The 18th Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan was greeted in the region until recently referred to as the Federally Administred Tribal Areas, with great enthusaism. It extended the Political Parties Act to the region and raised hopes of being integratred into the national mainstream. The credit for the development belongs to the Pakistan Peoples Party.
This was not the first time a government led by the party had sought to do something for the tribals. Back in the 1970s, then prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had formed a committee led by Lt-Gen Naseerullah Babar (retired) to create a framework for merging the FATA with the North-West Frontier Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa). It included Abdul Hafeez Pirzada, Rafi Raza and Dr Mubashar Hassan.
When King Zahir Shah was overthrown in Afghanistan and Sardar Daud was elected president, Bhutto realized that the Great Game might affect the tribal belt. He, therefore, increased develop spending in the area, established the Razmak Degree College (now Razmak Cadet College) and in December 1973 created the Bajaur and Orakzai agencies at a grand tribal jirga.
Following in the footsteps of her father, Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto visited the region in 1990s. She inaugurated the first women’s degree college in Parachinar in Kurram Agency. The message was clear; the people of the tribal region were to be given legal and political rights. However, the people of FATA had to wait for another 20 years.
After many a false dawn, the government of Muhammad Nawaz Sharif started work on finally merging the FATA into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. A committee chaired by Sartaj Aziz laid down the framework for the political mainstreaming of FATA. The reforms committee visited all seven tribal agencies and consulted more than 3,500 maliks and elders, political workers, traders, lawyers, and civil society representatives. The committee also sought advice from the FATA parliamentarians.
Once opposed to each other, the Maliks and the youth of the region have joined hands and are campaigning for fulfilment of the promises that were made by the government before the FATA-KP merger
The constitutional amendemnt in view of the committee’s recommendations was passed with an overwhelming majority in May 2018. However, this did not include an allocation of special funds.
In retrospect, it is clear that the passage of the 18th Amendment was the turning point. It encouraged the tribal people, particularly the youth, to take to the political arena and start campaigning for their fundamental rights.
A conflict of interests became apparent at this stage. Several Maliks who stood to lose political relevance came out with various arguments against the mainstreaming. However, the die was now cast and the youth would have none of it. This included the children of the very Maliks some of whom had studied at colleges and universities in the settled areas and seen how student unions and elections worked.
Several Maliks then got together to propose a separate province. They received support from two political parties the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam of Maulana Fazlur Rehman and the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party of Mahmood Khan Achakzai. However, all other political parties and the youth of tribal regions were in favor of merging the districts with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. They felt that a separate province would not work well on account of geographic and economic limitations. Most of the governance experts, too, were of the opinion that the tribal areas would require the support of a settled provincial government to expeditiously undertake rehabilitation of the people displaced in the opeartion against the extremists, for infrastructure development and for building communication networks and education and healthcare facilities.
Unfortunately, not much has been achieved in this respect although almost a year has gone by since the merger. Government sources say the delay is mostly due to the lack of financial resources. The lukewarm attitude of the government is causing disappointment among the tribal people. The people cannot forget that they were promised rapid development, abundant employemnt opportunities and justice. The lack of a legal framework, too, is causing confusion. The government has yet to set up a judicial system.
On the political front, the 22 seats the tribals were promised in the provincial assembly are down to 16. The 3 per cent share of federal funds in the National Finance Commission award is yet to be decided. The promise of jobs for the youth remains a dream. Prime Minister Imran Khan had directed the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chief minister, and the provincial ministers, to visit the tribal districts frequently. To make the merger visible, the provincial cabinet has held meetings in Khyber and Mohmand areas.
However, these visits did not bring any development projects to the areas. No wonder then that there were no smiles on people’s faces. While announcements that 3G and 4G internet services might be avaialble soon are welcome, they do not represent a concrete development policy.
The people expect policies that will create livelihood opportunities, provide schools for their children and bring them basic health services. They are also waiting for a legal framework to ensure order and protection.
Once opposed to each other, the Maliks and the youth of the region have joined hands and are campaigning for fulfilment of the promises that were made by the government before the merger. The government needs to listen to the unhappy voices. It needs to prioritise judicial, and civil service reforms in the new districts. It needs to understand the importance of the hope that has been ignited among the tribal people. If the government cannot figure out a way to quickly start delivering the service, the people will see it as yet another broken promise.
The writer is a public polivy consultant