The Committee constituted by the Prime Minister for bringing reforms and changing the current status of FATA has come up with a comprehensive report which consists of many practicable recommendations and proposals. The most important recommendation is to merge it with the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with a transition period of ten years. The proposed reform agenda is a historic opportunity for the government as well as the local populace to avail of. It is the need of the time that the government should go ahead without any delay, get it passed from the parliament and implement it as soon as possible. However, while implementing the reforms package, the concerns of the locals and the conflicting clauses of the package must be revisited and should be addressed for sustainability and suitability of the reform.
Undoubtedly, these reforms are accepted as a worthy initiative for mainstreaming FATA like other settled areas of Pakistan. The reform package has covered major aspects and most of the crucial topics have been touched upon. The reforms are timely, needed and are also acceptable to most of the stakeholders and general public. Nevertheless, there are certain areas which present an ambiguous situation and lead to new questions. For instance, Article 247 stops parliament from interfering in FATA affairs. The parliament can only discuss FATA when Article 247 is abolished, so legal reforms are also needed to proceed with the implementation of the proposed reform agenda.
Local Bodies Act is still put at the disposal of the governor and locals have been denied any say in it. The position of the new chief executive is not needed in presence of Chief Secretary of the province. It may lead to confrontation between the two. The figures of population shown by the report are mainly taken from the 1998 census, but some recent surveys have revealed that FATA is inhabited by around ten million people, i.e. more than double the figures shown in the report. This will also affect the rights of units based on population, i.e. distribution of National Finance Commission (NFC) Award, which is based on population.
Although the committee has recommended merger of FATA with KP, yet the opinion of local people should have also been sought instead of discussing the proposal in a gathering of a few pro-government Maliks. A referendum, after the completion of the transition period, is also suggested by few circles as a viable option for dealing with the question of legitimacy.
For better implementation of reforms, locals should be made part of the policy making and implementation processes. The proposed Apex Committee should also include the representation from FATA, either from members of parliament from FATA or other influential people of the region. During the transition period, Governor KP may also be selected from FATA as he will have a better understanding of the on-ground situation and will play his role in effective implementation of the reforms package. There is no need of Rivaj Act as some people see the customs at tribal belt as sacred. Complete abolishment of Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) and extending direct jurisdiction of the Constitution of Pakistan will be a better option. The proposed position of the Judge is also ambiguous and vague; whether it will come from judiciary or bureaucracy. The judge should belong to FATA as he will be well aware of the local customs and traditions. The historical sensitivity of the area should also be considered and for sustainable development, patterns of governance should be tailored accordingly. The new administration should focus on good governance and eradication of corruption.
The proposed plan is good but its implementation should be done best. The committee has proposed a plan of township which may raise questions among the landowners, as they feel themselves vulnerable in this case that whether their lands will be snatched from them or will they be paid accordingly. Furthermore, the strategy should be that the funds are spent on the purpose they are meant for.
The FATA-KP merger may also raise the concerns of non-Pashtuns due to their dominance in the region, so this should also be focused while finalizing the policy. China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is for the prosperity of the whole country and FATA should also be included in it so that the region may also get the benefits of socioeconomic development that the mega project accrues.
The change in status of FATA will also affect our relations with Afghanistan especially due to the presence of majority of Pashtuns belonging to the same tribes at the other side of the border. Cross-border trade, smuggling, or terrorist activities are also linked with it, so border management should be made better. All the stakeholders should deal the issue keeping supreme the national interests; ethnic or regional issues should not overwhelm national interests. To pace the reform process, the government should also have a tie-up plan in case the reforms package is sabotaged or rejected by the parliament.
The proposed package has been presented for discussion in the Parliament with the hope that it will soon be passed by both the houses of Majlis-e-Shoora. The parliamentary discussion should not make the package more complex and controversial rather it should be guided by the better points and long-lasting effects of mainstreaming FATA. As the parliamentarians from FATA have consensus over the merger of the region with the KP, it should continue in the same spirit. Those who are trying to sabotage the whole package should have mercy on the living conditions of the people of FATA, especially those who have lost their near and dear ones, homes, jobs, resources and infrastructure to the war against terror and have been defending their land against the spoilers. Furthermore, political parties have got a golden opportunity to strengthen their roots in tribal belt by supporting the reforms package and identifying the issues which may have negative effects on the implementation process. The people of FATA want to be seen as bona-fide citizens of Pakistan, avail the opportunities and serve the nation like people of the other parts of the country.