Having side-stepped demands for a referendum and to declare Fata a separate province, the federal cabinet has decided to merge the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa within five years.
In other words, after the 2018 elections and not before. In the meantime, the cabinet decided to implement a 29-point development plan that is expected to bring it at par with rest of the country. The roadmap for this so-called streamlining Fata has been approved by the federal government – much to the satisfaction of major political parties but no less annoyance of a few, including its ally JUI (F). On the face of it, Maulana Fazlur Rehman-led Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) wanted deferment of the Sartaj Aziz-headed Fata Reforms Committee’s recommendations on Fata-KP merger until the said Fata is “streamlined”, but in actuality, it was a camouflage for retention of the status quo for political reasons.
Others like Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and Aftab Sherpao’s Qaumi Watan Party (QWP) were all out for Fata-KP merger, but then they also wanted it with immediate effect, and not after five years. But no less politically astute federal government has conceded their viewpoints, but on its own terms: the merger demand has been conceded but not before the next elections and as it accepts the JUI(F)’s call for streamlining the Fata it has not agreed with its call for separate provincial status of Fata. Be that as it may, there is hardly a chance of federal government changing its position on the issue of merger, which appears to be in line with ground realities as they obtain in today’s turmoil-ridden tribal areas.
Politics apart, the package announced by the federal government has the right potential to bring Fata at par with the rest of the country. First and foremost, constitutional amendments would be made to enable the people of Fata to elect their representatives to the provincial assembly which would come into existence following the general election in 2018.
Also, the notorious Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) would be replaced with Riwaj Act, and provisions relating to collective/vicarious responsibility would be omitted as instead of whole tribe being held responsible the individual responsible for his acts would be held guilty. Jurisdictions of the Supreme Court and Peshawar High Court would be extended to Fata, but ‘jirga’ system would be retained, albeit with some changes.
The cabinet also decided to set up a committee of experts which would prepare a 10-year socio-economic development plan for Fata by the end of next month. And in addition to 3 percent allocation from the federal divisible pool and Rs 21 billion annual PSDP allocation, Fata would be granted special funds. Meanwhile, the law-enforcement and rehabilitation of displaced persons would receive special attention.
The spirit behind the package prepared by the Fata Reforms Committee and approved by the federal cabinet is that by the time tribal areas become part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa they are at the same socio-political and economic levels as rest of the province and don’t feel being regarded as economic burden or social responsibility. The question whether all this will happen will find an answer in the two houses of parliament as and when the Fata reforms bill is tabled. As the luck would have it, the otherwise almost all-encompassing 18th Constitutional Amendment doesn’t touch Article 247 which deals with the administration of Tribal Areas.
It would now require extensive amendment, for which the obtaining sentiment in parliament is definitely positive.