FATA’s Merger with KP
All kinds of criminals including drug dealers, smugglers, kidnappers and the groups of terrorists of various hues and colours made FATA their sanctuary and operated from there with impunity. The State of Pakistan neglected the region for seven decades that turned it into ungoverned spaces. As the State launched a war on homegrown terrorism and sought to reassert the writ of the state, FATA was the battlefield for all intents and purposes. Operations Zarb-e-Azb and Radd-ul-Fasaad are the two significant military operations among the seventeen small and large operations that the Pakistan military launched to flush out terrorism in the area and dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism.
A need-assessment report commissioned by the government in 2009 to identify the reasons behind the spread of militancy in FATA highlighted eight reasons namely: (1) administrative and political legacy; (2) cold war’s impact; (3) rampant weaponization; (4) prevalence of radicalization and extremism; (5) fallout of the US occupation of Afghanistan post-9/11; (6) collapse of traditional governance system; (7) mushroom growth of terrorist and extremist groups; and (8) presence of criminal gangs.
In addition to massive physical and material losses, about two million people had to be displaced to allow the Pakistan military to comprehensively eliminate terrorism. Given the geostrategic importance of FATA, Pakistan’s strategic and political community was coming round to the need of ending decades-old isolation and socio-economic backwardness of FATA through its mainstreaming with the rest of Pakistan. It was a considered opinion that the business as usual approach or the status quo vis-à-vis FATA was not maintainable. Following the APS tragedy in December 2014, the National Action Plan (NAP), adopted by the civil and military leadership of the country to fight homegrown terrorism and extremism, included the FATA reforms as one of its 20 points.
This thinking led to the adoption of a comprehensive reform package prepared by the Sartaj Aziz-led parliamentary committee in the form of the 25th Constitutional Amendment. Under this revolutionary reform package, FATA was merged into Khyber Pakhtunkhawa province.
The merger, though a historic development in its own right, poses serious challenges in the political, legal, economic and social domains. The success of this gigantic national effort depends largely on the sustained political will to stay the course of reforms. This research study aims to contextualize the FATA reforms and critically appraises the key political, legal, economic and social challenges, which if unaddressed, are likely to derail the reform process with unimaginable consequences.
The merger of erstwhile FATA with Khyber Pakhtunkhawa province is a revolutionary step that has changed the nature of the region’s relationship with the federation of Pakistan. However, the successful implementation of reforms hinges on several factors, a task which is easier said than done. In this study, I will undertake a critical appraisal of the FATA merger in political, socio-economic and legal domains, in addition to identifying the opportunities and challenges facing the whole enterprise. I will also propose recommendations to make the reform process a success.
The merger of FATA with KP represents the fulfilment of a longstanding demand of the tribal people. They are justified in expecting that the transition will result in making them equal citizens of the country through greater political and socio-economic empowerment by ending their decades-old isolation. The Study is important in the sense that the proposed merger presents a significant public policy challenge for the state as no blueprint or precedent of such an exercise exists in our political history. It is one thing to propose a reform package and enact laws but quite another to translate the reforms into reality. The process of implementation requires strong political will, coordination with the stakeholders and capacity to make a mid-course correction and accept new ideas.
Since the British made their way into the Indian Subcontinent, FATA presented a twin challenge to them. On the one hand, they wanted to stop the tribes from plundering the Subcontinent and on the other, they were confronted with the challenge to defend the region against the potential Soviet attacks. The British finally struck an agreement with Afghanistan after experimenting with the ‘closed-door policy’ and ‘forward policy’. The conditions of the tribal people did not change during both World War I and II.
The tribal people joined Pakistan on assurance extended by the Quaid-i-Azam that Pakistan would respect all the agreements they had signed with the British. The region came to international limelight after the former USSR attacked Afghanistan in 1979. It became ground zero for an anti-Communist fight and attracted all manners of fighters from across the world in addition to the influx of refugees who fled Afghanistan.
