Despite international pressure on Pakistan’s government to streamline its tribal areas that have lately gained notoriety as epicentres for global terrorism, the long road to FATA reforms still remains as elusive. With the indigenous lawmakers at constant loggerheads over the efficacy of the proposed reforms, uncertainty still prevails the government’s discourse on how Fata should be governed. Four schools of thought support their own respective line of action as the only viable solution to the long-neglected grievances of people living in FATA territory, which range from separate province for the locals (backed by Jamiat-Ulema-e-Fazl); its merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (demanded by Jamaat-i-Islami); establishment of an independent FATA legislative council (suggested by Fata Grand Youth Alliance) and even the maintenance of its previous status quo. It is perhaps in the light of this increasing furor with which all factions continue to oppose each other that the government has chosen to yet again overlook the dedication with which FATA reforms committee produced the painstaking report on the political mainstreaming of the tribal belt. After dropping the report from the federal cabinet’s agenda earlier this month despite promising to implement the much-awaited recommendations, the government is now giving assurances they will be discussed before March 12.
While its words might have appeased local protestors highly concerned with the negative developments, the authorities definitely need to do much more to add to its credibility. This disappointing delay is indeed another testament to the scant attention paid to the people of FATA over the last seven decades. Despite their matchless sacrifices and unwavering loyalty to the Pakistan’s cause, these tribes people have always been portrayed as mere extras in the larger geopolitical theatre orchestrated from afar—either facilitators of terrorist outfits or unnoticed victims of US-led drone warfare. With so many of them forced out of their homes in the aftermath of Operation Zarb-e-Azb while the remaining braved both experiments conducted by non-state actors as well as marginalisation over alleged affinity with Afghanistan, it is high time that they are provided with all rights guaranteed to the country’s citizens. Their second-tier status, imposed as a draconian reminder of the colonial era, has largely facilitated the dismal pace of development in the region. While the world has definitely significantly evolved in the last few decades, this change has done nothing to alter the lives of some 4.5 million people. Widespread poverty, the absolute breakdown of infrastructure in war-ravaged agencies, illiteracy (even more rampant than the dismal overall average); FATA’s distress — economic and societal — is a beguilingly simple story.
The haunting circumstances would continue to adversely impact the livelihoods of people living in the tribal belt. If allowed to fester further, their deep sense of victimisation can be easily exploited by militant organisations to undermine the ongoing peace efforts. We have known what needs to be done for quite some time now. Ergo, the proposed roadmap should be considered as an imperative in policymaking for the public interest not another avenue for petty political scoring. All actors benefitting from the ongoing saga would be better off reconsidering the merits of their positions. Even if the present recommendations cannot be accepted in their present form, the fact that they have been commendably derived from consultations with a wide spectrum of stakeholders should convince them to at least partake in further discussions. Once approved, the reforms could be extensively expatiated to address their respective reservations. FATA has suffered from our neglect for far too long. The administrative shortcomings should not be allowed to haunt them anymore. It would be refreshing to see a Pakistan that acknowledges all its residents as full and equal citizens, enjoying all rights guaranteed by its constitution.