Islamabad-Parliamentarians and experts yesterday endorsed the merger of Federally Administrated Tribal Areas into the Khyber Pakhunkhwa province with consensus to remove the sense of deprivation in the war-torn belt.

Speaking at a roundtable conference on ‘Integrating FATA: Issues and Challenges” organized by Shaheed Bhutto Foundation, they appreciated that it was Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who laid the foundation of consultative and comprehensive reform package on FATA, which remained unfinished since last after four decades. 

Largely, the speakers demanded abolition of Frontier Crimes Regulation, amendment to Article 247-A of the Constitution and merger of FATA with Khyber Pakhunkhwa to ensure provision of all basic rights to the people in Fata.

The proposed recommendations, including the gradual merger of the federally administered tribal area into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, by FATA Reforms Committee – were largely endorsed by the participants of the policy dialogue, however it was stressed that they should be implemented with the consensus and due participation of the people of FATA. The FATA Reforms was considered as a deliverable output in the National Action Plan. To achieve the objectives of National Action Plan and to bring FATA into the national mainstream Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif formed a six-member FATA Reform Committee in November 2015, mandating it to conduct extensive consultations with the tribesmen and other stakeholders for proposing FATA Reforms.

The Committee conducted an elaborate consultation process to ascertain the wishes of the people of FATA regarding future reforms according to the process enjoined in the Constitution under Article 247 (6).

After receiving the views of a large number of tribal jirgas and others, the Committee presented its findings to the PM on 23rd August 2016 who desired a further consultative process as well as the opinion of Parliament was sought. Currently the Reform Report is being discussed in the National Assembly and later a similar process will be undertaken in the Senate.

In his presiding note, Senator Farhatullah Babar said that, FATA needed to be decolonized, as since the birth of country, it had always been governed as a colony, instead a fully empowered administrative unit.

Criticizing the latest Report of the Committee of FATA Reforms 2016, where it has been told that, FCR was being replaced with Rawaj Act.

He inquired about the details of Rawaj Act, as it would be the top law to govern FATA, once the reform package is legislated and enacted.    

Summing up the deliberations of the conference, Farhatullah Babar also agreed that in case of a merger of FATA with KP, the Governor should be from FATA and for this required constitutional cover needed to be added as the recently produced FATA report, consisted several legal anomalies.  

One of such anomaly, according to Senator Babar was that, the latest report proposed a timeframe of 90-days, with a provision of Chief Executive of Grade 22 Officer, including an option for holding a referendum. He mocked the timeline of 90-days, and the title of Chief Executive, with an option of referendum, as according to him, this nexus of trio- had very unconstitutional baggage in the recent history of Pakistan.   

Senior Analyst Ayaz Wazir lamented that FATA was always treated as a step-children from the Center. He pointed that, in one of FATA Reforms Committee, none of Pashto speaking member added. He also proposed an option of Referendum, for being truly representative of FATA either with an option of integrating with KP or making it a separate province.

Seasoned bureaucrat and analyst Khalid Aziz pointed that FATA was least developed area in terms of all human development indicators. Therefore, he suggested that FATA should not be another PATA, rather be an integral and segmenting part of the KP.

Quoting his own example of career, he shared that when he was a Political Agent of North Waziristan Agency in 1976, it was the Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who visited, consulted and launched a comprehensive package of reforming FATA, which according to him was dust-binned and needs to be implemented in the light of latest developments.

Ajmal Mohammad Mian, who headed the FCR Committee, counted four options given in the Reform Committee’s 2016 Report, with maintaining status-quo, forming a GB-like Council, merging with KP or making an independent province. Out of all options, he also sided with an option of merging with KP conditionally and suggested that an urgent and fair course of law including action needs to be adopted, otherwise, it would add another report to the files at FATA secretariat.  

Senator Rubina Khalid seconded the option of Local Government elections in FATA, as it would add more credence to the voice of FATA, similar to Political Parties Act 2012, which provided political space to political and representative forces in FATA.

Faisal Kareem Kundi, Former Deputy Speaker of National Assembly, criticized the transition period of 5-years, as proposed in the FATA Reforms Report and demanded that, as and when proposed integration happens with the KP, it should be made smooth and realistic and no daydreaming or politicking can be afforded, looking at FATA’s critical history and juncture where is stands today.

Sajjid Hussain Turi, Senator from Khurram Agency lashed out at the existing system, which has not been favorable to the locals, as it has always been remote-controlled from FATA Secretariat or Islamabad with clandestine and malicious designs. He pointed out that the current population of FATA was around 18 Million and 4.8 Million, as mentioned in the FATA Reforms Report, based upon 1998 census.

Haji Shaji Gul Afridi, member national assembly from FATA, appreciated the role of late Bhutto, who visited Landi Kotal in 1972 and pioneered the FATA reforms. He lamented that after Bhutto, it never turned into a practice and appreciated the role of a Foundation, named after his name and forwarding that unfinished task.

He demanded an equal distribution of resources and representation as and when FATA merges with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.