The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) have suffered, both legally and politically, since their annexation to Pakistan in 1947. Unfortunately, adding to the dilemma of enforcement of the colonial Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR), the Malaknan (tribal elders), Ulema (scholars) and even the educated leadership in the region have had little idea, over the years, on how to take the region forward. It is no surprise that there still remains a deadlock on the implementation of recommendations put forward by the PM’s reforms committee on FATA.
In November 2015, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif formed a committee to inquire about the wishes of people of FATA and what the desired in terms of their future status. Even though the country mainly welcomed this development, the committee, its methodology as well as it findings and recommendations were marred with loopholes. According to the Committee Chairman Sartaj Aziz, the Committee met ‘about 3000 tribal maliks and elders’. He added that ‘In addition the Committee received over 29,000 comments on the hotline of Ministry of SAFRON’. It was ironic and unfortunate that the government tried to decide the fate of tribal areas merely on the basis on meetings with 3000 elders and comments from 29,000 individuals.
Hence, sticking to one option, on the basis of a limited sample size, goes against the notion of democracy in a democratic country. Now let us discuss the four options that were considered and put forward by the committee.
The option of modifying the current system is nothing but maintaining draconian systems in place. The FCR is one of the biggest issues that the region faces, with inhumane laws as well as extraordinary powers afforded to the political agent. There is a need to rid the region completely of such systems rather than merely modifying them. It is the FCR that played a role in the underdevelopment of the region and lack of progress for the tribal Pashtuns. The rejection of the recent Rewaj Act by the tribesmen in FATA shows why frameworks such as the FCR are a thing of the past.
The suggestion of a FATA council is again a tricky option. The FATA Council was meant to give the region a status like Gilgit Baltistan (GB). But the situation in GB, even after the council, is far from ideal. Even though having a legislative assembly and council, GB is still neither a state nor a province, as the state maintains that making it a constitutional part of Pakistan would hurt its Kashmir case internationally. Therefore, such an option would again create issues for FATA.
In terms of merging FATA with KP or making it a separate province, the situation is again complex. If FATA is merged into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, it will lose all 8 Senate seats. However, if it becomes a province, it will get 23 seats like other provinces. FATA has 11 seats in the national assembly and with merger, the number will come down in order to bring their population and number of voters on par with other constituencies in KP.
The merger will leave FATA worse off in terms of parliamentary politics and the region will become dependent on KP province. For the tribal Pashtuns, it will be transition of moving from Islamabad’s influence to Peshawar’s. Moreover, a merger will deprive FATA of 18 billion rupees that the federal government provides for development every year.
In case of merger, FATA will get 3% (Rs.90 billion) out of the NFC award and that, too, for ten years only, whereas if it becomes a province it will get 4% (Rs.120 billion) per year.
Furthermore, in case of a merger, there is no guarantee that the amount allocated will be spent for the welfare of the people of FATA. In case of a separate province, it will be having its own chief minister, governor, ministers, public service commission, and other departments.
KP is more advanced than FATA in terms of infrastructure and thus in case of a merger, people of FATA will find it hard to compete over resources and jobs with the people of KP. Hence, the tribesmen and women will be lagging behind in every walk of life.
Additionally, a merger might also raise the issue of legal and judicial complications. Even though the courts and police would be extended to FATA, with their history of having their customs – in form of Jirga – the people of FATA might find it hard to accept modern forms of justice and conflict resolution instantly.
From recent trends, protests, and reports on media, it seems that there are sections in FATA that are divided between a merger and a separate province. If there are people who want a merger, there are also people who want a referendum for a separate province. Therefore, the ruling government has a difficult task and responsibility at hand to ensure a fair outcome for the people of FATA.
Before imposing any decision on the people, the government should run advocacy campaigns that explain pros and cons of all options, followed by a proper referendum on the issue. Only with such steps, the government can ensure a smooth transition and future for FATA and its people.
The author Muhammad Ibrahim Orakzai is a social activist and a participant of Pak-Afghan Youth Dialogue organized by the Center for Research and Security Studies-Afghan Studies Center.
© Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) and Afghan Studies Center (ASC), Islamabad.