pakistan to the Pakhtuns of Pakistan took place in all earnestness to resolve the severe identity crises.

The writer is a political analyst based in Peshawar.

khadimhussain565@gmail.com

Twitter: @khadimhussain4

Published in Dawn, October 22nd, 2017