Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi recently announced that the meaningful process of implementation of reforms in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) as recommended by a specially constituted FATA Reforms Committee would be made before May 31, the day the present federal government and parliament completes its five-year tenure. The meaningful implementation of the FATA reforms would include making FATA part of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, the principle decision in which regard has already been taken. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government has been wily enough to both announced the reforms in FATA and also not implementing the same till the fag end of its tenure. However, it must be mentioned that by not implementing the reforms the PML-N government has in fact done a marvellous job because these so-called reforms would have made the crisis and conflict in the FATA more convoluted and the KP would also have been engulfed by the same. Already the KP has suffered very negatively from the effects of the multidimensional crisis in FATA in the shape of an unprecedented wave of terrorism and human displacement.
Now it is feared that the PML-N government may for political expediency announced at once merging the FATA with the KP and even renege on its own earlier decision that the merging would take effect over a period of five years. Announcing merger of FATA with KP immediately by the PML-N government, if done in the last weeks of May, would be aimed at delaying the next general elections. Because it would be well-nigh impossible for the Election Commission of Pakistan and other relevant ministries, departments and agencies to create provincial assembly constituencies in FATA in such a limited time. The PML-N wants to buy time so that it could prepare for the next elections as it knows that the incumbency factor would militate against the party and its prospects in the next national elections if held as scheduled. This is particularly feared by the PML-N due to the party’s extremely poor performance at governance as well as disqualification of the party founder Nawaz Sharif on charges of corruption and concealment of facts. But whatever would be the intentions behind the possible announcement behind the immediate merger of FATA with KP it would be disastrous for the country.
Regarding the FATA Prime Minister Abbasi also announced that one thousand billion rupees would be spent on development in the tribal areas in the next 10 years with hundred billion each year. Moreover, the much-delayed local government elections in FATA would be held before October. Both these announcements by PM Abbasi are ironic in the sense that the tenure of the PML-N government is about to end and therefore, these declarations are inconsequential. Could the prime minister tell how come his government would hold LG elections in FATA before October and who would guarantee that rupees one thousand billion would be earmarked on development in FATA in the next ten years when PML-N may not be on the political scene let alone in the government? The crisis and conflict in FATA has posed an existential threat to the very survival of the Pakistani state and solidarity of our society. Therefore, the matter needs extremely serious and supra political approach. With the current negative mindset and approach of our leaders and decision-makers the mess may aggravate. While spending one thousand billion in FATA over the next decade for development is a far cry, holding of LG elections in FATA is extremely important and quite possible.
Here it is important to understand the genesis of the crisis and conflict in FATA. The tribal areas or FATA are although part of Pakistan constitutionally, but virtually have been stateless territories. The statelessness of FATA has been due to the absence of state and governing institutions present in the rest of Pakistan. These institutions include democratically-elected regional parliament(s) and, most importantly, local government structures or municipal corporations. Al Qaeda and other international so-called Jihadist organizations and individuals find an extremely conducive environment in FATA to make the region their base for regional insurgency and international terrorism in the name of Islam. All these negative developments in the FATA have their roots in the long-existing political and legal vacuum in these areas specifically due to absence of local government structures.
As profound social, political and economic changes have occurred over decades, particularly in the 21st Century, the legal and administrative structure of FATA, which has its roots in colonial times, could not respond to the complex problems and needs of the growing population. This slowly and gradually made the existing administrative apparatus redundant which eroded whatever little state writ had had in FATA. Local, national and international terrorist and militant groups took full advantage of the situation and cultivated their bases in the region. Criminal gangs like kidnappers and extortionists also use the territory for their activities.
Unfortunately, there has been little, if any, realization within Pakistan’s policymaking institutions regarding formulating a new administrative system for FATA and giving it a new and definite legal status. Even there was no serious effort to introduce a local government or municipal councils system in FATA to provide a rudimentary modern system of administration. According to Mohsin Saleem, former secretary interior of Pakistan: “After independence, we, generally failed to manage the area (FATA) in the tradition successfully set-up by the British. This appears, mainly, to have been caused by lack of dedication, objectivity, integrity and petty-minded micro-management despite some honourable exceptions.”
While the national leadership has had little interest and, thus, understanding of the conditions prevailing in the remote FATA region, the elected members of national parliament from the FATA wanted to preserve the status quo to maintain their dominant position. Likewise, the civilian bureaucracy, whose members as political agents, has had the near-totalitarian powers in their respective tribal district, has also wanted to preserve the status quo. Therefore, despite well-cognizant of the value and critical need of the local government system they did not promote the idea. However, the ever-deteriorating law, order and security situation in FATA due to the activities of national and international terrorist groups precipitated international condemnation and clamours for reform. The international community got somewhat apprised of the worst conditions in FATA after a section of Pakistani media and the razor-thin civil society of FATA highlighted these issues. Under compulsion, the federal government started thinking of introducing local government structures in FATA. However, till now having local government institutions in the tribal areas had remained only a proposal. Delaying the LG system in FATA would result in more problems in mainstreaming and governing FATA. Now the ball is in the government’s court to decide what course it would like to take and whether it would like to undo the good work of so many government institutions and, above all, let go in vain sacrifices of people given to restore normalcy and order in FATA.