Islamabad: The government in March this year has announced merger of the restive Pakistani tribal region with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, ending its autonomous status and paving way for greater peace not only in FATA but also in Pakistan and the region, FATA Research Centre (FRC), a think tank, says.

Irfan U Din, senior researcher and security analyst for Pakistan and Afghanistan at FRC told Truth Tracker: “the merger of FATA region, bordering Afghanistan, with KP will help in drying up public support for militants.”

According to a study by FRC published in 2016, FATA is being administered by Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) introduced in 1901 as a part of a British strategy to establish their control over the tribal areas.

“A survey by FRC suggested 74 per cent people of the tribal region want a merger of Fata with KP,” Din recalled. Rehmat Khan, additional inspector general (AIG) police (R), said that Fata should not be turned into a laboratory to conduct experiments. “Merging of Fata with KP is a good step but the government is employing delaying tactics to implement its recommendations,” he added.

The FRC study stated even after Pakistan came into being in 1947, FCR was retained in its original form. The President of Pakistan through the Governor of KP province exercises sole jurisdiction over Fata through the civil servants.

However, through a notification back in November 2015, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif tasked a committee to undertake reforms in Fata. Since then Fata Reforms Committee had held series of meetings with what the committee’s officials said all stakeholders.

Chaired by the prime minister, the federal cabinet on March 2 this year approved recommendations of Fata Reforms Committee, which envisages merger of Fata with KP province over the next five years.

“It is a historic decision and we must congratulate the whole country,” Sartaj Aziz, advisor to the prime minister on foreign affairs and convener of Fata Reforms Committee, told a crowded press conference on this occasion, March 2 this year.

Din recalled the Soviet-Afghan war in the 1980s further aggravated the power equation, since Jihad in Afghanistan raised the stature of local clergy or Mullah as another important actor in FATA.

Aziz announced a committee would be formed this April to prioritize preparation of a 10-year socio-economic development plan for FATA. Over a Rs. 110 billion development package, proposed by a six member FATA reforms committee, has been approved for FATA.

According to Fata Reforms Committee, the National Finance Commission (NFC) would be requested to allocate 3 per cent of the federal divisible pool on an annual basis for implementation of Fata Development Plan (FDP).

In addition, about 30 per cent of the allocation in the FDP would be channeled through the local governments while Fata Development Authority (FDA) is reorganized for implementation of 10-year Socio-Economic Development Plan.

The cabinet has also decided to repeal the FCR to bring FATA at a par with other areas of the country through a 10-year development package.

Aziz said a provision would be made through a constitutional amendment enabling Fata people to elect their representatives to the KP Assembly in the looming 2018 ballots.

The FRC study stated that that (governance) vacuum was adequately filled by militants in the post-September 2001 milieu. Since then, violence in FATA not only brought havoc to the tribal people but also jeopardized an already weak writ of the state over the region.

Post-9/11, the study finds, there is a worldwide consensus that if places like Fata remain ungoverned or beyond the state’s writ, they may pose security challenges of a global scale.

According to another report “Reform Process in the FATA and the Future of FCR: A Local Perspective,” conducted by Fozia Saeed Khan and Saeed Khan in 2016, a separate set of administrative system governs this region.

According to one of the clauses of the FCR, principle of collective responsibility is enshrined in FCR, as the whole tribe is made responsible for the crime if the culprit is not traceable.  However, Aziz declared, “Provisions relating to collective responsibility clause will be omitted to make an individual responsible for his own acts.”

Situated along the porous Pak- Afghan border, the study stated that Fata has an area of 27,220 square kilometers with its population according to 1998 census is 3.8 million but observers believe its current population exceeds six million and some estimates put the figure between 7 to 10 million people.

According to the study, the socio-economic indicators of FATA reveal the backwardness of the region in stark terms.  A 60 per cent of population lives below poverty line, literacy rate is 17 per cent for the males and 3 per cent for females (as compared to 43% national overage), infrastructure, educational facilities and health facilities are extremely poor.

Local government polls would be held in FATA soon after the 2018 ballots, Aziz said. Permit system for exports and imports in and from FATA would be abolished to eliminate large-scale corruption. Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP) would ensure that all of the development funds in the tribal region are properly audited.

The jurisdiction of the Peshawar High Court and Supreme Court of Pakistan would be extended to FATA through an act of parliament.  Frontier Corps (FC) would also undergo advanced capacity building and a new FC wing would be established for improved border management.

Without going into details, Aziz said connectivity of FATA with China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) would be ensured. The State Bank of Pakistan would find avenues to establish banks’ branches in tribal region.  He said the quota of FATA students in all educational and health institutions would be doubled and retained for 10 years after it is merged with the KP province.

Ali Wazir, a tribal elder, told Truth Tracker that reforms for FATA is nothing but a total mess and it would lead to administrative vacuum.  “We support merger of Fata with KP but we are virtually pushed into a blind street because the policies will stay unchanged for another decade,” Wazir rued.

“In order to deny space for militants to regroup in Fata in future, US and other countries should help Pakistan in the development work in a post- conflict FATA reconstruction phase,” Din concluded.

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