For the past few months, the mainstreaming of the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA) has been a very hot issue in the political realms of the country. The 12th point also deals with the reforms in FATA and, in this regard, the Parliamentarians from FATA submitted FATA Reforms Bill in the National Assembly and demanded the merger of FATA with KP. The bill has its supporters as well as detractors, both from within and outside of the tribal areas.

Within FATA, there are three different schools of thought on the issue. The first school of thought, which includes representatives of the area, is in favour of the integration of the tribal areas with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The second school of thought demands a separate province for the people of the area. And the third one wishes to have an autonomous tribal council. However, a majority of the tribal people are in favor of merging FATA with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

On November 8, 2015, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif formed a five-member committee to finalise reforms in the tribal areas. The committee, under the supervision of the advisor to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz, presented the FATA Reforms Report to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and to the National Assembly. According to the committee’s report, the FCR will be replaced by local or “rewaj” system and FATA will be merged into KP within 5-10 years. All the political parties including the ruling PTI is in favor of merging FATA with KP. However, while discussing the bill in the National Assembly, the chairman of Pukhtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party (PMAP), Mr. Mehmood Khan Achakzai and Jamiat Ulema Islam (F) leader, Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman, rejected the report of the committee and demanded referendum in the Tribal Areas. 

Both these parties and their leaders call themselves the true representatives of Pashtuns then why are they opposing the reforms in FATA? In the case of Achakzai, one can understand that he and his party do not have strong roots in FATA and KP. But why JUI (F) and its leader Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman are opposing the merger of FATA with KP is baffling. If we look at the political history of FATA, from the general election of 2002 to the general election of 2013, JUI (F) has always won a majority of seats in FATA. One of the most important reasons behind this is that JUI (F) always uses religion as a tool during their election campaign.

During the general election of 2002, the conglomeration of all religious parties, MMA, won seven seats out of 12 from FATA. This result shows the strength of religious parties in the Tribal Areas. I wonder where these leaders were when the government was putting together the FATA Reforms Committee and why they did not criticize the nomination of the Reforms Committee. I also wonder why JUI (F) and PMAP are opposing the merging of FATA with KP and wants to hold a referendum in FATA. Being a resident of FATA and a staunch supporter of the merger of FATA and KP, I can say that holding a referendum is a wastage of time and money. This is because half of the population of FATA is living outside FATA in IDP camps in different parts of the country. Secondly, more than 20% of the population has been living outside the country that has left for earning bread for their families. In the absence of half of the population of the area, a referendum is meaningless and a wastage of time.

There must be some reasons why these two parties want referendums in FATA instead of merging into KP – particularly for the JUI (F).

First, JUI (F) and its leadership is worried about their political decline in FATA and KPK.  They know that time has changed and new political parties are emerging in these areas, which is why they are not in favour of merging FATA into KP.

Second, they know that PTI is becoming popular day-by-day, especially among the youth and the educated community, which is a big threat for JUI (F) in FATA and KP. This is a big challenge for both religious and nationalist parties in FATA and KP.

And the last – and the least – reason could be that JUI (F) is worried that if FATA is merged with KP their seats in the Senate will be reduced, because the party won most of their seats in the Senate from FATA.

The Reforms Committee has suggested that the merger take place within 5 to 10 years, which is too long. Whatever the demands and suggestions of the political parties who are opposing the merger, the report of the Reforms Committee has now presented a very big opportunity to merge FATA with KP, as soon as possible, without any delay. The merging of FATA with KP will bring peace and prosperity to FATA and to the whole country.