Long overdue but finally the right consensus is reached
The merger of the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA) with the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) is a historic constitutional amendment which should be expected to not only strengthen the concept of federation in the country but will also go a long way in ensuring there are no lawless, unlegislated and ungoverned regions in Pakistan. Above all, the amendment whose major fractions related to legislation have passed successfully, will normalize a region which has suffered for more than seventy years largely because of its exclusion from normal governance structures. While the amendment is significant and is likely to transform the lives of the people of FATA, the action is also being praised as an achievement which shows that if there is a will and unity on the part of the political leadership of the country, Pakistan can virtually achieve anything.
FATA’s political realities have to an extent defined how Pakistan is today: a country which is struggling to restore normalcy after a long period of violence which has had its origins in the tribal areas along the Durand Line. The levels of violence that FATA has experienced over the last few decades were the result of underdevelopment, a dead economy, non-legislated spaces, soaring unemployment, isolated opportunities for the region’s youth in terms of education and good jobs and above all, the development of a culture that is accommodative to the appeals of violent forces. The alienation of the region’s people over their mistreatment by political forces of mainland Pakistan is not something which the country’s constitution should have permitted in the first place. The fact that for seventy years, the country’s politicians were unable to unify Pakistan in terms of a state which operated under the ambit of one constitutional document is unfortunate and unprecedented.
While the amendment is significant and is likely to transform the lives of the people of FATA, the action is also being praised as an achievement which shows that if there is a will and unity on the part of the political leadership of the country, Pakistan can virtually achieve anything
The merger of FATA with KP has not only been appreciated across all political and academic spectrums in Pakistan but has also attracted endorsements from across the world. Joshua White, a professor of political science at the John Hopkins said that “With its capricious system of justice and lack of full political representation, the tribal areas had become an embarrassment to the country’s elected leadership. But in moving to reform the tribal areas, they [political leadership] should be commended for taking a bold and long overdue step to remedy a history of egregious disenfranchisement.”
The FATA merger was a rare instance in the country’s recent history when all political parties in Pakistan were celebrating an achievement that truly serves Pakistan’s national interests and is bigger than any one party’s political interests. Moreover, the merger shows that if political parties in Pakistan look above and beyond their narrow electoral interests, the parliament is capable of achieving almost anything. The complete merger of FATA into KP will abolish the colonial era FCR governance structure whose imperial tentacles have never permitted the people of FATA toward achieving their true potential, particularly the youth. The extension of the country’s constitution to the region will further improve the security situation of the tribal belt, for the injection of an unprecedented level of economic investments will usher a new era of prosperity there.
The merger has come at a time when the military in Pakistan is consolidating its anti-terrorism gains across the country. FATA, whose security has improved to a great extent due to the military’s counterterrorism operations in the region, still remains vulnerable when it comes to militants’ cross-border infiltrations. A stronger governance structure and enabling of a vast stratum of the bureaucratic and constitutional mechanism will certainly isolate radical groups’ presence and influence in the region. While Pakistan has been working on a major project to fence its border region with Afghanistan, a stronger internal governance program in FATA was necessary to fortify resistance mechanisms to any cross-border efforts aimed at undermining the security of the region in particular and Pakistan in general.
It’s important to note that the military under the leadership of General Bajwa has supported the merger of FATA. One analyst notes that “General Bajwa has pursued, pushed and made certain that the implementation of the Sartaj Aziz Committee’s 2015 report regarding the merger of FATA becomes a reality.” It’s heartening to see Pakistan’s military and civilian elites coming together on issues of strategic and national significance. The military operations alone cannot achieve lasting peace unless the civilian structures support the former with equal efforts on their end. If Pakistan is to overcome an array of challenges that the country faces, the state institutions need to put a united front when it comes to their working.