UNLIKE Swat, Dir and Chitral, which were merged in 1969 by Gen Yahya Khan, the architect of the Fata-KP merger was a democratic government, in consensus with the military. Following successful military operations in the area, the constitutional amendment to merge Fata with KP may finally bring relief to its people.

The 31st Amendment will bring legal and administrative changes and alter the territorial, demographic and political dynamics of the area under direct administrative control of KP — which has seen its total area increased to 101,741 square kilometres and population size to 32 million.

Historically, even after 1971, Pakistan remained an overcentralised federation unwilling to devolve its powers. While the 18th Amendment and continuity of democracy has encouraged a healthy trend towards smaller administrative units, in this regard, merger was the only strategically and financially viable option. Nonetheless, its success will encourage debate about the creation of new provinces.

The amendment will reduce seats in the upper and lower houses of parliament. Fata’s 12 existing NA seats will go down to six (the NA’s total seats will go from 342 to 336). Senate seats will also reduce from 104 to 96. With 21 seats in the KP Assembly, the total will increase from 124 to 145. In KP, Fata’s women and minorities will have reserved seats. But Fata’s electoral history suggests that affluent independents and clergy will try to exert influence over KP’s governance, which could lead to political instability. And though the president’s and governor’s indirect remote-controlled powers have been brought to an end, increased political awareness may lead to a call for a more defined power-sharing formula between KP’s settled and tribal districts.

Change in Fata’s status alone may not pay dividends.

A constitutional amendment alone may not pay dividends; hence, administrative reconsolidation is inevitable. Harmonising KP’s and Fata’s units will be a gigantic task. It may be advisable not to disturb Fata’s administrative limits initially, but certain steps (including creating new units) are unavoidable. A practical option is to annex Fata’s seven agencies with adjoining divisions and six frontier regions with adjoining districts.

Given that the centre pledged Rs100 billion for Fata’s development, the reforms’ success will depend on friendly working ties between the central and provincial governments. Without this, the province may not be able to sustain the financial burden.

The merger effectively eliminates the strategic buffer along the Durand Line, bringing KP directly in the line of fire from the Afghan border. The Levies and khasadars will have to be reorganised and merged to improve border management, and the Frontier Constabulary’s mandate too will have to be redefined. Merger will also eliminate ungoverned spaces once used by violent non-state actors, thus spawning the need for a modern police to ensure stability in Fata and the settled districts.

Tribes entitled to perks and privileges under the old system may resist the merger. In KP, job applicants from Fata already compete in zone ‘one’, but they may look for protective measures for federal jobs. Merger may also affect the admissions quota in educational institutions. A system similar to Sindh’s rural quota may be introduced for the former tribal areas in federal services.

Previously, the administration’s writ in Fata was restricted to major towns but now the government’s writ will extend to every village. To ensure stability, extension of land settlement, infrastructure and communications systems are necessary.

The shift from a colonial tribe-centric to a modern individual-centric model is monumental, not only for law and order but also for basic provisions. This will be a new experience for Fata’s people, who for over 100 years have been governed as groups and subject to collective punishment, despite this proving ineffective in curbing the onset of militancy. Thus, the opportunity to draft a new social contract between individuals and the state is ripe. A public-friendly institutional apparatus must be set up to respond to the people’s needs rather than ‘needs’ as defined in the past by the maliks. Fata’s successful transition will be dependent upon taxation, law and order and development; however, mismanagement may repeat its sordid history.

While the formal constitutional end of tribal status took more than 70 years since Independence to achieve, who knows how much more time transformation may take. However, efforts towards abolishing a draconian and decadent system are worth appreciating. Had it not been replaced, it would have become a morass of mismanagement and corruption, with serious ramifications for the security of the state. A careful approach is needed to tread on the path of reforms.

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

Twitter: @alibabakhel

Published in Dawn, June 24th, 2018



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