NationalVolume 14 Issue # 14

Merger creating more issues

Months have passed since the merger of erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) into the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, but the process of integration is nowhere to be observed, instead serious multiple obstacles have emerged.

Reportedly, serious rifts have emerged between Governor KP Shah Farman and Chief Minister Mahmud Khan over the exercise of powers in the former FATA areas. The basic cause of the rifts between the governor and the chief minister is the former seeking the control of three departments in the merged tribal districts. He, however, is facing tough resistance from the chief minister. Farman has sought the control of the communication, local bodies and home departments but the chief minister refused to grant him the administrative control of the departments.

After the passage of the 31st Constitutional Amendment, the FATA was merged into KP and with it the special status of the region along with its legal arrangement, Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), was dissolved. Ironically, it was on May 31, the last working day of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government, President of Pakistan, Mamnoon Hussain, also signed the FATA Merger Act into law and the merger is now complete and irreversible. With the merger, the jurisdiction of the law courts of Pakistan as well as the policing system and other state paraphernalia in theory was extended to the former FATA. However, practically, the judicial and policing system in the merged districts has not started. There is total confusion and the federal and provincial governments have sought different timeframes to extend the judicial and policing system to the merged districts. It remains to be seen whether the extension of the systems would be possible within the timeframes. However, the objective conditions on the ground suggest that it would be very difficult to extend the judicial and policing system of KP, or for that matter, the rest of Pakistan to the merged districts of the FATA.

At the moment, the immediate obstacle to the introduction of the judicial and policing system and the rest of the departments to the merged districts is the power struggle between the governor and the chief minister of the province and second, the hurdles erected by the bureaucracy to the process of integration. Insofar as the power tussle between the governor and the chief minister over the merged districts is concerned, the former, before the merger, used to be solely the administrative head of the erstwhile FATA. In fact, by virtue of thies legal position, governor used to be the most powerful of governors in Pakistan as governors of other provinces have been mere ceremonial heads. So, the governor wants to continue with the privileged position which the office used to enjoy with respect to the former FATA. Here, it is interesting to note that the present governor Shah Farman, assumed office after the July 25 elections and by that time the merger had been completed. So, he should not be much concerned about the perks and privileges of the former position of the governor who used to be the ex-officio administrative head of the tribal areas. So, what does this mean? It means that members of the bureaucracy, who have long enjoyed the status of uncrowned kings of the FATA, have somehow influenced KP Governor Farman to demand the transfer of certain administrative departments to his domain. Such a demand is not only unconstitutional but strange. Therefore, CM Mahmud Khan’s objections to Governor Farman’s demands for power over certain administrative departments is quite justified.

However, it must be acknowledged that as a chief executive, the performance of Mahmud Khan has been pathetic and he does not have an impressive style of governance. Therefore, it has been one of the key reasons that the administrative reform process in the merged districts could not be taken forward. The fact of the matter is that after the merger of FATA with KP, the provinces needed an extremely suave and smart chief minister to manage the process of change in a befitting manner. Unfortunately, CM Mahmud does not have the required qualities. But apart from the power struggle between them over the merged districts, there are certain structural impediments to extension of the policing and judicial system and the rest of the state paraphernalia to the merged districts. The fact of the matter is that the very decision of the merger of former FATA with KP was fundamentally erroneous.  

Resultantly, it was very expected that merging FATA with KP would give birth to many issues and conflicts. Our 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 the merger was put on hold for years and even the FATA Reforms Committee under Sartaj Aziz recommended the merger over five years. Nevertheless, it was considered important to make the FATA part of KP. One reckons that the main reason the decision-makers wanted to merge FATA with KP immediately was the security question. The FATA, comprising seven districts and six sub-districts (frontier regions) straddles the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, the Durand Line, has more or less been stateless territories till very recently. Only military operations in the last decade against local, national and international terrorist and militant outfits, including Al Qaeda, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and their affiliates, have restored order and the state writ in the 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 the FATA; however, the way which has been chosen to achieve the task by merging it with the contiguous KP province, has been grossly mistaken. There were other important ways of mainstreaming the FATA, which included making it a separate province or establishing a self-governing FATA Council of the region. Even imposing development emergency in the FATA and carrying out extensive multidimensional development initiatives would have been instrumental in mainstreaming the region. Mainstreaming the 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, so how can it mainstream FATA. So, the main strategy to mainstream FATA is flawed.