One of the less noticeable distinctions between India and Pakistan has been the latter’s reluctance to change internal boundaries. While one of the first things India did after independence was to merge the princely states into it, Pakistan did not do so until 1958, when it formed one unit, merging all the four provinces of the Western Wing into one big province, West Pakistan. Whereas India has engaged in the creation of new provinces, Pakistan has hesitated, to the extent that when One Unit was broken up back into its constituent units in 1969, those units were basically the old western provinces of India inherited from the British in 1947, with neighbouring states added. Therefore, the merger of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas into Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa marked the first change in Pakistan of a provincial boundary since 1971.

The Federally Administered Tribal Areas were a response to a peculiar situation. The British Raj consisted of two main types: British India, which were organised into provinces under governors, which administered the Penal Code and the Civil Codes with High Courts presiding over the judiciary consisting of session judges in the districts, and the princely states, where native rulers ran everything as they wished, subject to two restrictions; they turned over all foreign relations to the Raj, including defence, and they accepted a Resident. The Resident need not be actually resident. The Commissioner of Simla, for example, was ex officio Resident of a large number of Hill States. However, there were some areas which fell into the interstices, which did not have a native ruler to make responsible for internal administration, and which abutted some foreign power (which meant that the Raj did not want to hand over responsibility for them to a province). One such area was in the east, where India abutted China, which became the North-Eastern Frontier Area. Another was in the west, bordering Afghanistan. One consequence was the creation of North-West Frontier Province out of the Punjab. However, the central government chose to retain the administration of some areas, now known as FATA. Afghanistan applied similar methods of management to its own border areas, administering them with an even lighter hand than they applied to the rest of the country.

The British refined these areas, which spent a lot of time in rebellion, and which had to be put down by British military expeditions. The military must find itself experiencing a peculiar sense of déjà vu in its current operations in the Waziristan Agencies. It should not escape notice that the tribes would rise against the British in the name of Islam, and the current operations are against militants fighting in the name of Islam. It is presumably because of this active military involvement that the merger was pushed through at a meeting of the National Security Committee.

Perhaps the most obvious change will be the abolition of the Frontier Crimes Regulations and the introduction of the Pakistan Penal Code. The FCR allows for collective punishment, which means that you might have to pay a fine, or have your house demolished, because someone else did something wrong, your only fault belonging to the same tribe as the wrongdoer, and not preventing him. The PPC, on the other hand, prescribes punishment only for those who actually committed a crime. The administration is different: alleged FCR violations are heard by a tribal jirga, and whatever policing is done, is by locally recruited levies, the Frontier Constabulary, officered by the Army. Now the paraphernalia of district and sessions judges will come in, and laws passed by the KP Assembly will also be applicable to it.

One major difference on how Pakistan dealt with its frontier area as opposed to how India did, is that it did not give it provincial status. India made its North-East Frontier Agency a state, Arunachal Pradesh. True, it did not make as natural a subject of merger into an existing province as FATA, but it should not be forgotten that one demand made by FATA was for provincial status. FATA is already ruled from a distance, as the federal government exercises its powers through an Agent-General, who is ex officio the KP Governor. When it was still NWFP, the PPP federal government wanted to appoint someone from the ANP Governor. The Army strenuously objected, because the appointee would ex officio be AG, which was unacceptable, because at the time, 1989, the Soviets were still in Afghanistan. At the moment, there is a separate FATA Secretariat in Peshawar, with a separate Secretary, who reports not to the Chief Minister, but the Governor, who is not bound by the Chief Minister’s advice in FATA matters.

It should be noted that the FCR also was applied to the Gilgit Agency when it was leased from the state of Jammu and Kashmir by the Raj. The Gilgit Agency came to Pakistan, but not as part of Azad Kashmir, but of its own bat, as the Federally Administered Northern Areas. It was not merged into any province, or even AJK, but given separate provincial status. Actually, that is a little deceptive, for it was not made a province under the Constitution, but by a statute of the Pakistan government. This was done by an Order, not even an Act of Parliament, thus making it an executive act rather than legislative fiat.

That example could have led to what is an already existing demand, that FATA be upgraded to a separate province rather than merged into an existing one. It is safe to say that sooner or later the demand for a separate province will arise, and KP will join Punjab as another province with more than one demand for provincial separation. KP already faces a demand for Hazara division, where Hindko dominates, to be separated. Whether it is to be merged in the Punjab, or made a separate province, is not decided. Punjab itself faces the demand for a Seraiki province, as well as a demand for the old Bahwalpur state, now a division, to be made a separate province.

Baluchistan has got an incipient separatist movement in the Pashtun area of the province, which could either form a separate province or be merged into KP. Already, KP will become a significant counterweight within the Federation to Punjab. After the recent redistribution of seats it is still possible to form a government with only Punjab members, but it is more difficult. Further, the old tradition of the FATA members joining the government will come to an end, as now they will form part of the KP parliamentary delegation, and will be members of partisan parliamentary parties.

It should be realised that life after merger will be different for FATA residents, but it will also be different for all other members of the federation. Power relations will change, and the shadow of KP will loom larger across the federation. At the same time, the new elements in KP will change the power relationships within that province. All of this is probably only right, and is necessary if FATA is to play its true role within the federation. It was a worthwhile cause for Parliament and the KP Assembly to devote their last moments to.


The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as executive editor of The Nation.