NationalVOLUME 14 ISSUE # 24

Elections in tribal districts

On July 20, elections for 16 Khyber Pakhtunkhwa legislative assembly seats were held in the newly merged tribal districts of former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The polls may not change the composition of the provincial assembly but are an important element in the process of mainstreaming the region.


The provincial elections for seven merged districts of the KP province were held almost one year after the national elections of July 25, 2018. The former FATA could not be given representation in the KP assembly even after its formal merger because the region was merged with the province on May 30, the last day of the federal government of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which left little time for the Election Commission of Pakistan to hold elections there. However, it had been a longstanding demand of the political leadership of tribal districts that they should be given representation in the KP assembly. The demand was quite genuine and a natural corollary of the process of merger as any area or region could not be kept unrepresented in the provincial and federal legislatures for long.


Without any doubt, giving representation to elected members from the tribal districts in the KP assembly is a milestone. However, it may not play any consequential role in the two key issues or problems of the region: stability and development. Insofar as having representation in the provincial assembly is concerned, with 16 members in the 115-seat legislative assembly could not make any difference. The best deal which representatives of the newly merged districts could get is to have a couple of ministries. But by becoming ministers, the members from erstwhile FATA would be responsible for their departments in the entire province, far bigger than the merged districts. Therefore, the would-be ministers from the tribal districts would not be able contribute to anything to the stability of their region. The reason is that stability in the conflict-affected tribal districts of KP needs gargantuan practical efforts. The representatives from the newly merged tribal districts in the KP assembly would identify and raise the issues of their respective areas and it would be important, but again, identifying their grievances cannot lead to their automatic redress.


The election for the provincial assembly seats and their consequent representation in the KP assembly would also not contribute significantly to the development of the region. Because the challenges of development in the merged districts are so huge that 16 members in the provincial assembly could hardly do anything for the uplift of the extensive tribal belt. The federal government has already earmarked more than Rs100 billion this year for the uplift of former FATA and it has planned to spend Rs1,000 billion in the next 10 years for the development of the region. In order to spend the huge amount of funds for the uplift of the region, plans have already been devised and the newly elected members of the KP assembly from the merged districts, one fears, would have no role in the plans and projects.


While giving representation to the people of ex-FATA through their elected members is indeed a positive sign, but given the objective conditions prevailing in the region, the elections to the KP Assembly seats in the merged districts may turned out to be quite disastrous. The foremost reason is that the members from the tribal districts may form a group within the provincial assembly, very much like the National Assembly members have had to get personal perks and privileges. It may result in acrimonies within the provincial legislature and could seriously affect its functioning. It may also further promote the culture of doling out development funds to members of provincial assemblies.


The members of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), who have won in the election, can hope to become a minister or at least get a share in development projects and funds but people, who have won the election from the opposition’s platform, would remain powerless for four long years. Most of the 280-plus candidates, who contested for the 16 KP assembly seats, have been unknown and untested contenders while only a few experienced campaigners, like former federal minister Hamidullah Jan Afridi and MNA Haroon Rashid from the Jamaat-e-Islami, ran for the election. It is interesting to note that Hamidullah Jan had been a diehard opponent of FATA’s merger with KP and even now wants the region to be made a separate province.


So, those who think that holding the KP assembly elections in the newly merged tribal districts and giving the region representation in the provincial legislature would be instrumental in the stability and development of former FATA, then they are fundamentally wrong. It is true that holding of provincial elections in the tribal districts is a positive development. Despite their inconsequential nature due to structural problems, the elections would go a long way in the political education of people of the tribal areas. However, if the provincial representatives of the people fail to deliver, for which there is a strong likelihood in the current situation, it would create more hopelessness among the people of the region and it would not augur well for the stability and development of the areas. Holding the provincial elections in former FATA was part of the constitutional requirement and symbolically needed by the state institutions. Expecting that they would go a long way in mainstreaming the region is like asking for the moon.