CHANGE is inevitable and it has to come in Fata. The area has to be brought into the national mainstream. While the FCR in the NWFP and Balochistan was replaced with the Act of 1935 in one go, the recent amendments indicate that it has been decided to bring about a gradual change in Fata’s case.
The participation of the people of Fata in governance cannot be further delayed. The tribals are no longer an ignorant, illiterate lot. It is time to give them their due place in national affairs. The extension of the Political Parties Act was long overdue. It is a step in the right direction.
Can Fata be made a separate province? The answer is no.
Fata is a narrow strip of territory, 1,299km from north to south, situated to the west of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It is not one homogeneous territorial unit and does not have an agreed upon central location within the tribal areas which can be easily accessible to the people, and where the supposed provincial headquarter can be located. If the headquarters is in Peshawar, why should Fata be a separate entity at all?
The Federally Administered Tribal Areas were carved out when the erstwhile NWFP was separated from Punjab in 1901. The colonial rulers intended to create a nominally administered territory as a buffer along the border with Afghanistan. It was an unnatural division of Pakhtuns on the colonial principle of ‘divide and rule’.
Fata’s Pakhtuns are no different from the ones in Charsadda or Peshawar. They share the same language, culture and traditions. Besides, the tribal person in every Fata unit is dependent on the adjacent district for livelihood, health, education and survival. Bannu is as much a home for a tribal person from North Waziristan as his own home village; Tank and Dera Ismail Khan are a second home for someone from South Waziristan.
In the same way, right from Bajaur to South Waziristan, tribal dependence on the adjacent district is natural. In fact, the headquarters of Khyber Agency is in Peshawar and not Landikotal. Similarly, the political agent of Orakzai Agency controls his agency from district Hangu and not Kalaya.
Geographically and ethnically, Fata and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are one natural unit in every way. As one big province, the people will have a greater say in national affairs. This will enable the tribal people to have important representation in the provincial assembly, a right they have been deprived of since the abolition of One Unit.
However, the exploitative administrative system has left the Fata people far behind their brothers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Their fears of total absorption need to be allayed. Tribal quota in educational institutions and other privileges should not only continue, it should be increased to enable the tribal people to catch up with the rest of the country.
Fata and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have a good case to be merged while, at the same time, safeguarding the rights of the backward Fata people. The merger should be of mutual benefit to both Fata and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The case for merger of the two is rationally and nationally very strong but then other interests have always had the upper hand in Pakistan. So let’s wait and see.
The writer, a DMG officer from Fata, retired in BS 22 in 2009.