Finally, the now defunct Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) have been merged with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province and thus the long-drawn out process of making the former part of the rest of Pakistan has been completed. Merging FATA with KP required changes in many sections and clauses of the constitution of Pakistan, which was expeditiously and surprisingly done through the 31stConstitutional Amendment recently. On May 31, the last working day of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government, President of Pakistan Mamnoon Hussain, signed the FATA merger act into law which is now complete and irreversible.
Soon after the National Assembly and the Senate of Pakistan passed the 31st Amendment Bill the provincial assembly of the KP also passed a resolution with a two-thirds majority, a constitutional requirement to change the geography of a province. The KP assembly passed the resolution of making FATA part of the KP on the penultimate day of its five-year tenure.
We have been warning in these lines against merging FATA with KP, because of the numerous issues it would generate. Pakistani decision-makers have also been cognizant of the issues and problems which the merger of FATA with KP would generate. This was the main reason it was put on hold for years and even the FATA Reforms Committee under Sartaj Aziz recommended merger over five years. Nevertheless, it was considered important to make FATA part of KP. One assumes that the main reason the decision-makers wanted to merge FATA with KP immediately was the security question. FATA, comprising seven districts and six sub-districts (frontier regions) straddle the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, the Durand Line, have more or less been stateless territories till very recently. Only military operations in the last one decade against the local, national and international terrorists and militant outfits, including al Qaeda, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and their affiliates, have had restored order and the state writ in these areas for the first time. Since then it has been realized that mainstreaming of the remote and rugged tribal areas is extremely necessary.
There could be no two opinions about the necessity of the mainstreaming of FATA; however, the way which has been chosen to achieve the task by merging it with the contiguous KP province, has been an egregious error. There were other viable ways of mainstreaming of FATA, which included making it a separate province or establishing a self-governing FATA Council for the region. Even imposing a development emergency in FATA and carrying out extensive multidimensional development initiatives would have been instrumental in mainstreaming the region. Mainstreaming FATA, or any other region, primarily means developing it. It does not require merging it with another region which is relatively more developed. In case of KP, it is not very developed itself so how can it mainstream FATA? The basic strategy to mainstream FATA has been faulty. But done is done, and cannot be undone. The main question after the merger of FATA with KP is how best to avoid and escape the issues and problems which the merger of FATA with KP would give rise to. This would need the management skills that our bureaucracy and political leadership clearly lacks.
In the immediate future, the most important issues to deal with in post-merger FATA is how to establish a vibrant and effective policing and local government system. In FATA there has never been any modern policing system and local government structure. There is a plan that the existing levies personnel (locally called Khasadars), recruited on the basis of each tribe to look after the law and order, are to be imparted police training. However, this plan raises many issues, because policing mean to rise above one’s tribal or ethnic identities and work as a professional force. So it would be well-nigh impossible to convert the levies force personnel into police. If the authorities were to depute police personnel from the rest of KP to the merged tribal areas they would not be effective because of local tribal sensitivities. The only option is to raise a totally new police force to man the erstwhile FATA parts of KP from among the tribesmen. However, the new force members have to be deployed mostly outside their areas as deputing them in their own areas would be conflict-ridden. Nevertheless, raising a new police force to look after law and order duties would be a daunting task. It is also important to note that there is a very stiff resistance in many parts of the former FATA to introduction of policing system on the pattern of the rest of KP and, for that matter, the whole of Pakistan. Antagonists of policing in FATA argue that the region has a peculiar environment and culture due to which policing is not possible or could be counterproductive. In other words they do not want to have police stations and personnel to deal with them. This may sound strange, but the dynamics of the former FATA are such that there is a lot of substance in the argument of those who are against the policing system. Only time will tell how the authorities are going to manage the situation.
Installing an effective local government system in the merged FATA could be panacea to many problems and ills of security and governance there. Although the outgoing PML-N government promised to hold local government polls in FATA later this year, but who knows whether the PML-N would return to power after the July national elections. In case the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which is seemingly the favourite to win the majority in the next elections, would form the government, it would hold local government elections in FATA. Because the party has been very much supportive of the local government system and it practically demonstrated that in the KP where it ruled from 2013 to 2018 by holding not only LG polls but giving financial and administrative powers to the local bodies despite many districts being won by the opposition parties. But whether the PML-N returns to power or the PTI forms the government at the federal level for the first time at the centre and for the second time in the KP they would have to fulfill the promise of installing a local government system in FATA expeditiously. There is no other way to establish the state writ and carry out large-scale development work there without establishing local government councils in different tribal districts.
More importantly, as mentioned earlier, the FATA merger with KP would be only meaningful if large-scale development is carried out in the region as simply a merger would not serve any purpose. The government has announced to spend rupees one thousand billion in the next ten years or hundred billion per year on the process of reconstruction and development in FATA. But the question is, that from where would such a huge amount come? Secondly, would this amount be sufficient to put the region on the track of development? Insofar as the availability of rupees one hundred billion for the development of FATA each year is concerned, one has doubts that the government could raise such a big amount and that also on a sustainable basis. Keeping in view the huge developmental challenges in FATA, where the whole civic infrastructure has to be erected from scratch, the task is a daunting one, indeed.