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Merger challenges

September 15, 2018

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THE merger of Fata and KP approved in the final days of the previous parliament was a historic milestone, but there remains a great deal of work to be done before the people of Fata can truly consider themselves to be equal to the citizens of the rest of the country. Prime Minister Imran Khan appears to be aware of the critical importance of the implementation phase of the reforms and has formed a high-powered task force to identify impediments in and to facilitate the merger of Fata with KP. The challenges remain formidable and local Fata leaders are drawing attention to problems in the transition phase, with the FCR still applicable to the region while the old people-to-state mechanisms for contact have been deactivated. The hodgepodge of archaic Fata rules existing alongside the formal laws applicable across the country will need to be addressed quickly lest disillusionment and resentment begin to spread among the people of Fata.

While the PTI has struggled to roll out a governance agenda nationally, in the case of the Fata and KP merger, the PTI arguably has a governance advantage. Having governed in KP for the past five years and won a second term in the province in the general election in July, the PTI leadership has both a familiarity with the provincial governance structures and continuity to ensure the extension of the administrative and judicial set-ups to Fata. Moreover, unlike the previous PML-N government at the centre, the PTI is not aligned with political forces that may want to slow down or disrupt the merger of Fata with KP. Indeed, Prime Minister Khan appears to be giving the merger the same level of importance as some of his most high-profile governance priorities. The merger task force that was notified last week was done so at the same time as task forces on civil service reforms and austerity.

Yet, the enormity of the challenge ahead and the potential for administrative drift and political will dissipating should not underestimated. By virtually every socioeconomic and governance measure, the erstwhile region of Fata is one of the most backward in Pakistan. The region is also a recovering war zone, with a significant military presence and militant threat that cannot be regarded as fully eliminated. Lifting Fata to acceptable levels of development, prosperity and governance may well be a generational project. At the same time, the administrative and judicial setups in pre-Fata merger KP will also need to be shored up. In relative terms, the less well-off regions in KP may lag behind some of the prosperous regions of Fata. The former southern region of KP adjacent to Fata needs a great deal of social investment and administrative upgrades. The formal end of Fata should be followed by an end to its legacy of underdevelopment and neglect.

Published in Dawn, September 15th, 2018