Merger of FATA with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa


Merger of FATA with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 

On May 31, 2018, Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA, formally ceased to exist. Home to five million people, and covering more than 27,000 square kilometres, these tribal districts have attracted enormous international attention in the last two decades due to their shared border with war-torn Afghanistan. The Government of Pakistan has now brought an end to FATA’s decades-old special status by merging the tribal agencies with the neighbouring province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). Before the merger with KP, FATA was governed by a special set of laws known as the Frontier Crimes Regulations, enacted in 1901 by the British Empire to confront Pashtun insurgents. Poor governance and decades of warfare in neighbouring Afghanistan had rendered the region vulnerable to continuing insurgency and deprivation. This, in turn, had a spillover effect on health, education, and livelihoods of the people and caused the dislocation of a substantial portion of the tribal population to other parts of the country. UNDP’s 2017 Human Development Report ranked FATA lowest in the country on its Human Development Index (HDI). The merger of FATA with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa represents an opportunity and a new hope for peace and prosperity. But there is still a long way to go.

In May 2018, the parliament of Pakistan passed a historic constitutional amendment that ended the semi-autonomous rule of its Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), abolished the colonial-era laws that governed it, and merged it with the country’s territory. The merger was widely heralded as a way of bringing development to the impoverished tribal region and peace and stability to its militant and

Tribesmen line up to cast their vote outside a polling station for the first provincial elections in Jamrud, a town of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on July 20, 2019. - Pakistan's tribal areas held their first ever provincial elections on July 20 amid high security, a key step bringing the northwestern region into the political mainstream after years of turmoil fuelled by militancy. (Photo by ABDUL MAJEED / AFP)

conflict-laden history. This was also a significant step to deal with the law and order situation and mainstreaming the region. The merger of FATA with Khyber Paktunkhwa province is an important step by the Government of Pakistan to address the prevailing security issues. The merger was also considered a salient feature of National Action Plan (NAP) to establish strategies for addressing the local conflicts in the county. It is believed that the FATA reforms may help in dealing with the structural and cultural reasons of the violence prevailing under the old system, and developing a comprehensive plan for countering extremism and ensuring de-radicalization.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan and the Peshawar High Court have extended their jurisdictions to the tribal districts, and a roadmap has been developed to construct courthouses and set up district and session courts, but persistent insecurity in the area will make this a challenging task. There is a sobering lesson to be drawn from the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas in KP province, where nonstate actors capitalized on the grievances of citizens who suffered delays in the legal system to introduce their own, competing system of justice.
The other unresolved issue is the old policing system in FATA. The seven tribal agencies had a different policing system, run by the chief administrator—a representative of the president of Pakistan—and deferential to local Maliks (notables). There is an ongoing debate in KP: should the FATA police (known as Khasadars and Levies) be under the command of the Central Police Office in Peshawar, or should they operate directly from the provincial Home Department? The merger of Balochistan Levies with the provincial police force cost the national exchequer billions of rupees with no tangible results on the ground, and as we know from bitter experience there, the merger of tribal police must be conducted tactfully, and an efficient criminal justice system must be established to gain the public trust. The KP government will also need to critically assess the strategic framework developed for the police in 2014 and evaluate the performance of the Central Police Office in Peshawar over the past five years in order to chalk out areas where improvement is needed.sdf
Restoration of peace and the establishment of durable political structures are critical for governance and rule of law to be productive as representative political structures will enable the provincial government to pursue socioeconomic development in the region. Islamabad has adopted a 10-year plan to develop major infrastructure, establish industrial zones, set up modern urban hubs in all tribal districts, establish universities and medical colleges, develop the mineral and agriculture sectors, create job opportunities for youth, and most importantly, rehabilitate dislocated persons. The 10-year plan will spend 30 percent of allocated funds on efforts to counter radicalization and transform local communities, and bringing local bodies on board at the grassroots level will be of critical importance.
Two major challenges are going to confront the implementation of the 10-year development plan.

Pakistani spectators carry placards during a T20 cricket match between Pakistan XI and UK Media XI at the Younis Khan Cricket Stadium in Miranshah, the former stronghold of Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants, in North Waziristan near the Afghan border on September 21, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / AAMIR QURESHI

First, the KP government has no binding agreement with the federal government or other provincial governments for the allocation of funding from the National Finance Commission. This apparently glaring omission reflects the continuing political dynamic among Pakistan’s provinces, which will be called upon to sacrifice a portion of their shares of federal revenue, and the eventual outcome has yet to be determined.
Second, transparent and accountable administration will be of critical importance. The KP government will need to assess the performance of its Civil Secretariat, especially in the northern and southern districts of the province, which are demographically similar to the tribal districts, and which have a history of heavy-handed misrule by public sector agencies. The northern districts of KP—Shangla, Kohistan, Torghar, and Upper Dir—currently have the lowest HDI ranking in the province, as highlighted in the UNDP’s 2017 Human Development Report.5d3338577fe05
Finally, it will be crucial to avoid overlapping roles and responsibilities among institutions. Currently, FATA affairs are run by three agencies—the FATA Disaster Management Authority, the FATA Secretariat, and the FATA Development Authority. Administration of the region could be managed efficiently through a single agency, whose institutional capacity could be enhanced to promote speedy development, effective coordination and better fiscal management. For maximum accountability and transparency, yearly third-party evaluations would be an essential tool, and a strict, merit-based system for the hiring and promotion of officials will also be a prerequisite.
Meanwhile, the merger of FATA with KP and the successful implementation of the 10-year development plan will depend on the security situation. Continued volatility and insecurity will make it extremely difficult for provincial government to achieve tangible results on the ground. The Pakistan Army’s role in de-escalating security threats will, therefore, be significant—and delicate, due to the long history of military conflict in the region.14108706100_394e4a54fb_k-1600x900
The current scenario offers a moment of hope to the tribal population that a century of insurgency will at last be put to rest, and that the legacy of underdevelopment and deprivation will yield to effective programmes and policies under the 10-year development plan. For this change to occur, the Government of Pakistan needs to take a holistic approach to longstanding structural problems and provide an environment that is conducive to the participation of all stakeholders. A good start would be to establish durable political structures in all seven tribal districts to allow them to begin to shape their own socioeconomic and political destiny.EOPBzXMXkAAAdOX
The effort of the Pakistan government to merge FATA with KP is momentous to bringing peace, stability and prosperity to the FATA region with efficient governance and rule of law. The mainstreaming of FATA aims to bring the tribal region at par with the rest of the country constitutionally, politically, administratively and economically. FATA is already heavily dependent on KP province for administrative workforce and facilities as well as social services such as education and health. It is hoped that the consolidation of this ethnic, cultural and social cohesion with KP will not only bring administrative and infrastructural development in FATA, but will also open up the region to new businesses, better communication, greater development and positive social change. On the external front, the progress towards mainstreaming will reduce the vulnerability of the border areas with Afghanistan ensuring stability and security along the Durand Line which is essential for both internal stability in Pakistan and for the region in general. e4c4f8869c5d4ada870684d131e98bdd_18
However, it is equally important that all reform efforts should be introduced keeping in view the needs, demands and wishes of the people of FATA region. The status of FATA as a separate tribal region not only affected the functioning and legitimacy of the governance system but also resulted in militancy, illegal trade and corruption. The reforms in economic, governance and legal system will definitely change the dynamics of the region. Implementation is a difficult task; government alone cannot do it, hence, support from civil society is crucial. Especially, the youth from FATA with potential and motivation can play a significant role in uplifting the region. Success requires the effective implementation of peace and security measures as well as participation of the people to make it work.

The writer is a PhD Scholar (English Literature).
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