Why can’t FATA be a province?

Published: November 10, 2015
The writer is a professor of political science at LUMS

The writer is a professor of political science at LUMS

The regions, agencies and tribal communities of the borderlands, the historic Sarhad or the frontier, can and should be converted into a separate province. For that matter, the Gilgit-Baltistan regions have equally valid historical claims and a natural right to form their own province with all the powers vested by the Constitution. Before I answer the question of why our rulers have subjected Fata to perpetual ‘reforms’ through unending series of committees, like the one recently announced by the federal government last week, two points need to be made on the merits of creating new provinces out of federal territories.

First, it is the identities of the constituent social groups and their histories that matter when considering provincial status. For centuries, the peoples in these regions, divided into tribes, each with specified territorial space, and very proud of their own, narrow heritage have defined this region. They are all held together by their Pakhtun ethnicity, language, traditions and customs. Their sense of regionalism is as old as their interaction with the outside world, both as a part of Afghan and Central Asian invading armies, as well as ‘buffers’ of the British colonial power and independent Pakistan. Their constant flow and migration to other parts of the country, notably the adjacent districts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), and their slow but steady integration into Pakistan’s economy and power structure haven’t eroded their self-definition and recognition as such.

Second, the region has been a highway to battlegrounds. The two successive international orders of the Cold War, resulting in the Soviet-Afghan Mujahideen war and Pakistan’s ‘frontline’ role in rolling back Soviet aggression turned this region into a staging ground of battles. The jihadist elements from all over the Muslim world passed through these borderlands. These foreign elements developed alliances and ideological affinities. That shifted the balance of social power in the region from the traditional authority i.e., the tribal elders, to the men with the guns i.e., militias aligned with Arab and Pakistani militant groups.

The effects of the Afghan wars over the decades have adversely affected this region. The rise of militants with foreign support, the remnant elements of the Afghan jihad and proliferation of local militias that have financial support and manpower from the rest of Pakistan have drastically altered the dynamics of society and political relations. Men with guns, and a collection of huge monies from drug trafficking, kidnappings for ransom, smuggling and extortion from the local population have become the norm.

After a long and series of bloody battles, the region has been reclaimed, but the populations remain either insecure and scattered within the tribal belt, or live elsewhere as internally displace persons. The peoples of Fata have endured the hardest of hardships for well over three decades of the Afghan conflicts. The old structure of power, often corrupt to the core and highly dysfunctional, in my view, is too fragmented, archaic and inadequate to meet a wide range of challenges. Colonial institutions such as the political agent, the Frontier Crimes Regulations along with the few political reforms — allowing parties to operate and representation in the National Assembly — along the post-conflict reconstruction programmes have lost relevance and efficacy.

We need a bolder and more confident strategy of political reconstruction of Fata as our fifth province, the Sarhad. Every reason that is proffered against this idea from the point of view of security, backwardness and shared ethnicity with K-P, holds little merit. In any case, more than a common ethnicity, it is the history and identity of the place and peoples that hold value for recognition as a separate governing unit.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 11th, 2015.

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Reader Comments (10)

  • Tauheed Zafar
    Nov 11, 2015 - 12:43AM

    A classic analysis that merits a good reading. Moreover, the view point endorsed by the writer speaks for the genuine concerns of the peoples of those land, which are touted as badlands or borderlands Recommend

  • Alam Baltistani
    Nov 11, 2015 - 1:40AM

    Sir…some facts….

    1.Since Pakistan government beleive in UN resolution….hence in UN resolution solution of kashmir dispute will include GB and pakistan administered kashmir….since they are part and parcel of kashmir….i am not saying this…this is written in UN resolution which pakistan beleives…

    2.Sir,FATA cant be a province….afghani people does not consider durand line as international border…….

    ET..I hope these facts are published…….Recommend

  • nomi
    Nov 11, 2015 - 1:05PM

    @ Alam Baltistani

    Does not matter, both fata and gilgit baltistan can become provinces if the govt wants and the more so if the people of these areas want. Recommend

  • Hamza
    Nov 11, 2015 - 7:13PM

    @Alam Baltistani:
    Doesn’t matter what Afghani think. There are more Pakhtoons living in KPK than the whole of Afghanistan. Recommend

