FATA reforms can’t wait

Political integration should happen politically, not through transitional development packages

Dr Pervez Tahir February 23, 2017
[email protected]

The raging debate on the future of Fata reminds one of the unsettled debate in the development literature on whether economic development precedes political development or follows it. The “Report of the Committee on FATA Reforms 2016” presents a good analysis of the issues involved. It arrives at the right conclusion that Fata should be merged with Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Giving arguments to exclude other options, the Committee emphasises the fact that while each agency is deeply integrated economically as well as culturally with the adjoining districts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, no vertical links exist between the agencies. Nearly all roads lead to adjoining districts and almost none to each other. The Committee also notes that as a separate province, it may not have the necessary financial and human resources. It proposes a five-year transition period to prepare Fata for the eventual merger politically and administratively and a ten-year Comprehensive Development Plan for Fata to reduce the socioeconomic gap with K-P.

This is where the problem lies. It will be the Political Administration, a relic of the colonial past, that has been declared central to the transition arrangements. In the ten-year development plan, there is nominal involvement of the K-P government. The assumption is that the Political Administration will enable the tribes “to interact positively in the reform process by continuing to function under their prevailing Rewaj and Jirgas.” The FCR is to be abolished mainly to get rid of the inhuman collective punishment. It will be replaced by “Tribal Areas Rewaj Act”. In other words, the “Jirga” system continues in civil and criminal matters. In rejecting the option of a Gilgit-Baltistan-type council for Fata, the Committee “emphasized that even as a transitional measure, it would create new vested interests that could block further reforms.” Why would the Political Administration, with its well-entrenched vested interests, not do the same, is not very clear? The same applies to the proposal to allocate 30 per cent of the total allocation in the ten-year plan to elected local bodies. The Committee expects something that the other provinces have not been able to do, could be achieved by a province in the making. Similarly, the Committee wants the Fata Development Authority to execute large projects. This organisation is not exactly the model of accountability and transparency that the Committee talks so much about. It is these very structures of misgovernance that have wasted the bulk of the development allocations made by the federal government in the past. The region was not getting its fair share anyway. On a per capita basis, its allocation in the past five years fell short by 44.4 per cent. If the Committee’s proposal to allocate 3 per cent of the available resources in the federal divisible pool (Rs90 billion) on annual basis for the implementation of the ten-year Development Plan, in addition to the existing annual PSDP allocation of Rs21 billion, comes through, the vested interests of the transition players are likely to strengthen in direct proportion.

Political integration should happen politically, not through transitional development packages. The Fata parliamentarians have jointly moved the 22nd Constitutional Amendment Bill to amend Articles 246 and 247 of the Constitution and integrating Fata with Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Parliament should vote the amendment and let the government of K-P make its own transition plan with the involvement of all stakeholders. Whatever resources are earmarked in the name of fiscal equalisation under NFC, should be at the disposal of K-P. Its assembly has already voted for the merger. This is the way to fulfill the rising expectations of the youth, businessmen and educated classes. Most political parties also support this route.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 24th, 2017.

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