The USSR invasion of Afghanistan was a watershed that led to radical changes such as alteration in the ethnic balance of the region, the proliferation of weapons, deterioration in law and order situation and a further decline in the socio-economic indicators. Afghanistan was back into the global conversation after the epoch-making events of 9/11. The international media described Afghanistan as a hub of terrorism.
FATA, by virtue of being accessible to energy-rich Central Asian Republics (CARs), has always held geo-strategic importance. As Pakistan took the challenge of terrorism after suffering massive losses, the country’s strategic community concluded that unless FATA was fixed, the terrorism would continue to rear its head. It was further thought that ending the isolation of FATA was critical for the socio-economic development of the country.
Pakistan carried on with the political, administrative and legal arrangement that was in place, thanks to the Government of India Act 1935 adopted as interim Constitution of Pakistan with a few amendments. Articles 246 and 247 were incorporated in the Constitution of 1973 that gave a special status to FATA within the Federation of Pakistan. The administrative and political system in FATA was characterized by a troika of Jirga, Political Agent (PA) and Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR). While PAs represented executive authority and were responsible for law and order, FATA Secretariat supervised and controlled the line departments working under the leadership of Governor KP as representative of the Federation.
FATA is among the least developed regions of Pakistan, a fact that is endorsed by per-capita income number which constitutes almost half of the national average. Among peculiar issues specific to FATA that have hindered its development include the incidence of poverty, low literacy rate, insufficient infrastructure, and unavailability of clean drinking water. Scarcity of resources, government’s capacity issues, the lack of economic activities, rampant extremism, inhospitable terrain and socio-cultural attitude are some of the leading factors that are responsible for the underdevelopment of FATA.
The implementation of public policy in a conflict zone makes a complex and intricate undertaking. Given the massive development lag that FATA suffers, coupled with difficult terrain, devising a public policy solution becomes quite a herculean task. Understanding of public policy process, its kinds and policy analysis is central to the question of the merger of FATA with KP.
The adoption of the FATA reforms through the 25th Amendment represents a serious effort by the state of Pakistan to end the isolation of ex-FATA and making it part of the mainland in line with the longstanding aspirations of the tribal people. It has wider implications both for the merged districts as well as the federation of Pakistan. The following is a brief account of the changes brought about by the 25th Constitutional Amendment:
1. Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), enacted in 1901, was abolished and the laws of the State have been extended to the region.
2. All departments that fell under the jurisdiction of the FATA Secretariat were merged with the KP Secretariat as FATA Secretariat stood abolished.
3. The provincial cabinet, headed by the Chief Minister KP, was vested with the executive authority that was previously exercised by Governor KP earlier under Article 247 of the Constitution in respect of the merged districts.
4. 22 seats including 16 general seats and 4 reserved for women and 1 for minority were created in the KP provincial assembly. All the provincial laws passed by the KP assembly would extend to the merged districts like the rest of the province.
5. It was decided that 3% of national divisible pool under the National Finance Commission (NFC) will be spent on the development of the ex-FATA for a period of ten years. It adds up to Rs. 100 billion per annum.
6. The jurisdiction of the apex judiciary, namely the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP) and Peshawar High Court (PHC) has been extended to erstwhile FATA. Peshawar High Court would take steps to install provincial judicial system in the merged districts.
7. Deputy Commissioners and Assistant Commissioners replaced the Political and Assistant Political Agents respectively as the latter office stood abolished.
8. The merged districts will have a formal judicial system that will work under the supervision of PHC. The fundamental rights of the people there have been guaranteed and secured.
9. Provincial policing system has been enforced in the ex-FATA. The seven newly-created districts have been put under the command of District Police Officers (DPOs). Levis and Khasaadars have been made part of the provincial police force.
10. 25 tehsil municipalities and 702 village councils are part of the local government system that is pivotal to the political empowerment of the people.
