ISLAMABAD: The proposed recommendations, including the gradual merger of the Federally Administered Tribal Area into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, by FATA Reforms Committee – formed by the prime minister in November 2015 to conduct consultations with the tribesmen and other stakeholders for the purpose – were largely endorsed by the participants of a policy dialogue held at the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), however, it was stressed that they should be implemented with the consensus and due participation of the people of FATA.

The roundtable – “Integration of FATA with KPK: Issues and Challenges” – chaired by DG-IPS Khalid Rahman, was addressed by Inayatullah Khan, senior minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Senator Sajjad Hussain Toori, Senator Usman Kakar, Shehryar Afridi, MNA and leader of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf, Afrasiab Khattak, former senator and intellectual, Dr Fakhrul Islam, director Pakistan Study Centre, University of Peshawar, Bushra Gohar, former MNA and vice president of Awami National Party (ANP), Sahibzada Haroon-ur-Rasheed, former MNA and ameer (president) of Jama’at Islami, FATA, Ambassador (retd) Ayaz Wazir, Brigadier (retd) Said Nazeer Mohmand, Dr Sadia Sulaiman, Quaid-e-Azam University among other members of intelligentsia, media and civil society. 

Majority of the speakers were of the view that this was the right time and a historic opportunity for the merger, which should be seized without further delay; while the procedural issues for the integration can be addressed in due course of time.

The period of five years for an incremental approach for the proposed merger was too long, they felt, stating that there were internal and external forces that can potentially sabotage the present willingness and near consensus of the people of FATA for the much needed change and, as a consequence, the process itself if it was not done immediately. The participants also underscored the need that the people of KP should be sensitized to prepare for this major development, too.

KP’s senior minister, Inayatullah, supported the recommendation for holding local government elections in 2017 in FATA and its subsequent merger into KP before 2018 elections. Citing the example of the merger of East and West Germany he demanded that the people of FATA should be given a 10-year development package to bring themselves at par with the rest of the country.

He further said that KP was already providing the resources and administrative infrastructure to run FATA. The FATA secretariat was set up in 2006 by the federal government; before that it was the province which was managing all the affairs. KP was ready to shoulder the responsibility of the merger and integration any time, he claimed.

It was an opportunity for the government of PMLN to prove itself a pro-federation political party by taking this historic step, the minister viewed.

Afrasiab Khattak reminded the participants that during the One-Unit system of Ayub Khan, FATA was made part of the West Pakistanprovince. “We already have the experience and historic example to run it under a constitution” he maintained.

He further said that Peshawar was a natural geo-political centre for all the Agencies of FATA and it would be natural that the tribal region was merged with the province.

Khattak cited challenges posed by a huge black economy other non state actors that can hinder the process of integration even if a constitutional and political decision was made.

It was also pointed out that the status of FATA could be changed by an executive order by the President of Pakistan. Also, any debate on the issue of FATA in the parliament should also require amendment in Article 247 of the constitution, which bars the parliament to discuss and legislate about FATA region. The constitutional need for population census was also emphasized to avoid mishaps and confusions.

It may be mentioned here that FATA Reforms is considered as a deliverable output in the National Action Plan.

To achieve the objectives of NAP and to bring FATA into the national mainstream the Prime Minister 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.

The FATA Reforms Committee is led by the Advisor to PM on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz with Governor KP Iqbal Zafar Jhagra, Minister for SAFRON General Abdul Qadir Baluch, Minister for Law and Justice Zahid Hamid, Advisor on National Security Nasir Khan Janjua and Secretary SAFRON Arbab Shehzad as its members.