FATA – A victim of vested political interests

(image source: The News)

By Imtiaz Gul*

A recent Faustian bargain between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and two of his allies – Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Mahmood Khan Achakzai – once again stonewalled, at least for the time being, the long-awaited emancipation of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Both leaders disagree with the FATA reforms and have instead “forced” the federal government into introducing the Rewaj Act as a transitory mechanism.

Most dictionaries define Faustian bargain as a deal in which one focuses on present gain without considering the long-term consequences. Keeping this in view, how else would you define the appointment in 2008 of the hurly burly, bearded and turbaned Attaur Rehman as the federal minister for tourism or the deferment of the FATA reforms following opposition by Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Mahmood Khan Achakzai?

Don’t these two example qualify as ruthless Faustian bargains to the disregard of the tens of millions of Pakistanis and residents of FATA? The former deal between Zardari and Fazlur Rehman, and the latter between Sharif and the same Maulana stank with self-serving and cunning political expedience. Neither Sharif nor Zardari displayed any remorse for pandering to the whims of the Maulana, who remains a lifetime chairman of the parliament’s Kashmir Committee as well.

There were no qualms – either simply because such cajoling helps the rulers ride through storms or refrain from taking tough decisions.

Currently, the dominant majority across the political spectrum– including stalwarts such as Aftab Sherpao, Asfandyar Wali, Chief Minister Pervez Khattak, Sirajul Haq and FATA lawyers – is vociferously demanding FATA-KP merger for a better future of the region, anchored in the fundamental rights and rule of law regime.

Almost all of them accuse the federal government of wilful procrastination for political purposes. Why should the federal government hold back on the Article 247 of the constitution, which accords all FATA-related powers to the president? Why shouldn’t the provincial government and the parliaments be made responsible for this?

Secondly, out of sheer political expedience, it seems the PML-N continues to sit over two letters containing provincial government’s reservations on the FATA reforms process. It appears to be another ploy to deny any credit to the KP, which had agreed on the FATA merger into the province as a more practical step that was very much in step with the public sentiment. The federal government had promised to convene a meeting in April in Peshawar to address provincial reservations but nothing happened despite reminders by the provincial government.

Thirdly, the opponents of the reforms proposed by the “Sartaj Aziz committee” ground their opposition in the “lack of consultation with the stakeholders” and say the government must find a way to take “real stakeholders” onboard.

This sounds like a phoney pretext for opposing the reforms process and raises questions as to on whose behalf they were doing this? Every sane person and institution in this country has seen the deadly fallout of the special status of FATA – crime, militancy and terrorism.

The overriding craving for change resonated even during a series of nearly 80 radio/TV shows, community meetings and public consultations that the Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) had conducted in 2014-15. It provided a good measure of the public sentiment on the status of FATA. This intervention had involved about a thousand FATA community leaders, parliamentarians, academia and youth. Almost two-thirds of them wanted an instant abolition of the Frontier Crimes Regulation as well a demand for mainstreaming of the FATA regions. Other demands included access to justice, education, political activities, direct political representation, freedom of assembly and expression.

Fourth, a lot of discussion also centred on whether FATA should become an independent political/administrative entity or be merged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. A big majority categorically favoured the FATA merger with KP, saying this was natural and logical in view of the geographical contiguity and historical ethnic linguistic links between the two regions.

One could easily discern the craving for an end to the FCR and the special status of FATA through extension of the state writ to the entire region. All Pashtoon leaders and those demanding drastic reforms in FATA await the final word from Nawaz Sharif and the president. One should not be surprised if all of them close ranks against the ruling party in support of “humanising and democratising” FATA.

When people with power grow insensitive to popular sentiment they risk undermining their own future. Such apathy cannot stop mass action by those who have suffered because of the civilian-military elites in KP as well as in Balochistan. Brute, self-serving Faustian bargains and procrastination only discredit the elites and prolong the agony of those craving for treatment as equal citizens of this republic.

The author is the Executive Director Center for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad. 

Originally Published in Daily Times

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