Syed Hammad Ahmad

Pakistan witnessed a landmark achievement when the Federal Cabinet approved the merger of the Federally Administrative Tribal Areas (FATA) with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK). These reforms were pledged by the former the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to bring the region at par with other areas of the country. But unfortunately he couldn’t make it successful even though his party is still in power. A promising year 2017 is over and soon the term of the PML-N but the party remained unable to keep his own promise which was approved by the parliament in March. Mr Sharif stalled FATA recommendations because of the political opposition of his two main allies –Fazlur Rehman of JUI-F and Mahmood Achakzai of PkMAP.

Reforming FATAwas a great achievement of the PMLN because it achieved constitutional, legal, administrative, procedural and capacity buildinginterventions backed by political manifestation. FATA is divided into seven agencies and six Frontier Regions (Bannu, D.L Khan, Kohat, Lakki Marwat, Tank and Peshawar), surrounded by 10 districts of KP and Balochistan`s Sherani district. Six agencies share a border with Afghanistan. Administratively, FATA is further divided into protective areas overseen by political agents (PAs), and non-protective areas indirectly administered by local tribes.

The parliament introduced a 10-year reform package to develop this tribal region and empower the common masses. According to reforms, which are stillto be implemented, the entire administrative control of FATA will be handed over to the provincial government and the federal government will deal only with security and financial resources for FATA. Elders and agents will no longer rule the region. There will be an end to the beneficiary system, privileges quota allocations, and permits. Democratic dispensation will be erected. The people of FATA will be given free mandate to elect their representatives in coming general elections as well 3 percent of National Finance Commission (NFC) award will be allocated to the region. Introduction of Local Government (LG) system are part of the 24-point FATA reforms. The proposal to merge FATA with KP includes ambitious economic plans to reduce gaps between the province and the tribal areas. Resources will be allocated to the region as part of the Public Sector Development Programme As planned, urban hubs will be set up in the headquarters of all agencies to spur economic growth. Regular institutions and banks will also be established in the region to bring it in the mainstream system and culture. This gives a new cohesion to Pakistan. Over Rs110-billion development package was approved for the seven agencies of the tribal region.

But unfortunately all these developments have been thwarted by dismal political opportunism. It is the start of 2018and the fate of FATA people is still looming at large. It is very pathetic that the opposition parties vociferously supporting the government bill that the government itself is reluctant to support.The danger is that with a general election are near, the PMLN may sacrifice FATA reforms altogether to appease political allies in what is expected to be a fiercely competitive poll climate.

Parliament`s real strength is drawn not from its power to elect a prime minister, pass a budget or amend the Constitution; it is drawn from the perception that the people`s representatives are promoting the people`s interests. What could be in the greater interest of the people of FATA than extending the jurisdiction of the Peshawar High Court and Supreme Court to a region where colonial-era rules still prevail?

Merging FATA with KP may fulfill a long-awaited demand.It means the reconstruction of FATA, situated along the Afghan border and had long been the hotbed of militancy posing threat to security and stability in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the wider region. It will create prospects for peace and stability in the country and further integrate the Federation of Pakistan, creating unity among different parts and people. The image of the country will be enhanced and the government will be in an effective position to handle the war on terrorism in accordance with laws and regulations. At the same time FATA will not maintain its separate identity. It will become an integral part of the KP province, giving it a new recognition among the provinces in Pakistan. The people of FATA will be regarded as an integral part of Pakistan and are no longer be at the whims of an unjust and unaccountable system.The merger was a consultative and democratic process and political discourse which was an achievement of PML-N governmentand should not go in vain. Narrow political interests and myopia should not be allowed to derail FATA reforms.

The author is based in Lahore and one can reach by email: hammadahmad1971@gmail.com