Chairman of the Fata reforms committee, Sartaj Aziz rightly says about the history of FATA reforms that if it was merged in 1977, when Bhutto formed committee under General (R) Naseerullah Babar, situation would have been much better than it is and has been but the proposed merger with KP (then NWFP) was not given a practical shape because of the Zia’s military coup.
There were some political reforms in 1996, 2002, 2004 and 2012, administrative reforms in 2006 and legal reforms in 2011: extending the adult franchise, allowing political parties, increasing independence of FATA Secretariat and local government regulation. Though these have in some way contributed to Fata but not in a true sense and that is mainly because of drawing lines between various kinds of reforms, which are dependent on each other.
There are controversies over the reforms in FATA, its procedure and content and that should be there but in a constructive manner with a futuristic lens that is visionary and based on both short-term and long-term approach. The resources of the federal government are undoubtedly limited, which will not be enough for setting up new provincial institutions but that should be enough for mainstreaming-led-merging with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, KP, where FATA should be given preference for ten years based on equity and the budget should be from federal government rather than from the provincial share of KP in NFC.
Administrative reforms along with legal one would lead to socio-political reforms in FATA, which is also an important need of the time for the welfare of its people and that can strengthen and purify the social structure and political culture of the area. Such socio-political evolution would also provide fertile conditions for the economic development of whole FATA and economic prosperity of the people.
The political rifts on FATA issue which have delayed reforms and generated further tensions, thus only harm the people and even image of political parties that they have formulated for their political interest.
Rather than looking for personal, institutional or group interest, FATA is in utmost need of collective interest of its people that should be the priority of all
Whether that is by sub-nationalist parties, promoting their agenda in already exclusive part of the country though contrary to Pashtun nationalism, which sees the unity of Pashtuns in one province or at least to possible limit or the religious parties, which want to make their space by calling such merging as an instruction of ‘Jews’ and ‘Americans’ in dominated religious society among common people, is harming the country in general by propagating such irrational and outdated slogans both internally and externally.
Though political parties were kept on the front to propagate such controversy and even now but at the back there are other elements too, who have vested interest in its war economy, the black market and ruling authority with the tribal leaders and some working as pressure groups. But this all only harms the people of FATA and indirectly the country, as well.
Leading political analysts from Pakhtun belt, Khadim Hussain, and Afrasiab Khattak have no opponent on such level from their region and they convey their rational point of views, preferring merger option on merging question while analyzing FATA’s wounds.
Unfortunately, there has been less debate on the actual issue on electronic media and social media but more focus on the clash of different sides and that worsen things rather looking forward a foresight on the real problem. It would be much better if the genuine and real issue and the way of reforms were being debated in all relevant circles and on media but that has not been the case yet.
There is still one more opportunity in upcoming general elections 2018, of which focus on contesters and political parties in FATA can be on ongoing reforms implementation process, with sufficient coverage by media
The main stakeholder in FATA is, obviously, its people rather than any institution, political party or the tribal chiefs because they are the people on the ground and face the realities. The federal government as representative of the whole country in general, including the parliamentarians from FATA is another stakeholder, at the same time.
Ex-Prime Minister sat a six-member committee in November of 2015 on FATA issue that presented its report on reforms after rigorous policy-driven research in February 2017, in which merger of FATA with KP was recommended, starting from mainstreaming that would take up to ten years, as per such report.
The issue of FATA is not only the problem of its people but equally of the central government
Eight senators and twelve members of national assembly from FATA, who got elected in general elections 2013 with the turn-out of thirty-seven percent (fifty-five percent of all country) despite the election practices started after 2002 in FATA, of which mostly agreed the merger recommendations but was opposed by three members. Maulana Muhammad Jamal ud Din of JUI with twelve percent voter turn-out was in lead to oppose it. Some say, there is a contradiction in campaign and practice, but democratically they can be called back from the parliament by the people, which has not been a case.
Doubting the popular votes of parliamentarians from FATA is doubting democratic practices in the country through which other parties are sitting in the assemblies and Senate and that is to weaken democracy rather than strengthening it furthermore
Though the actual plan for Fata was ‘Merger’ and after knowing the ground reality and some political pressure, it changed to the merger, starting from ‘mainstreaming’. The National Committee on Implementations of Fata reforms set up by sitting prime minister is worth appreciable step to resume the stagnant process with the transitional mechanism as a fast track as promised and should fulfill immediate requirements before the general elections 2018.
Merging FATA with KP, starting from mainstreaming, is never a cultural aggression against the sentiments of people of FATA. Demographically, northern and southern parts of KP are little different and same is true about the division between northern agencies of FATA and the southern ones. Agencies in southern FATA share much in common with Dera Ismail Khan, Bannu and Luki Marwat than with agencies in north, Mohmand and Bajaur and same is true about northern agencies and ironically, from South Waziristan to Khyber, one has to go through from KP. The division between southern districts and northern ones can also be witnessed in other provinces of the country as well, which is naturally a social phenomenon.
In upcoming elections of 2018, the campaign of political parties must primarily focus on the track of reforms and the time duration for the ultimate merge with KP, so that, parliamentarians from FATA with a fresh mandate may propagate fresh concerns regarding the issue.
Fast merger is holistic view and based on futuristic lens but a condition-based approach is also required to understand the ground facts for smooth process