FATA merger: Let the people decide

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By Ayaz Wazir

An All Parties Conference was recently held in Islamabad organised by Awami National Party (ANP) on the issue of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA)’s merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). Two of the major parties, Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) were conspicuous by their absence. The aim of the organisers was to develop consensus on the issue, but instead a divide among the participants was seen. Even on the issue of mainstreaming FATA, they failed to reach a consensus.
The political parties supporting the merger should have looked into their past before venturing into the subject. Their elders who were previously in power had not done anything significant in this regard. And if nothing else they could have raised their voice against bad governance and the step-motherly treatment meted out to the people of FATA.
Moreover, the parties that claim to represent FATA today did nothing for the rehabilitation of the IDPs who were affected by successive military operations.
To draw comparison between the two options of merger and a separate province and see as to which one brings more benefits to the people of FATA, here are a few points for consideration. The parties that claim to represent FATA today did nothing for the rehabilitation of the IDPs who were affected by successive military operations
If FATA is merged into KP, it will lose all eight Senate seats. It will then have to share the 23 seats with the KP. But in case it becomes a province, it will have 23 seats like in all other provinces.
In case of merger, the federal government will give 3 per cent (Rs. 90 billion) out of the NFC award and that too for ten years only, whereas if it becomes a province it will get 4 per cent (Rs. 120 billion) per annum (according to recently conducted census though it has shown the population far less than it actually is). Furthermore, in case of merger, there is no guarantee that the amount so brought will be spent for the welfare of the people of FATA.
Merger would be catastrophic for the interest of the people there, as the KP province has been unable to address grievances of its southern districts (Bannu, DIK, Tank). A merger would also mean that the region will then fall under the government of KP whereas if it is made a province, it will have a separate government, provincial assembly, chief minister, ministers, governor, public service Commission and all other required departments. In short, merger of FATA entails complete dependence on others, whereas provincial status makes one masters of his own destiny. Simple as that.
The proponents of merger claim to have the support of majority whereas their opponents lay similar claim. Supporters of the former are against referendum whereas supporters of the latter demand referendum. How this can be resolved in the absence of an acceptable democratic way is beyond comprehension.
Those claiming to be representative of the residents of FATA should first ascertain the will of the people. The best way to do so is to hold referendum which certainly is doable. Let the people decide their destiny. The people of FATA know better as to how things can be set right in the region, and how peace can be restored.
Leaders of political parties demanding merger are on record saying that whatever decision is made by the people of FATA will be final. It is unclear as to what made them change this stance, but it seems the Americans want FATA to be merged with KP. By doing so, they think militancy would automatically be taken care of and safe havens of terrorists dismantled. However, they forget that Swat and Karachi which were once infested with militancy had nothing to do with FATA. The Americans either do not know, or want to forget it on purpose that FATA had no safe havens before their arrival in the region.
The 16 years long war against militancy and innumerable military operations has turned FATA into a living volcano. It is dormant at the movement but needs to be handled with care as a little spark will cause eruption and once eruptions takes place, it will wreck havoc on us all.
(The writer is a former ambassador of Pakistan to Afghanistan and can be reached at waziruk@hotmail.com)