There has been an extensive debate on FATA Reforms in the country both inside parliament as well as in the media and civic forums. So far, I have not commented on this important national matter because I wanted to listen to all the voices to be more informed about it. Political parties are divided into two camps. Majority of parties including PTI-L, PPP, PML N, ANP, and JI are in support of merging FATA with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province while two allies of the government JUI F and PkMAP are against it. But all these parties have failed to articulate clearly and with substantial arguments why they are in favor or against merging FATA with KP. They appear to be driven more by their parochial interests rather than the larger issue and its implications. I am totally in favor of mainstreaming of FATA but can’t decide which option to support because of my unanswered concerns. This raises fear in my mind that we may be once more making a wrong decision. I am sharing these concerns with you so that we can form a better decision.
The first concern is the failure of State of Pakistan, both civilian and military, to make the right decisions. There is a long list of bad decisions that severely hurt the progress of Pakistan and undermining our sovereignty and territorial integrity. We failed to make right decisions because our approach is ad hoc seeking short-term relief and our inability to visualize a long-term impact of a decision. Consequences of most national level decisions surface in a time span of 30 to 50 years while our ability to see is maximum 5 to 7 years. Bhutto’s nationalization of industry and military operation in Baluchistan. Gen Zia joining hands with America in the Cold War to fight USSR in Afghanistan. These were decisions whose impact is now apparent after the lapse of 30 years. Gen Musharraf decision to join the war on terror is now morphed into a statement by our American ally that territorial integrity of Pakistan cannot be guaranteed. We failed to visualize long-term impact because of lack of capable political scientists, economists, and anthropologists that could inform policymakers. After reading the report on FATA Reforms by the committee headed by Senator Sartaj Aziz, I get a feeling that once again we have failed to visualize the longterm impact of FATA reforms and forming our decision based on superficial information. There were no long-term studies conducted on social, economic, security, and political impact of merging FATA with KP. At least none were cited in the report. So I am concerned whether we are once again making a decision that would turn out to be wrong.
The second concern is the capability and capacity of KP government to bring FATA at par with other districts of the province. Seven southern KP districts are the most backward in the whole country after the lapse of 70 years of independence. If KP cannot uplift these districts then how can they achieve development of FATA areas that are even more backward? What will be the impact of their failure to meet expectations of FATA residents? Will these 4.8 million residents that have a history of militancy for their rights rise up against the state to dismantle it because it failed to deliver to them? This is a serious concern and considering the failure of our past elected governments and inability of bureaucracy to deliver it is a real possibility that they will fail to uplift FATA.
The third concern is that parliamentarians have expressed herd mentality in approving bills and legislation. They either comply with their party heads to show their loyalty or to satisfy wishes of the establishment. There is hardly any candid debate and discussion on the merits and demerits of a bill. This failure to debate means that interests of a handful are served and increases the chances of an error to be committed. I can provide a long list of bad legislation that has hurt the nation. One recent example is the change in the oath of a candidate about the finality of Prophet. Another example is the delay in the census until it was the 11th hour and then an amendment was passed in a haste whose impact is still not known. My concern is that the FATA reforms bill is not debated on all its pros and cons which increases chances of an error.
The final concern is that we are only a few months away from a general election. A key national issue will be approved by a parliament that has been battered by allegations of coming into being through rigged elections. A parliament that was asked to bow down to dharnas and attacked repeatedly. A legislation by this parliament will be questioned for its legitimacy by those that oppose FATA merger with KP. This should give us a pause and rethink.
My personal position is that we need more provinces rather than maintain these large provinces on an ethnic basis. I would prefer that we have three Sind (Central, North & south), two KPs (North, South), Four Punjab (North, Central, West, and South) and two Baluchistan (North and South). I also believe that most key decisions should be taken to the public for a vote rather than approved by the agents of the people in the parliament. Scotland separation from UK and Brexit was decided by people, not by the parliamentarians. Based on these principles I would suggest that FATA Reforms bill should be made part of next general elections so that people of FATA and KP decide whether they approve a merger or a separate province. When people decide then they have to own the decision and ensure that it succeeds in uniting us to be a stronger Pakistan. We have waited 70 years to reform FATA and decision by people in next 8 months is not a delay.
Major political parties PML N, PTI-L and PPP are regional in nature rather than national in their character and thinking. They want to retain their regional influence by ensuring that the provinces they rule do not get divided into more units. I request them to let the people that are affected by FATA reforms decide their fate in next general elections. Despite my preference for people choosing their fate, if the parliament approves FATA reforms bill I will fully support it and contribute my two cents to its success.
By Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi