Not only wars but conflicts across the entire spectrum are competitive in nature. A modern nation state is a creation of this conflict and can only integrate when its diversities are bonded by complementary interests. This is called nation-building.

Two very contrasting headlines captured Pakistan in the past weeks. The federal government announced mainstreaming Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) adjacent to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Afghanistan. The second related to stereo-typing Pashtuns in Punjab by a hyperactive police notorious for its high handedness. Both headlines affect Pakistan’s efforts at nation-building and have to be handled like an artisan making his crafts. Given the hasty manner in which the government came out in mainstreaming FATA, the two events also seem interconnected and an effort at damage repair.

Like the Nation Action Plan, which was more talk than action, the merger plan is conspicuous by its insensitivity. Given the hasty modalities, the meanings of nationalism, nation-building and devolution seem to be least understood. The government does not seem to realise that it is about to embark on a journey into unchartered waters. Pakistan’s record at building inclusiveness and using diversity as strength is not good. The crises within All India Muslim League, separation of East Pakistan, Punjab centric approaches and existing marginalisation of ethnic and religious minorities are a sorry tale at building nationhood. History has many examples where good ideas were ruined by bad plans. Pakistan needs a surgeon’s incisiveness and not a butcher’s cleaver.

There is only one way to merge FATA into KPK. This way is by drafting the aspirations of the people reflected in their ethnic, cultural and historical aspirations as also creating opportunities for mutually beneficial complementary alliances that strengthen national cohesion. Though the people of FATA have always yearned for a more inclusive identity within Pakistan, the abrasive manner of handling Pashtuns in Punjab was shameful to say the least. It provided an opportunity to the forces of disintegration and ultra nationalists to reopen the Pashtun question that is already dead in Pakistan. If the people of FATA feel that their immediate problems are not being addressed, how would they feel comfortable with a 5 to 10 year rolling plan whose outline is already controversial?

Since 1947, tribal regions were loosely federated with Pakistan, with the will of the people represented by their tribal maliks. The Rahadari System and pastures permitted cross border movement which has now become extremely contentious. What separated Pashtuns living across the Durand line were the strong economic linkages with Pakistan. But the non-compliance of federal laws had created an environment where FATA became a haven for illegal activities. This apathy and disregard gave way to turmoil, violence and lawlessness. Therefore, Pakistan must make the best of this decision. FATA with its people and its abundant natural resources that spread from Chitral to South Waziristan must be mainstreamed under a social, economic and political plan that benefits everyone. The rich rare earth minerals of Waziristan must not face the same fate as Reko Diq. If exploitation is avoided FATA has the potential to become the powerhouse of Pakistan. In this backdrop, the merging of FATA into KPK is a landmark decision warranting astute socio-political, administrative and socio-economic handling. This is where the catch lies.

FATA comprises seven tribal agencies and six frontier regions. To cut a long story short, the arrangement represented the British forward policy against Afghanistan and Russia. This arrangement served the imperial designs of the Cold War when USSR occupied Afghanistan. FATA became the base of operations for launching a mock Jihad and so called Mujahedeen. Statistically, only a small group amongst these militants was Pashtuns. Others included Arabs, Chechens, Uzbeks and Punjabis. Though FATA under the arrangements was designed a lawless area, the conflict, drugs, proliferation of weapons and diverse fighting groups marginalized the Maliks and made it a free for all hornet’s nest. It is only after a series of operations by law enforcement agencies that the area has been cleared of militants but only temporarily. Most fled to Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan to reorganise and live to fight another day.

If someone in Pakistan’s elitist decision makers thinks that palming off FATA to KPK is a good idea, he is grossly at fault. This thinking without an imaginative back up plan will only make things worse. The much touted FATA Reforms Package and merger plans spread over five to ten years may just be the beginning of the challenges. No plan works to perfection and practical challenges will emerge as and when the plan is put into effect. Widespread criticism of lawmakers of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa over the hastily agreed arrangement is only the beginning of challenges. At the same time the government should resist the temptation to put the merger plan at the mercy of Pakistan’s polarised and corrupt politics. But this is exactly what it seems to do.

First the much touted six-member committee constituted in November 2015 based its consultations and recommendations on a two day flying visit to FATA.  In this time it was impossible to consult over 3,500 representatives it claims. Consultations have only been peripheral and exclusive.

Secondly, it is impossible to ordain inclusiveness to a problem that has lingered ever since the Sikhs handed over FATA to the British. The scars of history, questions of identity and culture, the miseries of people, and their aspirations cannot be absorbed and articulated in hastily called jirgas within two days. People of FATA as a start point want their return to homes, reconstruction and rehabilitation (3Rs) under their own supervision. The merger plan is non representative and controversies will emerge along the way. This is avoidable.

Thirdly, the province that has to absorb FATA is only in an indirect loop. No KPK representatives are part of the merger committee. It is unimaginable that a province that has to do all the donkey’s work is not represented in such consultations. There is an immediate need that all elected representatives of FATA and at least three members of the KPK cabinet should also be co-opted in the merger committee.

Fourthly, the civil society and activist of FATA, many of whom are highly accomplished individuals are not happy with the merger plan. As a start point they want the 3Rs to begin under their own representatives. This means either constituting Jirgas at Tehsil level or conducting local body elections immediately. As is obvious from the Prime Minister’s statement, this is not a federal priority. All development work will be conducted under the unpopular political agent’s office.

Following measures are of extreme importance:

* The government must assemble a consultative group of eminent sociologists and those with hands on experience in FATA to reevaluate the FATA merger plan. This group must be cognisant of the sociology of conflicts and draft best measures to promote nationalism.

* The work on 3Rs must begin forthwith. This will reassure the people of FATA that they are not being exploited for someone else’s political gains.

* The federal government must direct all chief ministers of provinces to exercise caution in exercising authority that appears racist and counterproductive to Pakistan’s nationhood.

* As a last comment, what happens to devolution of larger provinces? To the contrary, another mega province is being created. I only hope that halfway in implementation, a future government does not decide that devolution is a good idea. Then we will be back to square one. So why not consider devolution right now?