September Issue 2019
No Longer a Stepchild
The leaders of both the ruling and opposition parties termed it a historic day when the newly elected lawmakers from the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) took oath on August 27 as members of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly.
It was the first time that the most under-developed and remote areas in Pakistan had got representation in the provincial assembly, and it only became possible after FATA’s merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province in May 2018.
Prior to that, FATA had representation in the National Assembly and the Senate, having 12 and 8 seats respectively, in the lower and upper house of parliament, but it had no elected representatives in the KP Assembly despite sharing so much with the province.
Though the election for the 16 general seats and 5 reserved seats, including 4 for women and one for the minorities, took place nearly a year after the July 2018 general election, the deadline prescribed at the time of the passage of the 25th Constitutional Amendment from the parliament for organising the polls to complete the merger of FATA with KP was met. Thus a promise was kept, and a major step taken towards the mainstreaming of FATA.
The 21 newly elected members of the provincial assembly from the merged tribal districts will have a four-year term, unlike the 124 others who won seats in the general election held on July 25, 2018 and remained part of the process to elect the leader of the house (chief minister) and leader of the opposition. The new members will, therefore, have to adjust and become part of the parliamentary system already in place.
As the lawmakers from the merged districts took oath and signed the roll of members amid applause from their supporters packing the galleries in the spacious KP Assembly building, a new journey began in the life of the tribespeople who have been neglected and under-represented for the past 72 years. Now they are better represented and have 41 MNAs, Senators and MPAs to speak for their rights and highlight their aspirations. A few MPAs will become provincial ministers or advisors. The people of the seven merged districts and six sub-divisions (former Frontier Regions) will also have a representative local government in the coming months as the KP government is preparing to hold elections for those areas.
The outcome of the landmark polls in the merged districts didn’t bring any increase or decrease in the strength of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government as it continued to enjoy two-thirds majority in the KP Assembly. It won five of the 16 general seats in the election, a result that was below its expectation as Chief Minister Mahmood Khan had publicly stated that PTI would win 10-12 seats. The PTI tried hard to attract the six independently elected MPAs from the merged districts, but managed to lure only two to its ranks. It then won two reserved seats of the four for women and the lone seat reserved for minorities.
However, the election surprisingly heralded the entry of the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) in KP politics.
Something unimaginable happened when three independent MPAs joined the BAP and then got a female candidate elected on one of the four seats reserved for women. Apparently without even trying, the BAP secured four seats in the 145-member KP Assembly and became a new player in the hitherto familiar politics of the province.
Until this turn of events the BAP had shown no real interest in doing politics outside Balochistan as the party’s name suggests. It had no organisational set-up in KP, but it is likely the party will now be tempted to try and build a political base in the province.
The man who facilitated BAP’s entry in KP politics is Shahjee Gul Afridi, a former MNA from Khyber district who heads a group named Alhaj Karwan. The wealthy politician first got his son Bilawal Afridi, and his nephew Shafiq Sher Afridi elected as MPAs by defeating candidates of all the established political parties, including the ruling PTI. He then tried to form a group of independent MPAs from the merged districts to negotiate better terms with the PTI in return for support to the government. However, he drew only one independently elected MPA, Abbas-ur-Rahman from Mohmand to his group, as two others joined the PTI and one opted to stay independent. Still this group of three MPAs, plus a woman lawmaker, gave it enough political clout to persuade the BAP to make its debut in KP politics. Shahjee Gul Afridi, who was one of the few tribal parliamentarians who openly campaigned for merging FATA with KP, was keen to take his group into a ruling party and he managed this by joining the BAP, which as an ally of the PTI is in power both in the centre and in Balochistan. Joining the PTI wasn’t an option for the group as their relations were unfriendly after having contested elections against each other. Besides, the PTI had no real need to offer privileges to attract any more MPAs to its side due to its unassailable majority in the provincial assembly.
One heard fresh voices on the floor of the KP Assembly when the new MPAs were given a chance to express their views. Mir Kalam Khan Wazir, the young lawmaker elected from North Waziristan as an independent candidate, talked about the suffering of his people due to militancy and military operations and said that their areas had no representation in the National Assembly at this point of time as Mohsin Dawar, the MNA from North Waziristan, and Ali Wazir, the MNA from South Waziristan, were in prison facing trial and awaiting justice. Naeema Kishwar, by now a veteran parliamentarian after having served in the past as MPA and MNA for the JUI-F, was on her feet as soon as the opportunity arose to discuss issues such as Indian atrocities in Jammu and Kashmir and also the need for fast-paced development activities in the merged districts to bring these most under-developed areas at par with the rest of Pakistan.
When opposition lawmakers proposed giving the lion’s share in development funds to the new MPAs from the merged districts, the proposal was vocally applauded. The PTI government, offered the assurance that the erstwhile FATA would be given priority in terms of provision of special funds and the implementation of a wide range of political, administrative, judicial and economic reforms. There is hope the merged districts will remain the focus of attention of all the stakeholders. After more than 70 years of neglect, it is time the former FATA areas get all the attention they need to become part of mainstream Pakistan.
Rahimullah Yusufzai is a Peshawar-based senior journalist who covers events in the NWFP, FATA, Balochistan and Afghanistan. His work appears in the Pakistani and international media. He has also contributed chapters to books on the region.