By Tayyeb Afridi
After the security situation somehow improved, the FATA Parliamentarians tabled the bill in the National Assembly seeking merger of FATA with Khyber Pakhtukhwa (KP). The tabling of this bill actually highlighted once again the issue of FATA - whether it should be brought under the umbrella of parliament or left as it is to the prerogative of president, a ceremonial head of the state, who only controls FATA.
We have seen a lot of uproar in the past two months over social and conventional media about the fate of FATA. Social media users were rigorously using twitter hashtags of MergeFATAWithKP, FATAMerger, FATAMergerWithKP, taking to Facebook to share their views about FATA status. There was all of sudden this groundswell of opinion seen everywhere in FATA and KP as FATA Siyasi Ittehad (FSI) supported by Awami National Party (ANP), Jamat-i-Islami (JI) , Jamhori Watan Party (JWP), Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Peoples party took rallies to D-chowk of parliament to press for the merger of FATA into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). Conventional media also carried many stories on this subject. But the crescendo of voices died just as suddenly as it had erupted. Why?
The FATA parliamentarians (yes, theoretically they are parliamentarian but practically they cannot even legislate for FATA) for whatever political reasons gave up on the proposed 22nd amendment tabled and pursued by them in the parliament and that happened after the government constituted a “special powered” committee with no members from FATA to decide the fate of the region.
Like always, someone else is deciding the fate of tribal areas in the presence of FATA representatives. That is why the FATA Siyasi Itehad (FSI) rejected the formation of this committee, while the FATA Grand Alliance (FGA)- an alliance of Maliks (tribal elders) welcomed it because they want an elected council or province for FATA and rejects merger of FATA with KP. Jamiat-ullema-e-Islam JUI (F) also rejects merger of FATA with KP.
The FGA and JUI (F) think that becoming part of KP will undermine importance of tribal traditions such as Jirga and other customs. What they don’t know or don’t want to know is that those living in KP are also Pakhtuns and has been happily exercising their traditions whether that is Jirga or anything else even under the umbrella of parliament. This sort of parallel system exists everywhere in Pakistan. For instance, take Punjab where you will find Panchayat. In Sindh, the Wadera system continues to exist. Aren’t they tribesmen having traditions? I guess nobody is saying we’re better than them.
And also this notion that tribal people are better – by way of tradition and values - than those living in KP is in fact racism. It hurts one to see even tribal educated folks saying that Pakhtuns in KP have compromised their traditions and they don’t want to be part of it. We don’t have to be rocket scientists to know that Pakhtuns living in KP are better educated with more schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, courts, playgrounds, and far better established infrastructure which is being used by people from tribal areas since ages.
So what is the best possible scenario?
If the government makes the tribal areas a part of KP, the tribal people will get rid of centuries old draconian law known as Frontier Crime Regulation (FCR) that prohibits freedom of expression and speech and this will ultimately contribute to information economy, which is absent in this region since becoming part of the country.
If the government makes it a part of KP, the tribal people will get out of the isolation syndrome that is preventing them from change and thus they will embrace physical and emotional development.
By becoming part of KP, the almost 10 million population of tribal areas will add to KP and that will increase the province share in the NFC Award because it goes to the provinces on the basis of population.
The mainstreaming will open up FATA to business, tourism, communication, if not immediately, at least after a few years and people will experience a positive change.
KP and FATA share a common ethnicity and therefore they understand each other well because many tribesmen from Bajaur to South Waziristan have been living in KP for many years and for many reasons.
Also geographically, KP and FATA are connected and dependent on each other for education, health, business, and communication. If some one has to go to Orakzai from Bajaur, he has to go through Peshawar and Kohat as there is no direct road between these two. And there is even no direct road that connects all agencies. Making such road is next to impossible because one has to break the mountains that are separating agencies.
In case of having FATA as a separate province from KP, there will be disputes on which agency will be the capital of FATA and that could be tough decision to make. The FATA areas even don’t have their own civil servants and they borrow it from KP. And finally, now the military establishment also likes to see the fate of FATA decided because the local administration has badly failed to counter radicalism and militancy.
The best possible scenario available at this time for FATA is to merge with KP. And if the FATA Parliamentarians invoked the 22nd amendment and passed it from the parliament, they will be remembered as saviors of FATA in the days to come.