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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Should FATA merge with KP or become an independent province?

The committee created by PM Nawaz Sharif in Nov 2015, headed by trusted lieutenant, Sartaj Aziz, after several months of work was clear that the best option for integration of FATA with the national mainstream of Pakistan will be its integration with the province of KP. 

However later in Dec 2016, federal cabinet failed to act upon the recommendations of its own committee because of the resistance of JUI(F) leader, Maulana Fazal ur Rehman. Maulana has since then, along with Mehmood Khan Achakzai, leader of Baluchistan’s Pashtuns, emerged as the staunch opponent of FATA merging with KP. The federal government was to discuss the issue in cabinet meeting earlier this week – and took it off the agenda — for no stated reason. Chairperson PTI, Imran Khan tweeted his and the people of Fata’s disappointment.

KP government has set up working group to understand practical steps needed for the merger

Betani of JUI(F) warned Secretary Safron, Govt of Pakistan, should not push FATA people into darkness by advocating for the merger plan

In January KP government had formed a working group to finalize the practical steps needed for the merger of FATA with KP. Working group was concerned that what kind of new challenges will arise once a war-torn and disturbed region like FATA is assimilated into KP, itself a province (12.5% of Pakistan’s population) with limited resources. For instance, the security of FATA will then fall under the domain of IGP KP, Nasir Durrani.

However civil servants told the CM KP that most challenges will be easily addressed since in many respects FATA region is already integrated with KP; its road network, markets and administrative set up has historically been part of KP and civil servants sent to manage FATA are sent from KP civil secretariat. 

Objections by the JUI-F

However, the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl, faction headed by Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman has further renewed its opposition to the proposed merger of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; it is now saying: it won’t allow the execution of such proposals. JUI-F Fata chief Mufti Abdul Shakoor Betani told reporters at the Peshawar Press Club on Monday that his party won’t accept any move against aspirations of tribal people, and it would continue to struggle to give a status of the separate province to tribal regions. He and others supporting him argue that decision of the federal government has been undemocratic since no referendum has been conducted to ascertain public will. 

Accompanied by other leaders of the party’s FATA chapter including Mufti Ejaz Shinwari, Ahmad Saeed Dawar, and Qari Jihad Shah, the JUI-F leader criticized political parties favoring the Fata-KP merger saying they’re working against the will of the majority of the tribal people.

read more: Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman: HIS MASTER’S VOICE? Mevlanas of our times!

Betani, the JUI(F) Leader went to the extent of insisting that the proposal of making FATA part of KP is a foreign agenda. Why would this be a foreign agenda? he did not clarify. 

Betani of JUI(F) warned that Secretary Safron, Govt of Pakistan, should not push FATA people into darkness by advocating for the merger plan. He claimed that 80 per cent of Fata people opposed their region’s merger with KP. However, he did not explain that how he has determined that figure of 80%.

One thing Betani said was significant; he said that he and his party are hopeful that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his cabinet members would fulfill promises made with the JUI-F leadership over the future of Fata. But does that mean that PM Nawaz Sharif has made any promises to Maulana Fazal ur Rehman ignoring the well thought out recommendations of the Committee that worked under Sartaj Aziz? 

Read more: Are KP police capable of fighting terror and crime?

Tribal Jirga demands FATA Province 

JUI(F)’s onslaught against the merger synced with a tribal jirga that almost on the same day took a position against the merger. On Monday, the same day when Betani of JUI(F) was speaking at Press Club Peshawar a jirga of elders from Khyber Agency held in Jamrud urged the government to either form an independent Fata legislative council or announce a separate province status for the tribal areas.

Malik Ghaffar Khan Afridi, a tribal elder, said the Fata merger with KP was unacceptable to the tribal people. He argued that the Fata reforms proposed by the government committee went against tribal customs and traditions. He said legislation and policies on Fata should be made in the light of local traditions and customs.

But Malik Ghaffar Khan Afridi also opposed the extension of the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and high courts to Fata, saying local residents knew well how to resolve their issues through a jirga system.

“We want constitutional protection for our traditional tribal jirga, and customs,” he said, adding the people won’t accept any decision that would create new problems and complications for them.

Earlier, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party Chairperson Mehmood Khan Achakzai had also convened a tribal jirga in Islamabad in January in which most participants rejected the concept of merger and demanded a separate province for Fata instead.

Read more: Merger of FATA: to be or not to be?

FATA: Merger with KP or Independent; Main Issues?  

Currently, all Pakistani provinces have equal voting rights in the Senate – a formula adopted from the United States where Utah has the same 2 seats as California

What are the main issues here? The committee headed by Sartaj Aziz had several distinguished members. It also included Arbab Shahzad, who has remained ex-Chief Secretary KP and ex-Chief Secretary AJK.

The arguments of this committee supported by ANP, PTI and JI are that all regions and agencies of FATA are geographically more easily connected with towns in KP than with each other. So the trade relations, markets and administrative issues of these regions are already integrated with and dependent on with KP. Making a new province will create serious challenges and will make the task of development difficult. 

However, the criticism coming mainly from Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman and Mehmood Khan Achakzai is that the decision of the committee is non-democratic. They argue that will of the people should have been ascertained through a referendum.

It’s not clear if their resistance is based on their genuine understanding of issues or is based on their political calculations against the PTI lead KP government? Some analysts, quietly, argue that merger of FATA with KP will reduce JUI(F)’s influence in the region. Currently, its the dominant political force in FATA and in the case of increased federal funding to an independent FATA province or region will further enhance its hold on politics of FATA and KP. 

But there are other critics too. Ex-Ambassador Ayyaz Wazir, prominent face on national tv in discussions on Afghanistan and region argues that in the last 70 years, 25 out of the 32 governors that were posted to FATA were from KP. The Ambassador says they did not do anything for the development of FATA. However, this is not clear if this was due to some kind of prejudice towards FATA or due to the other laws in existence like FCR of 1903 which did not allow FATA to be treated like a normally settled region. 

Ambassador Wazir, who recently wrote about this in The News International, argues that once FATA becomes an independent province then it can progress faster. Interestingly he is thinking that FATA, as a separate province will get 23 seats in Pakistan’s Senate. However, this is far from settled and drives straight into the whole debate around new possible provinces.

Senate seats under new provinces

Sindhi politicians have long argued that if new provinces are created from Punjab, then Punjabis will have far more share in the Senate. Currently, all Pakistani provinces have equal voting rights in the Senate – a formula adopted from the United States where Utah has the same 2 seats as California.

However, this formula is being used in Pakistan against the new provinces. India, that has created several new states in the last 70 years has instead relied upon the population % formula. All states have representation in Rajya Sabha, the upper chamber of Indian parliament, as per their population. Pakistan will have to follow India if it creates new provinces. 

FATA Debate may go a long way in raising issues of Pakistan’s political structure. Apparently, Maulana and Mehmood Achakzai, both staunch allies of PM Nawaz Sharif, may be taking their positions against the merger of FATA with KP with a nod from Islamabad. The idea may be to keep PTI lead KP under pressure, but it may lead to newer issues in Pakistan. This is what national politics is about.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.