Why procrastination on FATA-KP merger?
Muhammad Jamil


The Federal Cabinet approved the merger of the Federally Administrative Tribal Areas (FATA) on March 2, stating that it will be done under a gradual process of five years. Under the new judicial system, the FCR will be replaced by the Tribal Areas Rewaj Act. The jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and the Peshawar High Court will be extended to the region to bring it under the law of the land.

The proposed FATA reforms were debated and discussed for long, but different parties represented their own thoughts and agendas that delayed the reforms process. The Jamiat Ulema-e Islam (JUI-F) and the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party still opposed the reforms. He was of the view that first reforms should be introduced in FATA for five years and then on the basis of this assessment decision should be made whether or not to merge FATA with KP.In fact, there is no reason for the delay in implementation of FATA reforms when almost all parties of KP, elected NA members of FATA and almost all political parties in the National Assembly and the Senate want FATA-KP merger. On 9th September 2015, all FATA parliamentarians, excluding the JUI-F MNA from North Waziristan, had jointly presented the 22nd Constitutional Amendment Bill proposing integration of FATA into KP. In December 2015, members called to abolish Article 247 of the constitution to make FATA part of the KP. It is rather surprising that the Pukhtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) has no representation in FATA tried to throw spanner in the works. One would accept his claim being champion of Pashtuns’ cause in Balochistan, but KP assembly members and people of KP do not accept him as their leader and guardian.In August 2016, the committee formed to decide the fate of the tribal areas had concluded that the option to merge theregionwithKhyberPakhtunkhwa is the only viable route to mainstream the areas. The 51-page report of the FATA committee, submitted to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, stated that without reforms, the Army might have to stay in FATA for an indefinite period, thus affecting strategic military balance on the Eastern front. It was proposed that in order to sustain the successes achieved by the military, law enforcement agencies and political administration, legal and security reforms are essential. It was recommended that the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and the high court be extended to the tribal areas by amending Article 247 and other relevant laws. Since all members of the KP assembly and all parliamentarians from FATA demand merger with KP, there is no reason for the delay.The nation has been listening to the rhetoric about reforms for the tribal areas, but without any progress. There are 19 elected representatives from FATA who have beendemanding that fundamental rights of the residents should be guaranteed. Unfortunately, even the amendments to Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) made in 2011 have not been implemented. The FCR is remnant of British Raj framed in 1890 by which the tribal areas were administered through political agents. Under this system, if an individual of a tribe commits a crime, the entire tribe is penalized, which negates the very concept of justice. Apart from judicial reforms, it is imperative to introduce political reforms in tribal areas, as the people of the tribal areas are very much citizens of Pakistan. And under the Constitution they are entitled to the same rights and privileges enjoyed by the people living in other parts of the country.
If political reforms are introduced to bring tribal areas in the mainstream politics, political parties could reach the voters, circulate their manifestos and create political awareness among the residents. The political leaders of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) were allowed to join political parties with the extension of political parties order in 2011 for the first time in its history. Had they been part of mainstream politics, it would not have been possible for the extremists’ outfits to aid or abet foreign militants to create problems for Pakistan. Of Course, development in FATA should be undertaken on war footing. The US had taken the responsibility to set up industrial units in FATA and earthquake-hit areas of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa as part of Reconstruction Opportunity Zones. But, the project was abandoned by the US, as after withdrawal of US and NATO forces it lost interest in the project.
Anyhow, people and lawmakers of FATA vociferously demand merger of their territory with KP. In April 2016, FATA Lawyers Forum President Rahim Shah while addressing a press conference organized by ‘Centre for Governance and Public Accountability (CGPA)’ demanded of the parliamentarians to pass the 22nd amendment to the Constitution to make FATA part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In principle, government is inclined to accept their demand. Reportedly, the government is drafting the bill that seeks to repeal the infamous Frontier Crimes Regulations, and extend the jurisdiction of Peshawar High Court to Federally Administered Tribal Areas, which will be welcome by the people of tribal areas. But judicial reforms would not be enough, and FATA should be brought in the political mainstream at an early date. When elected representative of FATA demand merger with KP, and KP is willing to take FATA in its fold, there is no reason for the delay.