February issue 2017

By | Newsbeat National | Published 7 years ago

To merge or not to merge the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) — the debate rages on, 69 years after partition.

The report of the five-member FATA reforms committee (with no representation from FATA itself) headed by Sartaj Aziz, the de facto Minister for Foreign Affairs, is still awaiting cabinet approval. There are several sticking points in the report. The biggest hurdle is, who will foot the bill to undertake the long overdue reforms in the seven tribal agencies that comprise FATA to bring them at par with the rest of the country?

All four provinces have been approached to agree to a four per cent cut from their divisible pool to provide two per cent to FATA and one per cent each to Gilgit-Baltistan and to Azad Kashmir. FATA’s share would then come to approximately Rs 60 billion, as compared to its current Annual Development Programme funds (2016-2017) of Rs 18.2 billion. However, so far, none of the provinces have agreed to this. And, as KP Chief Minister, Pervez Khattak, has said, this (FATA reforms) is a federal issue, and Islamabad, not the provinces, should foot the bill for it.

Newsline presents two points of view on the FATA debate.


There are some important aspects that need to be examined while contemplating the merger of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). Among these is a study of the past. For example, the Noshki and Chaghi areas in Balochistan were under the same administrative unit and went by the name of District Chaghi, before they were split into two separate districts. The first, Chaghi/Dalbandin, shared borders with both Iran and Afghanistan. The people of the area had numerous livelihood opportunities, and so did not focus on education. The Noshki area, meanwhile, couldn’t offer its residents much in terms of livelihood activities. Therefore, people focused more on education, leading to Noshki featuring among the top districts in the province in terms of the literacy rate.

As a result, many people from Noshki now occupy top official positions in all fields of life in Balochistan.

Meanwhile, the people of Chaghi find they have no representation in the government apparatus, which has increased the sense of deprivation among the people of the area, and a growing resentment towards the residents of Noshki, despite the fact that they were previously one district, with the same culture and language.

It is a similar case vis-a-vis Gwadar and Turbat. The people of Gwadar have always had livelihood opportunities in the shape of angling and other businesses related to fishing. Also, they have never focused on education. Turbat, with far fewer job opportunities, has, on the other hand, excelled in the field of education, and thus people from this area occupy almost all the positions in government offices. The native population of Gwadar is, naturally, not very happy about this situation, calling the people from Turbat and other areas “external settlers.”

A similar situation prevails in the Zhob and Sherani districts, which were also divided into two.

In this context it is important to consider the fact that the people of FATA are far behind in the field of education and in terms of exposure, as compared to the settled areas of KP. Therefore, much needs to be done before merging FATA with KP. To begin with, an infrastructure of health, education, and governance will have to be quickly developed to ensure that the people of FATA feel no sense of discrimination.

Failing to do this will further compound the feeling of resentment born from decades of deprivation and isolation.

One of the major arguments presented by those in favor of merging FATA into mainland KP, is that the people of that area will have a better life. The question remains: why didn’t this happen in the case of Balochistan? Despite its huge mineral and gas reserves, and a population of just around four million people, Balochistan — a province of Pakistan for seven decades — has remained mired in the past in terms of development.

The people of Balochistan have remained deprived of even the basic amenities of life, including education and health facilities. Some would argue that this deprivation is because of the Baloch Sardars and tribal chiefs. The question is, who strengthened these sardars and allowed them to reduce the people of their areas to serfs? The answer, surely, is the state.

Southern Punjab is another example of state neglect. Social indicators clearly demonstrate how, as compared to Central Punjab, which is relatively developed, the southern part of the province has been deprived on every front.

As a result, many of the people from this area have to make their way to other cities, such as Quetta, and other parts of Balochistan, to work as daily labourers. Most of the labourers from Punjab who were killed during the Balochistan insurgency were Seraikis from southern Punjab.

It is the same case with southern Pakhtunkhwa (comprising the northern districts of Balochistan). Despite being part of the mainland since the beginning, the area’s social indicators are dismal, and almost half the population have to leave their homes to find work in Sindh, Punjab and the Arab states.

Another argument propagated for the merger of FATA with KP is that it will bring peace to the terror-hit tribal areas. Perhaps the proponents of this view need to study the example of already settled areas such as Swat, Balochistan, parts of KP and Karachi.

The merger of FATA into the KP mainland will only add to the problems of the people rather than solving existing issues. Pashtun nationalist forces have a history of crying over spilt milk, realising things only after the damage has already been done. All those political parties who are advocating the merger, are actually suggesting a non-democratic solution to FATA’s problems, whereby the fate of more than 15 million people is to be left to the five members of a hand-picked committee that does not include a single representative from the sole stakeholder, i.e. FATA.

The solution for peace will not lie in merging FATA with KP, but in the political will to curb terrorism, the resolve of non-interference in neighbouring countries, and in the policy of live and let others live.

Before we consider mergers, we need to focus on the basic problems faced by the people of FATA — to begin with, the draconian Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) imposed on the people. So the first solution should be the repeal of this law. Next, there must be a process of rehabilitation for the people of FATA. And once rehabilitated, they must be compensated for the huge losses incurred during the reign of the militants in the area, and the military operations which were launched to purge the area of the militants. Then, a proper census should be conducted in all the seven agencies comprising FATA, and a referendum should be held, which gives the people a few choices that allow them to decide the future course of their lives. They should be permitted to decide whether they want to be an autonomous unit with an elected council, like that of Azad Kashmir, or to merge with Pakhtunkhwa. This is a solution advocated by the leadership of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PKMAP) and supported by the Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI-F). This is a far more realistic, legal and also democratic formula.