FATA-KP Merger: A Demanding Task Ahead

The region formerly known as Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), consisted of seven tribal districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). It covered an area of 27,220 square kilometers and stretched across the border of Afghanistan, KP, and Balochistan. Prior to its merger with KP, the region was governed by Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) that were enacted in 1901 and gave selected representatives executive and judicial authority.
Home to 5 million people as per the 2017 Census, the area has attracted enormous international attention since the last two decades as it shares its north-western borderline with war-torn Afghanistan. Poor governance and political instability in FATA and the impact of the longstanding war in neighbouring Afghanistan rendered the region vulnerable to insurgency. This in turn had a spillover effect on institutional development, thus weakening health and educational institutions, devastating livelihoods and causing the dislocation of a large number of people to other parts of the country. According to the 2017 Human Development Report of United Nations Development Program, the region was ranked lowest (0.216) in terms of Human Development Indicators (HDI) compared to other parts of the country.   
On May 31, 2018 the Government of Pakistan brought an end to century-old special status of FATA by embracing the recommendations of the committee formed by the federal government on FATA reforms. The formation of the FATA Reforms Committee was one of the key components of the National Action Plan of 2015 which was unanimously authorized by all political parties. The recommendations of the FATA Reforms Committee stated that the seven tribal agencies and their adjacent frontier regions be merged with the neighboring KP province. The adoption of recommendations of FATA Reforms Committee was celebrated across the political leadership, local FATA inhabitants, and the civil society groups operating in the country. This decision was also warmly welcomed by the international community. The bill adopted by the upper and lower house of parliament and KP provincial assembly called for the merger to take place within two years under the FATA Interim Governance Regulations of 2018.    
The FATA Interim Governance Regulations, although seen as a step forward, have temporarily replaced the controversial FCR with the Rewaj Act, until the extension of 119 Pakistani laws to the region. According to the Rewaj Act, the Jirga elected by local people will act as a tribunal of judges to resolve local disputes in accordance with the traditions of the region. Although the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and the Peshawar High Court has been extended to the tribal districts, there is still a long way to go as far as replacing the century-old system of justice through the introduction of new judicial system in the tribal districts is concerned. The roadmap developed by the Peshawar High Court to spend PKR 14 billion in the next 10-14 months to construct courthouses and set-up district and session courts would be a challenge, given the security situation of the tribal districts. 
Lessons can also be drawn from Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (Malakand Division) where non-state actors capitalized on the grievances of citizens who suffered delays in the legal system and attempted to encroach on the state’s writ by introducing their own structures of justice. 
For governance and rule of law to be effective, The FATA Long-Term Governance Action Plan (2015-2025) developed by the FATA Secretariat has accurately identified five reform areas: political, institutional, justice, counter-radicalization, fostering reconciliation, and social cohesion. The reforms identified under each area and the proposed timelines  would require a thorough strategic review in accordance with the May 31, 2018 bill and the prevailing political situation. For reforms to be effective in the true sense, restoration of peace would be critical. This would help provide a level playing field to all political parties and for state institutions to mobilize the public to participate in the process of electing 23 newly created seats of provincial assembly, as planned for July 2019. Prior to that, the enactment of empowered Local Government Regulations and party-based elections are also expected to face hurdles as the delimitation of constituencies by the Election Commission of Pakistan is yet to be initiated. Moreover, there are approximately 338,000 temporarily dislocated persons (TDPs) from FATA, without whom the elections of 23 provincial assemblies and local bodies will not be completely representative of public aspirations in the region.  
The enactment of empowered Local Government Regulations and party-based elections will be effective in engaging tribesmen in the realization of reforms in all soft-core and hard-core sectors. The KP government is committed to extend the provincial Local Government Act of 2013 to tribal districts and also adopt further reforms in which district Nazims will be elected directly to ensure bottom-up accountability. Adopting this system will enable the provincial government to achieve cross-sector socio-economic development in the region. This is also critically essential to bring local bodies on board at the grassroots level in order to effectively spend 30 percent of the allocated funds amounting to PKR 300 billion of the PKR 110 billion and deliver expected results of the 10-year development plan. This will pave the way to create a conducive environment to support the efforts for countering radicalization and help in transforming local communities to become agents of change. However, the term of the local governments in KP will end in May 2019 and the provincial government may consider holding elections across the province at the same time. This timeframe might allow the provincial government to effectively extend the KP Local Government Act 2013 to the tribal districts along with new reforms proposed by Prime Minister Imran Khan in his opening address to the nation.    