Although the Political Parties Act (PPA) was enforced in ex-FATA in 2011 by the PPP government, yet political parties could not organize themselves there. The merger has now afforded a unique opportunity to the tribal people to organize themselves politically and have their aspirations and demands represented at the highest legislative forums. This way, they will have a greater say in decision-making.
The successful merger of FATA into KP will end the deprivation of the people, making them a stakeholder in the decision-making and thus will lead to greater integration, which, in turn, will strengthen the federation of Pakistan. The spirit of the local government system lies in the participation of the people in the affairs that directly relate to their life. Community participation is a linchpin of political empowerment and an edifice of democracy. The envisaged spending of 30% of the Annual Development Plan (ADP) through local government institutions will enable people to get involved in the decision-making at the grass-roots. It will help them debate, identify and build consensus on the development schemes, which will impart them vital lessons in political education and training. Their participation in the basic tier of democracy will instil confidence in them and will foster confidence in the democratic system.
The draconian FCR was at the heart of the administrative structure that defined the relationship between the authorities and the tribal people. It was not only an affront to the self-respect of the people but also violated the spirit of civilized conduct and democracy itself. The abolishment of FCR and extension of the jurisdiction of the superior judiciary will rid the people of the Jirga system, make the administration of cheap and swift justice possible through the formal judicial system and protect their fundamental rights as enshrined in the Constitution.
At the heart of the merger was the realisation that the socio-economic backwardness of ex-FATA contributed to a feeling of alienation among the tribal people. The step-motherly treatment extended to FATA by the federation over the last seven decades led people to develop deep-rooted deprivation with consequences that are well-documented. The merger of FATA with KP promises to usher in an era of social uplift and welfare of the people. However, it is easier said than done and requires pragmatic plans, prudent strategies and determined efforts.
One of the factors responsible for the growth of militancy and terrorism in former FATA was the lack of educational facilities. The region has a 33% literacy rate, lowest in Pakistan. The vacuum created by the absence of the state’s education system allowed the religious seminaries to step in and disseminate their narrow, self-serving and sectarian interpretation of the religion, thus leading to the radicalisation of impressionable minds. The merger has ignited hopes that the state will invest in the promotion of education.
The Accelerated Implementation Programme (AIP) 2019-2020 has rightly prioritized the revamping of schools, developing partnerships with the private sector and incentivizing learning outcomes. A combination of sustained policy focus and availability of resources will lead to an improvement in literacy rate and quality of education. AIP has also identified the health sector for upgrade through the restoration of existing infrastructure, outsourcing of non-technical services, the introduction of Sehat Insaf Card targeting the poorest of the poor, provision of mobile services and the recruitment of specialist doctors.
Figure A and B give an idea of allocations under the AIP for the years 2018-19 and 2019-2020.
Thanks to the availability of limited sources of income- generation in FATA, the land has assumed critical importance and is considered a precious asset. AIP 2019-20 has accorded priority to the delimitation of land which is collectively owned. This exercise is likely to cause law and order situation and lead to violence among the tribes.
One implication of the merger of FATA with KP is that all the provincial taxes will also extend to the region. Historically, the tribal people have lived off on the state subsidies and largesse. It will be quite a challenge to bring them within the tax net and make them pay their due share as part of national duty. This becomes all the more daunting when we look at the fact that ex-FATA has witnessed intergenerational poverty and underdevelopment over the decades. This explains why the federal government has given them a tax holiday for five years.
The success of the merger hinges on several factors. Economic development in the merged districts is one of them. The lack of economic opportunities led the youth into the hands of extremist and militant organizations that exploited the extreme poverty and religious sentiments to push their militant agenda. To kick-start the local economy, build infrastructure and improve the quality of civic services, it is important that the federating units craft consensus on the hassle-free provision of 3% funds out of the NFC for a period of 10 years.
… to be continued
The writer, a Chevening scholar, studied International Journalism at the University of Sussex. He is a regular contributor to The News, and can be reached at: email@example.com