Most of the twenty points of National Action Plan (NAP) for fighting and defeating extremism and terrorism in the country seem to be on the back burner for some time now but one of the most important points that is almost totally forgotten is the administrative and political mainstreaming of the Pashtuns living in the colonial construct FATA. If the experience of the last 68 years is anything to go by it is not difficult for the around ten million tribal Pashtuns living in the mountainous areas to figure out that they constitute a periphery in the state system, thus dispensable. For example when state needed “ volunteers” to fight in Kashmir in 1948, people of FATA living quite far away from the area with no knowledge of the language and geography were roped in to do the fighting. But there are few roads in the vast area, not a single university or medical college. Literacy rate is less than 20 percent for male and less than three percent for females. All other social indicators are also not much different.

Similarly we know that the entire country has suffered due to the bankrupt policy of “strategic depth “ in Afghanistan but the people of FATA had to pay the most terrible price. Their suffering was not just confined to being overwhelmed by the drug and Kalashnikov culture. The area was practically occupied by national and international terrorist networks who helped Afghan Taliban to conduct a fight across the Durand Line, all the spins and diversions about our “our forces are too stretched to act” or “ the general so and so being reluctant to order operation” not withstanding. God forbid if such a tragedy had befallen on even a single sub division of the core area (the Punjab) Pak state would not have waited even for a single hour to attack the enemy, throw it out and liberate the people of the area from its clutches. But FATA Pashtuns do not have such luck. As a consequence of these misguided policies millions of people from this area have become IDPs.The people of Pakistan, let alone the people of the world, have yet to know the full story of the worst victims of the barbaric terrorism in 21st century as FATA has remained a black hole, out of bound for the media coverage for the last so many years.

Be that as it may gravity of the situation becomes more evident when we realize that without properly integrating FATA into the state system there cannot be peace and stability neither in Pakistan nor in Afghanistan but the government does not appear to be even mulling any reform plan. Terrorist networks that create parallel structures and compete with the constitution based state system fill the vacuum created by the lack of full-fledged state system. The fact of the matter is that we have witnessed “ Fatafication” of parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa over the last few years. In the official documents administration officers mention as de facto FATA areas that are part of the province but where the government has lost its writ. During the last many weeks a similar development has appeared on the other side of the Durand Line where Taliban have undermined state’s writ. So what is the government of Pakistan waiting for particularly when defeating terrorism has become the declared objective?

It is ridiculous on the part of the present government to appoint yet another commission to prepare recommendations for reforms in FATA. Actually the area is over investigated. There have been so many commissions with so many reports during the last four decades without any implementation. There is an alliance of all major political parties of the country working for the last many years (which includes PML-N also) on a common platform of reforms in FATA. Interestingly the ruling party supports the 10 points reform agenda of the aforementioned alliance but instead of implementing the consensus program it has appointed a new body for preparing recommendations for reforms. The purpose is clearly to delay reforms, keep the status quo and gain time for squeezing the dying colonial system. The biggest obstacle on the path of reform in FATA is the black economy that thrives on the lack of full state control particularly the complete non-existence of judiciary. Millions of rupees originating from drug trade, smuggling and gun running change hands every twenty-four hours in almost every political agency. This money goes up and has anesthetic effect on the political will of the higher ups while mulling the reform agenda. In the past political administration had a monopoly over the black money. Now the powerful ones in the security agencies operating in the area have their share in the pie. Hence the new argument against reform is the “non conducive security environment“ for reforms. The fact of the matter is that reforms are now a prerequisite for the improvement of security.

It is very disappointing to note that FATA was not even mentioned in the debate about the urgent need for holding local government elections. Even the Apex Court that demonstrated a unique and laudable will for forcing the governments of different provinces to hold local government elections in accordance with constitutional provisions totally forgot FATA. Hiding behind the bad security is simply laughable. If elections can be held for National Assembly seats in the area in 2002, 2008 and 2013, why can’t we have local government elections? LG elections in FATA are important because the old system has completely collapsed and there is a vacuum that can be filled by the elected representatives of the people. In fact it is high time to decide the question of administrative status of FATA. Article 247 of the Constitution is a colonial legacy totally unjustified in an independent country. The sooner we get rid of it the better it would be for FATA, for Pakistan and for regional peace.

The writer is a retired Senator and an analyst of regional affairs.