Before merger

April 19, 2018

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SINCE 1901, Fata and Khyber Pakhtun­khwa have experienced numerous administrative transitions. Until 1947, such changes were primarily strategic. After Indepen­dence, political considerations and public convenience became driving factors. Since the 2015 National Action Plan was introduced, demands for a Fata-KP merger have intensified, but it is necessary to evaluate past experiences prior to any merger.

From 1901-32, the North-West Frontier Province was administered by chief commissioners, and initially consisted of Dera Ismail Khan, Hazara, Peshawar, Kohat and Bannu districts (now bifurcated into 27 districts). Both the Nehru Report (1928) and Jinnah’s Fourteen Points (1929) demanded NWFP reforms and full provincial status. In 1932, administrative powers transitioned from the chief commissioner to the governor.

In 1955, NWFP was administered from Lahore under One Unit until its dissolution in 1970. The princely states of Amb, Swat, Dir and Chitral were not included in NWFP until 1969. Article 246B of the Constitution, 1973 conferred these states the status of Provincially Administered Tribal Areas. This resulted in the transition from indirect governance to a loose administration.

Still, Pata’s administrative structure represents a mix of federal and provincial dynamics. The Pata Regulation, 1975, had features of both settled and tribal areas eg tax exemption, extension of the electoral system, abolishment of Frontier Crimes Regulation, introduction of regular courts and representation in the provincial assembly. With the promulgation of Local Government Ordinance, 2001, Malakand Agency was notified as a district. Ironically, all administrative components were introduced except the police — the federally funded Levies were retained.

North-west Pakistan has seen many administrative changes.

The Swat state that once spread over 8,250 square kilometres is now divided into dist­ricts Swat, Buner (in 1991) and Shangla (in 1995). Debate about Swat district’s status has amplified, with one side advocating a unified Swat and the other claiming that divi­­ding it into upper and lower Swat districts will improve public service delivery, though Buner and Shangla have yet to offer qua­lity public services. Not too long ago, there were similar intentions to divide Chitral.

In 1994, the Supreme Court nullified the Pata Regulation. Such abrupt intervention lacked political ownership and created a vacuum that was filled and exploited by the Tehreek-i-Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Mohammadi and the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan. The policy of appeasement resulted in the Nizam-i-Adl Regulation, 2009. TTP’s emergence as an emblem of savagery led to the military conducting successful operations in the area, but there is still no substantial effort to rectify the judicial system.

Since the 18th Amendment, KP’s laws only extend to Pata (owing to its constitutional status) if the president gives assent to their extension. KP has enacted 139 laws since 2013, but only 28 have so far been extended. This compromises the rule of law and public service delivery. For example, in Malakand, non-extension of the Customs Act has made it a safe haven for non-custom-paid vehicles, while non-extension of fiscal laws has seriously compromised revenue collection. Excluding Malakand, the remaining six divisions pay taxes, yet the development portfolio is equally shared between all seven. If Fata is merged with KP along similar lines, it may create internal discord as KP would not be able to sustain such a burden. Merger will change KP’s administrative needs as well, making amendments to the roles and responsibilities in the Frontier Constabulary Act, 1915, inevitable.

Readjusting the boundaries of D.I. Khan, Chitral and Swat prior to a merger is also inevitable. If it happens, the six frontier areas will be merged with the adjoining settled districts and in­­crease their area. This will initially cause ad­­mi­n­i­s­trative problems and result in the creation of new dis­­tricts and divisions.

Carving out new divisions and districts on mere political considerations may not improve public service delivery. In 2014, Kohistan was bifurcated into upper and lower districts, but the tribes from Palas took the issue to court, which resulted in the controversial creation of Kolai-Palas Kohistan district. Owing to litigation on the status of Kohistan and the absence of local bodies, funds allocated for Kohistan remain unspent.

Out of a total of seven divisions, D.I. Khan, Bannu and Mardan each consists of two districts while Malakand and Hazara divisions consists of seven and eight districts respectively. Administrative resizing of Hazara and Malakand could improve public convenience but also lead to legal and political barriers.

Hence, making a potential Fata-KP merger successful requires that thorough homework be done. Hasty measures may attain short-term objectives but will further undermine the rule of law.

The writer is the author of Pakistan: In Between Extremism and Peace.

Twitter: @alibabakhel

Published in Dawn, April 19th, 2018