Deciding the fate of Fata, the best option?

“Merge Fata, Create a separate province, make a Gilgit Baltistan alike Fata Council and conduct a referendum in Fata are the possible four option for deciding the fate of tribal people. What is the best option for Fata?” — It is better to know the realities about Fata before deciding about its future. Unfortunately, the Malaknan (elders), Ulama and even the educated people don’t know what is the best point for Fata in the said four options.

A Committee was formed in November 2015 by the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, aimed to know what status the tribal people want for Fata. Sadly the Committee did not give that much fruitful results as it had many loopholes. According to the Committee Chairman Sartaj Aziz, the Committee met ‘about 3,000 tribal elders’. He adds that ‘In addition, the Committee received over 29,000 comments on the hotline of Ministry of SAFRON’. It’s illogical, unreasonable and inconceivable how these 3,000 people and 29,000 comments decide the future of more than one crore (ten million) Fata’s people?

This is a democratic country. Everyone has the right to make his own decisions freely. So in this case, anyone can select an option. You cannot enforce someone to opt for the option which you like. We have four clear options for mainstreaming of Fata. Let me discuss each of these.

First, let me talk about the suggestion of bringing changes in the old system (Reforms in the present laws, FCR). In the old system, Fata’s people are subjected to the draconian law of Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) for the last 116 years. They are passing life under the influence and power of Political Administration (the governing system in Fata). They face collective punishment. There are no proper educational, health, communication and other facilities. They are not given their rights like other citizens. Distinction and step-motherly treatment meted out to them. They faced drone-attacks, bomb-blasts, operations, and other bad happenings. They were forced to leave their homes and were made the “Internally Displaced People (IDPs)”. There are no land records. Billion and billion dollars were taken in their name, but their status never changed and they remained the same backward. However, the Political Administrations and the Fata Secretariat are involved in huge corruption scandals.

Second, creating a “Fata Council” is also an option, which means to give Fata status like that of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB). On 29 August 2009, the order was passed by Pakistani cabinet. The order granted self-rule to the people of GB, by creating, among other things, an elected GB Legislative Assembly and GB Council. GB thus gained a de facto province-like status, however, it did not become constitutionally a part of Pakistan. Hence GB is neither a province nor a state rather it has been given the status of a council. Officially, Pakistan government has rejected GB calls for integration with Pakistan on the grounds that it would jeopardize its demands for the whole Kashmir issue to be resolved according to UN resolutions. Some reservations are found among GB’s people against the status given to them.

Third, the “merger or separate province”. If Fata is merged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), it will lose all of 8 seats in the Senate. But in case it becomes a province, it will get 23 seats like other provinces. Currently, Fata has 11 MNAs. With the proposed merger, the number will come down in order to bring their population and number of voters. The merger will leave Fata worse off than even the neglected southern districts of KP. As there are many areas like Lukki, Tank, Kohistan, etc. in KP, which are neglected. In case of the merger, Fata will become dependent on KP. First, the tribal people were under the influence of Islamabad and after the merger, they will be living under Peshawar’s influence. Moreover, a merger will deprive Fata of 18 billion rupees that the federal government provides for development every year.

In case of merger, Fata will get 3% (Rs.90 billion) out of the NFC award and that too for ten years only, whereas if it becomes a province it will get 4% (Rs.120 billion) per year. Furthermore, in merger, there is no guarantee that the amount so brought will be spent for the welfare of the people of Fata. In merger, Fata will fall under KP, but if it becomes a separate province it will be having its own chief minister, governor, ministers, public service commission, and other departments. KP is more advanced than Fata, so in merger, tribal people will not be able to compete with the people of KP, and there will be a lot of competition over jobs, etc. Hence the tribal will be lagging behind in every walk of life.

Moreover the fourth option, some people demand referendum to be conducted in Fata, to let Fata’s people decide by themselves. It is also logical to think that in case of merger, most of the times the chief minister will be selected from the settled areas of KP because KP is more advanced than Fata. In that case, Fata would be ignored as usual. The jurisdiction of the judiciary and the police would be extended to Fata which the tribal people may not accept as they have their own systems, customs, and rituals.

To sum up, the government should prepare booklets through legal experts in which the pros and cons of each of the above four options should be clearly mentioned. After reading these booklets, tribal people will make a decision which suits them. After preparation of booklets, the government should hold a referendum so that everyone from Fata could take part in this very important decision.

Additionally, decisions should not be imposed on them. Let them decide for themselves by their own. They should not be exploited and marginalized anymore because they are also humans like other humans and they are Pakistanis like other Pakistanis.