The Federally Administered Tribal Areas ( FATA ) and the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas ( PATA) represented both an aberration as well as one of Pakistan’s major faultiness. The 31st Constitutional Amendment bill, providing for the merger of these regions with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, has – constitutionally consigned them both into history.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Assembly provided the last nail in the coffin of this historical injustice by approving the KP-Fata merger bill with a two-thirds majority – despite rowdy protests by mavericks of the JUI-F.
Mubarik to all Pakistanis in FATA who will now constitutionally become equal citizens once all the seven FATA agencies and the six Frontier Regions (FRs) become part of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
“During a meeting of the Fata Reforms Committee, Chief of Army Staff Gen Javed Qamar Bajwa had asked me to settle the issue of Fata once and for all,” chief minister Pervez Khattak told fellow lawmakers on the occasion, resonating a similar passionate appeal by the COAS during his interaction with top newsmen and anchorpersons on March 9.
The rush with which it all happened from Islamabad to Peshawar provided clear indications of this anxiety at GHQ – as Sharifs and their prime minister seemed to dither and were seized with other priorities.
Also, when Sharifs tasked Sardar Mehtab, the then governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, to develop a Vision 2025 for FATA back in 2014, it was evident that the entrenched forces of status quo hardly favored a quicker time-frame for change for a region that had access to all modes of modern communications – vehicles, cell phones, electrical gadgets – but was still considered unfit for the modern laws.
But – regardless of the shakers behind – the push has rid FATA residents of a draconian colonial legacy. And here we must credit all those political forces who have been part of consultations on this particular issue all these years. Foreign donors also deserve recognition for their contribution to national campaigns in support of FATA reforms.
Often such interventions would draw flak and suspicion from the security establishment but the end of the day this hard work of several years eventually helped all political actors to join forces for the mainstreaming. This shows advocacy helps in gradually evolving consensus on thorny issues.
And now to the challenges ahead.
Nearly four decades of the conflict next door have distorted socio-political structures in FATA and the southern KP districts; they served as the launching pad for US-led anti-Soviet jihad and the US-driven Global War on Terror. These regions also hosted millions of Afghan refugees, both registered and undocumented. All this stunted the socio-economic and institutional growth of the region.
The challenge, therefore, is to adopt a whole-of-government-approach for accelerated administrative mainstreaming.
Secondly, all political parties shall have to treat mainstreaming of FATA as a national cause and not as the responsibility of the party ruling the province. Without a grand political consensus, meaningful FATA mainstreaming will remain elusive and fraught with impediments.
Thirdly, the army, particularly after the Army Public School attack in December 2014, has done well in clearing and establishing its writ in most areas. It will do good to join civilians in putting in place the security regime for a region that bears scars of conflict.
Raising and training a culturally-sensitive but professionally well-equipped security force i.e. police and affiliated institutions will be a huge challenge and would require joint efforts. They shall have to consciously try to humanize security.
Fourth, restive FATA youth – lots of them educated, energetic, full of ideas and love for Pakistan, would require calibrated support for a better future.
Many people, particularly youth, also suffer from the trauma that militants and military operations have inflicted on their psyche.
The real task ahead for everybody is to create the legal-administrative infrastructure to fast-paced development and give these victimized regions some semblance of legal-political equality accompanied by tools of economic development. The conflict has battered the entire region for decades and it will take a sincere and holistic approach to reverse the consequences in a few years.
Knit-picking on small issues and politicising issues that are critical to mainstreaming will only delay, and possibly squander, the gains of the military campaign against terrorism and the parliamentary process thus far. In this context, the Iranian warning that Pak-Afghan regions now may be the target for a hideout of Daesh terrorists must serve as a wake-up call for all those who want entire Pakistan to be treated equally under the constitution. Equitable and accelerated mainstreaming is the only answer to fixing faultlines that are prone to exploitation by the vested interest.
This article first appeared in Daily Times. Click here to go to the original.