Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) does not exist anymore with the same name and status. The outgoing PML-N government did a historic job when it merged the region administered by the federation with the adjacent province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa through the 31st constitutional amendment. However, it is to be noted here that this merger was not a decision taken overnight rather there were many incidents and compulsions that necessitated the change in the constitutional status of the region.
The tribal areas (erstwhile known as FATA) have gone through radical changes after the invasion of Afghanistan by the USSR. The events that followed the tragic 9/11 incident and the ensuing US invasion of Afghanistan and the preceding rule of the Taliban religious movement radicalized the region further. This long-drawn-out militancy in tribal areas led to colossal death and destruction that also spread to other parts of Pakistan, killing at least 60,000 people and leaving millions displaced. The estimated damage to Pakistan’s infrastructure has been more than $118 billion. Although Pakistan achieved space and time by the launching of Operation Zarb-e-Azb in 2014, such military operations can never be a long-term solution. So, violence is bound to return unless steps are taken to change the dynamics of this belt through reforms.
This was the vision that led to the inclusion of FATA reforms as an important pillar of the 20-point National Action Plan (NAP).
To achieve the objectives set in the NAP, bringing FATA into the national mainstream was inevitable so as to improve the socioeconomic indicators and to reduce the incidence of poverty that at 73 percent is the highest in the country, according to a recent report on “Multidimensional Poverty,” issued by the Planning Commission of Pakistan.
For the said purpose, former prime minister, Mian Nawaz Sharif, formed a 6-member FATA Reform Committee in November 2015, mandating it to conduct extensive consultations with the tribesmen and other stakeholders for proposing reforms for FATA. As per the process enjoined in Article 247(6) of the Constitution, the Committee conducted extensive consultations to find out the wishes and aspirations of the people of FATA regarding the future of the region. The Committee presented thereupon its findings to the Prime Minister on 23rd of August 2016. The Premier desired a further consultative process and also sought the opinion of the Parliament. The Report was thoroughly discussed in the National Assembly and a similar process was undertaken in the Senate as well. Finally, the national parliament decided to pass the FATA Reforms Bill just a few days before the expiry of its term. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) assembly also passed a resolution unanimously to accept FATA’s merger with KP. The bill was signed into law by the President of Pakistan after which FATA has become a part of KP province.
Although FATA’s constitutional status has changed, its system of governance is still to be restructured. Complete abolishment of the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) has been done and the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and the Peshawar High Court has been extended to the region. But, many areas still remain unfocused. All these areas and related subjects are interlinked and each of them is also linked to a number of sub-topics. It, thus, becomes a vast as well as very complex for implementation of reforms. Indeed, this is not an easy task, keeping in view the political realities and contemporary situation in Pakistan and in the region. Yet, ignoring or delaying the implementation process is not a solution as it would lead to serious repercussions, not for FATA only but for the country as a whole.
For implementation of the programme, the most important aspect is its ownership. And, it needs to be acknowledged that the people of the region are the most important stakeholders in this regard. Being on the ground, they will be directly affected. If they do not genuinely accept and implement reforms, the acceptance of any other group cannot make the situation any better. A major issue in this context, which has been rightly emphasized by many analysts, is related to the composition of the implementation committee as it does not include even a single member from FATA. Furthermore, the people consulted by the Reforms Committee during its visits to the region were chosen by the government machinery (Political Agents). This has also been criticized. Now, the representatives of these areas must get a proper say in the implementation process so as to end the frustration that has permeated the area.
With this background, anything finalized now may easily be made controversial by various circles on the ground that the people of FATA have not been truly consulted. Giving them proper representation during the future discussions and approvals is, therefore, extremely important.
In fact, mistrust caused due to the fact – or perception thereof – that FATA people have not been properly represented in the process, is the root cause of many other issues. Apprehensions, thus, are being raised even on many useful recommendations. For instance, it is not clear that of whom the committee for assistance of governor will comprise; would they come from FATA or the people of the region would be kept away under a well-designed selection process? Who will be the chief executive for implementation of the 10-year development plan? And, even if the appointment of a chief executive is from FATA, would it not lead to coordination problems between the present office of provincial chief secretary and the proposed chief executive?
It is to be noted here that many of the local tribes have rejected the merger and many are subscribing to this narrative. And, that is really alarming. One reason behind this situation is the slow-paced implementation process. Furthermore, the government must ensure that there is transparent spending of money for this purpose. There should be a balance in urgency and phased approach as implementation should be gradual, not haphazard. The concerned authorities were already told that capacity building of the existing institutions is inevitable for proper implementation of the reforms. It is a big challenge now. The FATA women should also be given due representation in the process. The constituencies of MPAs and MNAs should be re-demarcated keeping in view the result of the latest census. The security apparatus should be accorded a priority in this context. It is a matter of national consolidation so there should be no political bickering among different parties. The implementation process should ensure that the interim law is ended as early as possible. The local government elections should be held at the earliest as 30 percent of spending of funds will be done through local councils. All ambiguities must also be cleared as there vagueness on what will be the scenario after 5 years of transition still exists. Inclusion of all stakeholders in implementation should also be ensured. Clash of interests among different departments and personalities should be avoided to the maximum possible extent. Political will of the parties should be clear. Educational and health institutions should be prioritized as government’s role in an area is checked mainly in these sectors. Frustration of the FATA youth should also be addressed. Extension of jurisdiction of Supreme Court and High Court will surely go a long way in curbing corruption.
The government, therefore, should now focus on moving from economy of mismanagement to economy of good management. The black economy may resist the implementation of reforms, so it should be dealt with an iron hand. The election of MPAs after the 2018 elections is essential for expediency of the process, so, the polls should be held in time. In short, every step leading toward the integration of tribal belt with KP should be taken with vigilance, steadfastness and, indeed, with consultation of and contributions from all the stakeholders.