  • Grace
    Nov 12, 2015 - 1:12AM

    @Alam Baltistani: What difference does it make? If you were to hold a referendum in either FATA or in Gilgit / Baltistan, the majority will show themselves to be pro Pakistan. Why do you think their are so many soldiers who fought against India from these two regions. They volunteer more than anyone to defend the country. As for Pashtun in FATA, there are more Pashtun in Pakistan than Afghanistan. The mix of people in Afghanistan includes Hazaras, Uzbeks and Tajiks along with Pakhtuns. However the number of Pakthuns in Afghanistan is much less than Pakistan.Recommend

  • Nov 12, 2015 - 3:15PM

    Hafeez Wazir Rasol bax rais is a scholar and have deep knowledge about pakistani politics and i respect him nd like him.but here i am not agree with him.the dilema with fata people is that people sitting outside fata or those who never spent a night with a fata pakhtun sketches their pictures/characters which seems more attractive and appealing than the reality.i am wonder why these people diffentiate between pashtuns living in fata and kp.we belong to fata,spent 30 years there,know each and everything about our own brothers nd sisters.no one bothers to ask the poor and miserable people of fata to decide their own fate.even the committee constituted time and again have no representative from fata.we we know that many pashtuns from kp had participated in the fights against foreign invaders in fata for keeping our own identity nd independent status.many people from bannu,lakki marwat and karak participated in the war against british rule and helped haji mirzali khan.similar examples can be quoted from other regions whose people faught in different agencies.so it proves that we pashtuns have similar approach towards life,customs,values,preservation of identity and self realization.there is no need to tell us that we have different approaches.we are one and the same thing.though we are separated legally and constitutionally yet we are united physically,mentally,socially,psychologically,morally and spiritually.all the adjacent cities like bannu,karak,tank,d.i khan, kohat and peshawar are full of fata people.schools,colleges nd hospitals are full of fata students.fata people consider kp as their own home.if the people of fata and kp are happy to merge in one another then why there is a pain in the hearts of those who live 500 km away from us.Recommend

  • Mahsood
    Nov 13, 2015 - 12:36PM

    Very well written Sir, you have echoed the aspirations of most of the FATA people, especially the educated ones. Becoming part of the current KPK means a loss loss situation in the short as well as in the long-run for the people of FATA.
    One biggest and untold reason of leaving FATA as an unconstitutional region is the availability of budget and funds. Just imagine a new province, which needs all civic facilities including health, education policing, infrastructure etc. Declaring FATA a province is not enough alone rather the announcement should come with a clear vision for the future, time lines for developing FATA, and above all the money you need to do the development stuff.

    well the name is perfect “Sarhad”. I am sure the people of FATA would choose the option of a separate province if given them a chance of REFERENDUM on this issue.Recommend

  • Nov 29, 2015 - 7:08PM

    “Every development plan prepared without keeping in view the Natural elements of change, will not succeed”. FATA cannot be a province, they are the part and parcel of KP. Major elements like Physiography, ethnicity, language, natural resources, political strategic position, historical perspective, social development, are to be considered. Study of Durand Line agreement be studied carefully. I have tried to draw a map of the future KP (full details cannot be posted), please study and comment. I tried to fix the map but could not.Any how, FATA cannot be a province. All Pushtoons be one unit and they will put themselves in such a frame, the world will see a new Nation fully educated, skilled and civilized.Recommend

  • Dec 11, 2015 - 10:20AM

    Pakistan needs devolution of Power, by carving out new provinces, Following are possible Provinces, Referendum may be conducted in respective areas, but the names of the Provinces should not show the sign of nationalism e.g Sindh and Punjab and Baluchistan:
    1. FATA

    South Punjab
    South Sindh
    North Baluchistan
    Northern Areas
    Central Punjab
    North Sindh
    South Baluchistan
    Cholistan, Thal and Thar
    Bahawalpur Riasat

    OR all the DIVISIONS of all the Provinces should be made Provinces.

    This devolution the power is good for common man, It’ll enhance his reach to his elected ones, He’ll know his MNA and MPA well, because of small area of Halqa.

    he total population of Turkey is 70 million and there are 81 provinces, France with 60.5 million population has 26 Provinces, Japan has 127.0 million population and 47 Provinces, Russia with 143.5 million population has 83 Provinces and United States with 316.5 million population has 51 states. And the estimated population of Pakistan in the year 2015 is 191.7 million populations and there are only four Provinces.Recommend

  • Dec 11, 2015 - 10:22AM

    @Alam Baltistani:
    Come on brother, don’t divide Muslims any more, plz for Allah’s sakeRecommend

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