Time to merge FATA with KP

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People from the tribal areas along with the representatives of different political parties on Monday gathered in the D-Chowk roundabout near the Red Zone of the federal capital to demand the early merger of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and also calling on the government to abolish colonial-era laws. The protesters are also seeking amendments to the Constitution to extend the jurisdiction of the superior courts to the tribal areas. As a matter of fact, tribal people have no peace and their human rights are being violated. There is havoc in FATA, the tribal areas be given basic rights, as the government was yet to announce a budget for the tribal region. It is a pity that the tribal areas are still governed by a century-old legal code known as the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR). That includes the practice of collective punishment, allowing government authorities to hold entire clans responsible for the crimes of individuals. The government has approved reforms abolishing the FCR and implementing national laws in the region but the changes are being delayed by political squabbles. More than 90% of tribesmen also want to merge the tribal areas with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It may be recalled here that in August 2011, then-president Asif Ali Zardari amended the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), a British-era law curtailing FATA residents’ rights, and extended the Political Parties Act (PPA) 2002 to the tribal areas. Tribal Areas saw the first-ever Party-based elections in 2013 following the PPP legislation. The KPK provincial Assembly has also passed unanimous resolution. The elected Parliamentarians of FATA are also in favour of merger. All political parties with the exception of two have endorsed merger. By and large the people of tribal areas have, on various platforms, called for merger in the province. The government and those delaying reforms and merger are doing a great disservice to the nation. By denying the people of tribal areas their rights and wishes these elements are playing with fire. The reforms were announced in Aug 2016 but it took over eight months for cabinet to approve in March 17. Despite reservations about the package everyone hailed the move to reform FATA. But the Bills brought in National Assembly later on negated the process. Jurisdiction of superior courts was not extended to FATA, as was promised. The Riwaj Act, instead of abolishing the FCR, has further strengthened the century old draconian law. The draft Riwaj Act was never made public despite demands from stake holders. As a matter of fact the government has brazenly gone back on the promised merger of FATA with KPK. Now it talks of ‘mainstreaming’ instead of merger. It has also gone back on the promise to empower people. Recently, in a meeting with MNAs from Fata, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi announced that “change in Fata is a must and the status quo must end”. But it is the PML-N government itself that has perpetuated the status quo in Fata by refusing to prioritise legislative, political, financial and administrative change in the region. As a report has revealed, the special committee to supervise implementation of the recommendations of the Sartaj Aziz-led Fata reforms committee has not held a single meeting in eight months and some members have not received formal notification of their nomination to the committee. Meanwhile, the differences between the government and its political allies have continued. After the immediate merger of Fata and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was opposed for parochial political reasons by the PML-N’s allies, a period of so-called mainstreaming was agreed upon with the eventual goal of considering a merger. But the mainstreaming plan, which the special committee that has not convened in eight months was meant to help steer, has also stalled, and the vast, new financial commitments that will have to be made to the region have yet to be delineated. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s disinterest in the process was almost inexplicable, until it is considered that he consistently showed very little appetite for a long fight against extremism, terrorism and militancy. It is almost as if the PML-N supremo wanted to be prime minister on his own terms and to address his self-identified priorities, rather than address the security and humanitarian emergencies in the country that his job demanded. In more than a decade of military operations in Fata, it has always been clear that long-term stability and peace in the region would depend on ending Fata’s anachronistic system of governance. But as major counter-insurgency operations were being carried out, it was unrealistic to expect simultaneous governance reforms. In large swaths of Fata, however, the clear and hold phases of counter-insurgency have continue for such long stretches that further delay in governance reform may threaten to unravel the gains made so far. The resilience of the people of Fata and the bravery of the security personnel have helped bring a modicum of stability to the region. With neighbouring Afghanistan suffering from enduring uncertainty, the fate of Fata should not be allowed to slip back into the hands of militant and terrorist networks operating in the region. The government must act on its own plan.

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