Describing Pashtuns on April 26, 1903 at Shahi Bagh Peshawar, Lord Curzon said, “Pathan is a curious mixture. He is a man of war but he is also a born trader.”
He was talking about Pashtuns’ trading capabilities and comparing them with other races in India. Had he gone in details he would have mentioned that Pashtuns lived their lives on three platforms. First, their culture which is broad-based applicable on Pashtuns living anywhere.
Second their custom which is narrow based and change from region to region. Third, their religion which is Islam engraved in their bones. Unfortunately, religion is mixed with culture and customs creating social, moral and political dilemmas. The traditional theologians took advantage of this amalgamation and used it as a firing tool in social, moral and political fields.
These three platforms are important when deciding on having a separate tribal province. In addition, there are other issues essential for good administrative needs, such as communication links, having a capital city, good education and proper health facilities to run the new province effectively. On the map, the province will look like a restless snake lying between Pakistan and Afghanistan inhabiting a population of 3,207,095.
After 9/11, Fata became the most dangerous region in the eyes of the world. The public opinion in Pakistan is not different either which considers it as the epicentre of terrorism. Against this background, the government wants to take away its century old buffer status between the Pakistan and Afghanistan and bring it in line with other provinces of the country. A committee was constituted under the leadership of Sartaj Aziz. He worked harder under the most difficult circumstances and came up with many recommendations, including its amalgamation with KP. I went through the document.
Two prominent Pashtun leaders, Maulana Fazlur Rehman from KP and Mahmood Khan Achakzai from Balochistan opposed it despite the fact that neither belongs to Fata. Apparently, Maulana sahib wants to see it as a separate province keeping his constituency in mind. While Achakzai is known at aiming to have an autonomous region called Greater Afghania which is akin to the wishes of those Baloch leaders who are striving for an independent Balochistan.
Let me take some of the issues mentioned above. Communication infrastructure means road, rail and air links. When we look at the serpentine-shape map of Fata we see no road links between the agencies. If someone wants to travel from one agency to another he has to go to KP and re-enter the required agency. It means if the government wants to listen to either Maulana Sahib or Achakzai it has to create proper road network connecting all the agencies. Easy? Not really. The financial cost will be unbearable.
Then comes the rail tracks. The only rail track in Fata runs from Peshawar to Landi Kotal and that too is non-operative. So, a separate Tribal Province will be a province with no train services. Train is the cheapest way of communication and goods movement in Pakistan. Gilgit-Baltistan doesn’t have rail link either but that is substituted by the CPEC. While not all the agencies get benefit from the CPEC. Will it be easy for the federal government to lay rail track in the new province? I don’t think so?
Then comes the air link. Fata doesn’t have a decent airport worth of its name that could accommodate big commercial planes. A new province with no decent airport? It would need at least one airport in its capital city for big commercial aeroplanes. Would the government afford to build one?
This brings me to the next important point of deciding on the capital city. I can’t think of any city in Fata which can be made the capital. The most prosperous and populated agency-The Khyber- doesn’t have its capital. The political agent lives and controls the agency from Peshawar. Similarly, Aurakzai agency is controlled from Hangu. All the agencies have small towns with very poor infrastructures but no cities. So, it will be the only province with no capital city worth a name. Even if the government decides to select one of the towns as capital city, the big question will arise which town? Every agency will fight tooth and nail to make its headquarter the capital city. And I tell you it will not be a minor dispute. It could lead to war like situation between the agencies. The government wouldn’t like to have a new war on its hands.
Now let us come to the health. There is not a single hospital worth its name in Fata. Zulfiqar Ali Bhottu wanted to build a medical college in Parachinar and constructed a hospital for the purpose in mid-seventies. General Zia ul Haq transferred all the funds and built Ayub Medical College in Abbotabad on those funds. I was the first consultant surgeon posted to Agency HQ Hospital at Parachinar in 1979. It was a very well planned hospital in those days, but I saw it going down rapidly because, the then governor, General Fazal Haq ignored it completely freezing most of its funds. The federal government has to build a hospital or two before making Fata a separate province. Can it afford it in present financial crunch? I leave it to your imagination.
It’s the same story with education. Except for a quality educational institution at Razmak which is run by the army, the Fata doesn’t have a good educational institution. All the colleges are below standards imparting substandard education. As a result, all the well-to-do send their children to Peshawar or Islamabad. Moreover, there is no university in Fata. With such an educational backwardness, will the government spend enormous amount on upgrading colleges and building a university or two in the new separate province?
And finally, let’s not forget the sectarian conflicts between the agencies. The prominent being the Kurram and the Aurakzai agencies where Shias have large population. After 9/11, major clashes occurred between Sunnis and Shias. Shias do not feel secure even living in Fata which is under army control. How could they live in a separate tribal province run primarily by anti-Shia establishment? The clashes will escalate leading to an unimaginable bloodshed never seen before.
If the government listens to Maulana Sahib or Achakzai, it has to develop proper infrastructure, build hospitals, medical colleges, education institutes, and universities. Alternatively, it’s amenable to amalgamate it with KP without going through inexorable financial and logistic difficulties. Recently, Maulana Sahib quoted a decision by Tribal Qaumi Jirga opting for a separate province. I don’t know whether Maulana Sahib knows that there are hundreds of Qaums living in Fata. How many Qaums took part in that Jirga? Does he know that most of these Qaums don’t look eye to eye on premise of being ‘Tarboor’?
Tarboor actually means cousin but in tribal culture, it is considered as bitter opponent or even enemy. Can he imagine what would be the state of a tribal province where the inhabitants of one agency consider the inhabitants of other agencies as their enemies? The existing dislike between KP and Punjab will look like a ‘Nok Jok’ between two lovers. I am sure Maulana Sahib knows about it unless he is looking at it from a religious perspective. But, then, that too is not very rosy keeping sectarian tensions in view. There is Persian proverb which says, ‘Gham Na Dari, Buz Bekhar.’ meaning by if you don’t have a problem buy a goat. A new independent tribal province is like buying a goat.