The merger of FATA with KP faces many unresolved issues with respect to managing law and order in the tribal districts. The old policing system, for instance, needs to be replaced with a new one. This raises some pressing questions such as: should the police be under the direct command of Central Police Office in Peshawar or would it operate directly by the provincial home department through the establishment of a central levies office? The KP government would need to qualitatively assess the performance of the Central Police Office in Peshawar over the past five years in order to chalk-out areas where improvement is needed. The ideal scenario would be to establish a central levies office under the home department and build its capacity to effectively handle the security situation in the region.         
As of now, the 10-year development plan for tribal districts has been approved by the Prime Minister with a development package of over PKR 110 billion to develop major infrastructure, establish industrial zones, set-up modern urban hubs in all tribal districts, establish universities and medical colleges, develop mineral and agriculture sector, provide job opportunities to youth, and most importantly, rehabilitate the TDPs. 
In this case, there are two major challenges. First, there is no written, binding agreement of KP with the federal and other provincial governments for PKR 110 billion (approximately 3 percent of gross federal divisible pool) to be provided in the next 10-years to materialize the development plan. Soon after the merger bill was passed, the KP provincial government raised their concerns on the binding commitment to ensure that the funds are available without any hinderance. As of now, this is an ideal situation for the KP provincial government to secure a written, binding agreement from the federal and provincial governments as the Prime Minister himself has shown interest in his first speech to the nation to fast-track the merger of tribal districts. In order to improve the living conditions of tribesmen. Moreover, having a transparent and accountable mechanism of spending funds is an area to consider seriously. The KP government would need to assess the past performance of KP’s Civil Secretariat especially in the northern and southern districts of the province. In this case, the northern districts – Shangla, Kohistan, Torghar, and Upper Dir are areas where the performance of KP’s Civil Secretariat could be assessed. These districts have the lowest HDI ranking in the country with the highest level of corruption in the public sector departments as highlighted in the UNDP’s 2017 Human Development Report. 
The 10-year development plan, if implemented in its true spirit, will bring countless opportunities for the socio-economic and political development of tribesmen. However, the implementation of the development plan would require a strategic approach and oversight to ensure that the processes are inclusive, efficient, and transparent. The Election Commission of Pakistan on its part must ensure that the elections for KP’s provincial assembly in tribal districts are held on time so that expected results from the development plan are delivered within the specified time-frame.  The extension of the KP Local Government Act 2013 to tribal districts and timely local bodies elections would result in 30 percent of the allocated development funds being spent through them for their own development. The local bodies’ representatives would require thorough capacity building in need identification, budget preparation, projects’ execution, and monitoring and evaluation. The KP Government would also require efficient and effective institutional arrangements for the plan to be implemented smoothly. For institutional arrangements, it is necessary to avoid the overlapping of roles and responsibilities among institutions. Currently, FATA affairs are run by three institutions namely the FATA Disaster Management Authority, FATA Secretariat, and FATA Development Authority. 
Administration of the region could be managed efficiently through one responsible institution and its institutional capacity can be enhanced to promote speedy development, effective coordination, and better management of the funds. For efficient and effective implementation of policies, the KP provincial government would require a comprehensive implementation plan with annual key performance indicators to aid in long term evaluation.  To ensure maximum accountability and transparency, yearly third-party evaluations would be an essential tool to present to the provincial policymakers and make adjustments in the plan where necessary. Having a strict merit-based system for the selection and transfers of officials will be a prerequisite for the implementation of 10-year development plan in the region.                 
Although this whole scenario presents an opportunity and hope to the tribesmen to solve the century-old complex issues and challenges they are dealing with in their day-to-day life, some legal and constitutional barriers continue to persist. The abolition of Article 247 of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan that relinquishes the powers of the President of Pakistan, creates a legal and constitutional vacuum.  However, the federal and provincial governments will be able to make further regulations for smooth transition of the legislative processes. Meanwhile, the merger of FATA with KP, and the implementation of the 10-year development plan will also be extremely dependent on the security situation of the area. A volatile security situation would make it challenging for the provincial government to show tangible results on the ground. Pakistan Army’s role in de-escalating security threats would, therefore, be of significance. The presence of Pakistan Army will be instrumental in the materialization of 10-year development plan as they have successfully demonstrated the ability to complete a number of projects of a similar nature in the past.

The writer is Director Programs at The Asia Foundation.
E-mail: [email protected]


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