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Integrating Fata

January 04, 2018

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INCORPORATED in NAP, reforming Fata is supported by both civil and military establishments, but the ongoing merger debate is mainly concerned with politics, with neither those who are for or against offering cogent arguments about the opportunities and challenges of a merger and the efficacy of reforms.

Fata is neither solely a political, administrative, nor internal security issue. It is one of social engineering, linked to national integration and foreign policy, and thus requires a holistic approach. Reforms that focus on politics or security alone will fail to contribute to long-term national integrity.

The tribal people already intermingle with KP’s people, and are aware of their laws and norms. Yet despite cultural and social integration, Fata’s political landscape is highly fragmented, and although geographically contagious, the agencies are not directly linked to each other. One has to pass through adjoining settled districts, which are more connected than neighbouring agencies, eg Mohmand and Khyber are more connected with Peshawar and Charsadda than with each other.

We must learn from previous mergers.

Fata’s black economy may attract negative influences. Vested interests will try to maintain the status quo or innovate. The challenge of breaking such linkages requires border management, taxation and anti-corruption regimes. There is also the opportunity to expand mineral extraction. About 7,000 million tons of marble deposits exist in Fata. Currently, 10,000 people produce a daily average of 3,000 tons using antiquated, wasteful methods. Openness may attract investors to introduce new technology.

Integrating traditional law enforcement forces into the police may have negative and positive effects, such as compromising KP’s security on the one hand, and increasing employment on the other. The transition may be turbulent, given that Levies and Khasadars are loyal to tribal dynamics and averse to modern policing, while the police are averse to tribal norms and lack the skills and experience to operate in rugged terrain. But the merger may reduce the space for criminals and extremists, particularly if law enforcement is primarily trained in community policing and counterterrorism.

The real challenge is converting conflicting political opinions into consensus. Socio-economic disparities and low peace indexation will impact settled districts. Lack of infrastructure will hamper governance. But the merger can transform Fata from a tribal administration into a settled area and help it transition from the FCR to constitutionalism. Fata’s people are fed up of the colonial apparatus; 23 provincial assembly seats may provide relief, as well as opportunities for women to join the political system.

Those against merger argue that it will disturb the socio-cultural fabric and intensify the struggle between factions. It would increase KP’s Pakhtun population, which may threaten people from Hazara, D.I. Khan and Tank, and amplify demands for separate Hazara and Seraiki provinces. The maliks and lungi holders would also resist being replaced as titleholders.

Fata is administered through a discriminatory law, but it also enjoys certain fringe benefits like tax and utilities exemptions. An abrupt withdrawal may provoke severe reactions. Quotas in educational and professional institutions would be eliminated, which may enhance conflict between current and newly incorporated parts of KP.

How to protect such privileges and immunities needs to be well thought out, and reforms should be customised to be culturally acceptable. Ideally, legal and administrative proposals should incorporate titles like mashar, jirga and malik. Retaining these in the new local bodies would build trust.

Owing to security and financial reasons, creating a separate province isn’t feasible. Historically, administrative readjustments have either been short-lived or ineffective. The partition of Bengal in 1905 was annulled in 1911. The creation of One Unit in 1955 was ultimately reversed in 1970. Dir, Swat and Chitral were merged with NWFP, but owing to its status as a Provincially Administrated Tribal Area (Pata) under the Constitution the laws enacted by the provincial assemblies could not be applied unless endorsed by the governor and president. In Balochistan, ‘B’ areas were converted into ‘A’ areas in 2003, bringing the entire province under the police’s jurisdiction, but this was reversed in 2010. Lessons must be learnt from previous merger experiences, and those issues should not be repeated.

The situation warrants a phased transition to be completed by 2021. First, six Frontier Regions are to be notified as parts of adjoining settled districts. Second, Bajaur, Khyber and Kurram are to be integrated in KP. Third, Orakzai and Mohmand, and in the fourth phase South and North Waziristan are to be settled.

A hasty transition may entrench the status quo, burden KP financially or give birth to another Pata. The country cannot afford a half-baked merger.

The writer is author of Pakistan: In Between Extremism and Peace.
Twitter: @alibabakhel

Published in Dawn, January 4th, 2018