Communication with local people in the erstwhile districts of FATA, particularly in northern district, Bajaur, suggests that terrorists are trying to regroup and have restarted their activities, although in a low profile.
Recent terrorist attacks on security forces personnel in the South Waziristan district also points towards the fact of terrorists’ attempts to revive their cadres. The situation calls for immediate steps for sustainable peace in the former FATA, now merged into the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. Reports of the regrouping of terrorists in the merged tribal districts of KP province is alarming in a sense that peace was restored after great sacrifices by the people of the areas for more than a decade. If peace in the tribal districts of KP is derailed, its consequences would be disastrous and the next time it would be almost impossible to restore order and social control in the geographically inhospitable regions. The best way to have lasting peace in the region is to carry out large-scale and extensive multidimensional development there. The government has announced and even committed some of the funds for the purpose of spending one thousand billion rupees (hundred billion rupees each year) over the next ten years; however, they won’t make any difference if they are not utilized in a proper way. Irrespective of the fact that the federal and KP governments have a number of institutions with multiple strategies to carry out development work in the tribal districts but so far these efforts have not borne any fruit. A recent visit by this writer to the Khyber tribal district, contiguous to the provincial capital, Peshawar, showed pathetic socioeconomic conditions there. While the best antidote to discourage extremist and terrorist groups to emerge, grow and dominate in the tribal regions is development, the best way to carry out the process of development is through large-scale people participation. This people participation in the process of development could only be possible if they have forums of participation and self-governance at the grass-roots level, which in turn is dependent on having local government structures.
Here, it is important to note that while the process of integration of the erstwhile FATA into the KP province was finalized in May 2018, it has been far from complete. The regrouping efforts by terrorists and some new strikes by them in the tribal districts underscore the importance of establishing normal governing institutions at the earliest as well as securing the international border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Insofar as the establishment of normal governing institutions in the FATA is concerned, they are indeed important. In the last around 15 years, unprecedented terrorism unleashed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its foreign affiliates, like Al Qaeda, which got hideouts in the tribal belt of Pakistan, totally decimated the region economically, politically, administratively and even psychologically. Whatever minuscule state apparatus was extant in the FATA, evaporated due to terrorism. But after successful military operations against the local and international terrorist groups in the former FATA, the region got somewhat stable but it is still not normal. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N)’s last federal government along with all leading political parties, the PPP and presently ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), together changed the Constitution to merge the erstwhile FATA with KP, but this was a really controversial step.
But whatever happened is now history and, therefore, the tribal belt would somehow be subsumed into KP but there are numerous challenges to it. This is evident from the fact that when the government realized the problems in integration and resultant vacuum, which emerged after the FATA merger with KP and with it the discontinuation of all in vogue regulations in the region and impediments to enforcing the laws of KP in the former FATA, it enacted the FATA Interim Regulatory Framework. The interim arrangement has replaced the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR).
Today, the far more important question regarding the FATA is not its integration but putting in place normal and self-sustaining governing structures there. In this regard, the most important is the holding of local government elections in the merged districts. Local government elections in the region were promised by the previous PML-N government to be held by October 2018. However, the elections could not take place so far, raising doubts about the government’s seriousness on the issue.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has now desired to come up with a uniform local government system in the country. Moreover, he has also directed to the quarters concerned that local government elections in KP and former FATA should be held at once. While PM Khan desires to have a uniform local government system in entire Pakistan, it may require constitutional changes as presently every province is empowered to have a local government system of its choice. However, making constitutional amendments to bring a uniform LG system is not possible for the PTI’s weak federal government. Against this backdrop, holding municipal elections in the merged districts in the immediate future is not possible while the region direly needs so. Therefore, the PTI government and PM Khan have to come up with a prompt solution as the former FATA exigently needs local government councils, perhaps more direly than any other area of Pakistan. There are various reasons for it.
National and international so-called Jihadist organizations and individuals find an extremely conducive environment in former FATA to make the region their base for regional insurgency and international terrorism in the name of Islam. All these negative developments in FATA have their roots in the long-existing political and legal vacuum in the areas, specifically due to the absence of local government structures. This long existing political and legal vacuum in the former FATA was also among other factors due to the non-existence of any form of self-governing local government institutions. Due to which the establishment of the state write in the region remains a far cry while it could not at all be developed while the provision of fundamental needs of the people could not be ensured.
As profound social, political and economic changes have occurred over decades particularly in the 21st Century, the legal and administrative structure of the former 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 in the tribal region. Every kind of negative trend pervaded and thrived in the region as 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. There is little, if any, realization within Pakistan’s policymaking institutions regarding formulating a new administrative system for the region. 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.
Thus, establishing an LG system is the cry of the time to restore order, peace and then sustain these structures in FATA.