The political debate and confrontation among various parties over the future of FATA reminds me of the national game of Afghanistan, “Buzkashi”. Buzkashi (literally meaning “goat grabbing” in Persian), also known as kokpar, kupkari and ulak tartysh, is a Central Asian sport in which horse-mounted players attempt to place a goat or calf carcass in a goal. The game is about getting hold of the carcass and rushing it to the scoring area.

In the same vein, currently, the tribal borderland seems to be a headless carcass. The Sartaj Aziz-led FATA reforms committee’s report, which recommended the merger of FATA with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in its 80 pages, has divided Pakhtun leadership and tribal society.

The political discourse on FATA has converged only on the merger issue and ignored other sticky points like replacing the FCR with the Tribal Area Riwaj Act, potential economic packages and other issues.

Instead of visiting the tribal agencies, politicians are transporting their activists and likeminded elders from tribal agencies to Islamabad or Peshawar as a show of strength.

The parties that have support in the southern belt of KPK and Pakhtun-dominated areas in the neighbouring Balochistan province are staunchly opposing FATA’s merger with KPK. Political elites of the Peshawar valley and adjacent Malakand division favour an immediate merger of tribal areas with the province.

The Awami National Party set the March 12 deadline for the government to declare the FATA-KP merger. The Qaumi Watan Party, Jamaat-i-Islami, PPP and PTI also demand the merger before the next general elections. The Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party are warning their ally in the centre, PML-N that ‘anything against the opinion of the people of FATA’ is unacceptable to them.

However, unlike Buzkashi, the players (politicians) are competing over the future of FATA and scoring their own points. The people of FATA neither mattered in this game in the past, nor do they matter at the moment.

Their opinion has never been taken into consideration. For instance, the federal government has extended a total of 182 laws to the area so far, but successive governments have not bothered to elicit the opinion of the local people or take parliament into confidence prior to the extension of these laws.

Similarly, the parliamentary committee led by Senate chairman Mian Raza Rabbani, which took credit for the 18th amendment to the Constitution, hasn’t dared remove Article 247 relating to FATA.

The discussion on whether to hold referendum on the future status of FATA or merge the region with KPK without seeking the opinion of the local people is useless. The final decision will be made by the powers that be. With the script of FATA’s future already drafted, the committee’s visit to tribal agencies and follow-up consultations in Peshawar and Islamabad were just formalities.

The administrative landscape in FATA has enormously changed. FATA is transforming from a tribal society into a garrison due to its strategic location. The administrative powers are shifting from political agents to field commanders.

The Computerised National Identity Card (CNIC) is no more a valid document to enter areas like North Waziristan, the Mehsud area of South Waziristan, and de-notified parts of Khyber, Orakzai and Kurram agencies. The authorities issued Watan Cards to the local people, which have more value than the CNIC and the local people have to show their Watan Card at security check posts, otherwise they are not allowed to travel to their native areas. The people have been sarcastically calling the Watan Card a Mohib-i-Watan Card. Those who do not have the Watan Card can draft a special permission letter, ‘Rahdari’ from the political administration to travel to their native areas.

The Army has been making all the decisions regarding FATA. The army chief or 11th Corps commander meet local elders during their visits, inaugurate development schemes and announce employment packages.

Instead of the political administration, the tribal people are now looking to the commanders in their respective areas for the resolution of their problems and disputes.

The administrative practice was that the colonel commandant stationed at the agency headquarters used to visit the office of the political agent to brief him about security issues.

Now, the political agents are called to the offices of the colonel commandants for discussion.

Same is the case with the divisional commissioners, who are higher in the administrative hierarchy than the political agents. Several of the functions earlier performed by the commissioners are now considered the responsibility of brigade commanders, which include addressing jirgas, participation in social gatherings and inauguration of schemes.

On the other hand, political parties and their leaders are just discussing the issue in television talkshows. These political parties should develop some consensus on the FATA-KP merger or take the issue to parliament for debate or even convene a multiparty conference to settle the issue once and for all.

The government should take the issue seriously and the much-awaited bill on FATA reforms should be brought to the parliament for discussion. Pass the bill from both houses without any further delay and bringing the people of the FATA to the country’s mainstream is imperative.