The pressure had been building on the government to address the issue of the Federally Admistered Tribal Areas (FATA) status in the federal structure, and the government on Monday held the first meeting in this regard.

The members are sufficiently high powered to effectively present a final proposal, but they are insufficiently representative- defeating the purpose of the debate to give actual representation to FATA. Advisor for National Security Sartaj Aziz will be its head while Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Sardar Mehtab, Minister for States and Frontier Regions Abdul Qadir Baloch, Prime Minister’s Advisor on National Security Nasir Janjua, and Minister for Climate Change Zahid Hamid will be its members. There is very little representation of the stakeholders who are affected most by the issue - the people from FATA. Tribal leaders and other important actors are not part of the deliberations and are only scheduled to meet the committee on specific occasions. The government has invited them to present their views, but has left them out of the final decision making process; a move that is not going to sit well with the campaigners and will make any deal disintegrate as the people of FATA will not have any ownership of it. The state needs to include all stakeholders in the process, especially since the future of FATA is entwined with the success of National Action Plan. It can make the people of FATA feel included and secure, and such a peace will go a long way in helping the NAP.

Another concern with the committee is the unexplained and inordinate amount of secrecy surrounding the proceedings. The reasons and arguments that are used by the government to make this decision need to be part of public record, not just for accountability purposes. The relations between the government and the people of FATA is marked by mutual distrust, maintaining secrecy is only going to increase that divide.

The proposed merger between FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is an issue that needs to be debated in the open and not behind closed doors. The massive rally in D chowk in the capital by protesters campaigning for the merger should attest to the fact that the public feels strongly about it. Many people from the provinces will also support the demands of the people of FATA. This is a national issue, not just a regional one. And that is the key word “national”- FATA is as much a part of Pakistan as is Punjab or Sindh or KP or Balochistan. It only needs to be formally recognised as such. The process of this is still to be completed, but the government actions betray an uncompromising stance.