Eventually sanity has started prevailing in the power corridors and the
much-hyped and demanded merger of the Federally Administered Tribal
Areas (FATA) with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province has been deferred by the federal government. The latter introduced the Constitution
(Thirtieth) Amendment Bill in the National Assembly, but later deferred voting on the bill in the lower house of parliament. The introduction and postponement
seems to be part of the strategy of the government of the
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). However, this is a correct strategy
and the government must be given credit of devising it.
Under the Constitution (Thirtieth) Amendment Bill more seats in the
provincial assembly of KP province would be created so as to give representation
to FATA in the legislature. Thus, the process of merging of FATA
with KP could be initiated. The bill was put on hold after stringent opposition
from two coalition partners of the PML-N, that is the Jamiat-e-Ulemae-
Islam (JUI-F) and the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP). But it
seems that government of the PML-N is also not in favour of the merger
of FATA with KP. Albeit pressured so by parliamentarians from FATA, main
opposition parties, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Pakistan People's
Party (PPP) and others it has been hard pressed to announce the merger
in the light of the recommendation of the FATA Reforms Commission, constituted
by Prime Minster Nawaz Sharif. The main argument behind the
demand for the merger of FATA with KP has been that it would result in
the mainstreaming of FATA. Even the introduction of the Thirtieth Amendment
Bill, of which many political groups have been supportive, cannot
make any difference. Because mainstreaming of such a big region like
FATA with KP would not be possible just by giving 23 seats in the KP
provincial assembly to FATA. 23 would-be members could not mainstream
FATA, a region of nearly 8-10 million people. This would result in more conflicts and unrest among the inhabitants of FATA instead of creating conditions
and a framework for addressing their needs and fulfilling their aspirations.
Simultaneously, the PML-N government also introduced the Rewaj Act
2017 which provides for the extension of the jurisdiction of the Supreme
Court of Pakistan and also that of the Peshawar High Court to FATA. Hitherto
there has been no extension of FATA into the mainstream political and
judicial system of Pakistan.
Fazlur Rahman's (head of the JUI-F,) opposition to the merger of FATA
with KP is politically motivated and is well known. However, now Fazl, like
PkMAP Chairman Mahmud Khan Achakzai has also started citing wrong
historical reasons for opposing the FATA merger with KP. According to the
new stance of the JUI-F head, expressed soon after the introduction of the
Thirtieth Amendment Bill in the NA, the unification of KP and FATA would
be opposed by the neighbouring state of Afghanistan. Because, according
to Fazl's statement, as per the treaty between British India, and
Afghanistan, the 1893 Durand Agreement, the Durand Line was recognized
as the border between the two countries and FATA, which straddles
the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, was made the "no man's land". But this
is factually wrong, because under the Durand Agreement, Afghanistan
legally recognized the Durand Line as the border between the two states.
Therefore, there can be no objection, as warned by Fazl, from Afghanistan
over the merger of FATA with KP. Going by that argument, FATA could not
be mainstreamed, as whenever there would be an effort to merge it with
KP, pro-Afghanistan parties, like the JUI-F and the PkMAP would raise a
hue and cry.
In order to proceed in the best possible interest of FATA, which is incontrovertibly
a part of Pakistan, FATA should constitute a new province.
Although the government of the PML-N has deferred the process of
merging FATA with KP, hopefully sanity would prevail and the debate would
end for good.
The decision to merge FATA with KP taken by the federal government
was vague and was not comprehensive, as it provided only for the merger
over the next five years. In fact, the merger over five years was originally
recommended by the Advisor to PM Nawaz Sharif,the Sartaj Aziz-led FATA
Reforms Committee. However, the PTI, ANP, PPP, Jamaat-e-Islami (JI)
and certain other political groups were demanding immediate merger. The
JUI-F and PkMAP, two key coalition partners of the Pakistan Muslim
League-Nawaz (PML-N), have been vehemently against the merger.
Previously, the JUI-F very rationally had been suggesting that the
merger of FATA with the province should be subject to a referendum in
FATA. We would go a step further and would suggest that the merger must
be linked to referendums in both FATA and KP. The above-mentioned
stance of JUI-F that the merger of FATA with KP would result in objections
from Afghanistan is incomprehensible. Clearly, the aim is to prevent the
The vague decision by the PML-N government to merge FATA with the
KP province was merely aimed at shifting responsibility from the present
government's shoulders regarding the status of FATA, and let the next political
dispensation implement it. As the decision was vague and taken
under pressure, predictably, it could not be implemented. Keeping this in
view we had forecast in these lines, last March. We wrote: However, the
present decision to merge FATA is seemingly not going to be implemented.
In other words execution of the policy decision regarding the merger would
be very difficult to implement. There are different reasons for that. For instance,
implementing the proposed reforms amendments in various articles
and clauses of the 1973 state constitution would be required. This
would require political consensus between the major political groups having
representation in the parliament. As the PML-N and the PTI, two of the
main parties having representation in the parliament, although having an
isolated agreement on the merger, would be very difficult to be brought together.
In case most of the parties are able to arrive at the draft constitutional
amendments to make FATA part of the province, it would require
considerable time. If things would be rushed this would be akin to sowing
the seeds of future conflict.
Thus, it is good that the government has taken a timely decision to stall
the process of merging FATA with KP. Even in future, if a decision would
be taken to merge, this would have the same result—conflict and confusion.
So the only way to mainstream FATA is to declare it a separate
province with its own self-governing institutions and apparatus.