FATA, for all intents and purposes, is a part of Pakistan but remains in constitutional limbo for a host of political and legal reasons. 

The reforms suggested by the government found support and enthusiasm among all political parties of Pakistan except two, PKMAP and JUI, who are in coalition with the present govt. These political parties, who were conspicuous by their absence when the Sartaj Aziz led Committee on FATA Reforms carried out consultations in the tribal region about its future, have recently been holding jirgas to oppose the recommended integration of FATA into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Notwithstanding their rhetoric of sympathy with the people of tribal areas, PKMAP and JUI jirgas are in fact standing in the way of the longstanding reforms in FATA. PKMAP, a Pakhtun nationalist political party and JUI, a conservative religious party, are quite strangely on the same page on the issue of FATA reforms.

They both are against the merger of the region into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and want to see FATA as a separate province.

The tribal Grand Jirga summoned by PKMAP in Islamabad rejected the reforms committee proposal to integrate the region into KP. The nationalist and religious party leaders, ironically part of Pakistan parliament themselves, along with the status quo forces represented by tribal Maliks, vowed to start a protest campaign with the help of the tribal people if the president, the government and state institutions did anything against the opinion of the population of FATA. Will they also bring all the IDPs, the so called free tribes, or will it only be the Maliks enjoying access to Islamabad, one wonders.

And how do they gauge the opinion of tribal people? While they hold this jirga in Islamabad comprised mostly of Maliks, the FCR beneficiaries, who would lose their power and status if the reforms are implemented? Jirga, the informal political forum, is also set to, at least legally, be dismantled with the mainstreaming of FATA.

That people of FATA don’t agree with merger, as propagated actively by these parties, has been disproved by a recent survey conducted by FATA Research Centre which suggests that majority of people want the merger of FATA with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.  The study further claims that 74 % respondents want to see FATA as a part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Interestingly, JUI not only opposes FATA’s integration in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but demands introduction of Sharia laws in FATA. It also brings into question JUI’s position on the Islamic character of the Constitution of Pakistan. Why demand Sharia only for FATA?

In fact, JUI’s opposition to the integration is rooted in its fear of loss of the socio-political power that it has enjoyed in the region, through the mosques and madrassas, for long. With the extension of Political Parties Act to FATA by the previous government, JUI’s traditional power structure has been dented already.

PKMAP leadership perceives FATA as a free and autonomous region and its people independent; and the region linked to Pakistan by only four articles of its constitution – and thus different from other parts of the country.

The concept of freedom and independence might have gone radical changes since the (only four) articles declare it as a part of Pakistani territory, and then deprive people of the region from fundamental rights guaranteed to the rest of the citizens of Pakistan. Modern day slavery under FCR 1901 through Political Administration, is prevalent in the region.  The irony is when both these parties, PKMAP and JUI, while being part of the parliament, make a case for not extending parliamentary laws to the region.

No matter how efficient informal system of jirga and other examples of legal pluralism that exist, a state and its laws must always be the ultimate mediator, adjudicator and protector of its citizen. A reality which traditionalist and religious forces need to accept and move on.

One demand put forward by these parties is that of FATA as a separate province, which is neither feasible nor politically achievable. The geography of the region is such that it cannot be run as a single administrative unit. These different agencies are so disconnected that one has to travel to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to reach to other areas of FATA. For instance, for a person to enter to Bajaur from Waziristan, on has to travel for hours in the settled districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It is for such reasons that the location of FATA Medical College was hotly contested by the residents of the region. Furthermore, except for the binding FCR-regime, FATA agencies share more with their adjacent districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa than with each other. The economic and subcultural ties of Bajaur are deeper with Dir and Swat than with Kurram and Waziristan. FATA Secretariat and some offices of political agents are located in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and not in FATA, validating the idea of FATA’s integration into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. FATA lacks not only the infrastructure but also the resources to become a viable unit on its own. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa already host millions as economic and internally displaced migrants from FATA.

Another interesting suggestion put forward by political leadership of PKMAP is to grant FATA a status akin to Gilgit and Baltistan. Their argument is based on an illusory model of autonomy offered in 2009 to the inhabitants of GB with no constitutional guarantees.  The region of GB has been denied a constitutional status under the 2009 agreement. And the people in Gilgit-Baltistan know well how the experience exposes them to specific kind of vulnerability resulting in the region’s liminal status, as some activists and scholars from the region put it.

Except, perhaps, for their sufferings, FATA and Gilgit Baltistan are different regions with their own peculiar statuses. The Constitution of Pakistan does not list Gilgit-Baltistan as a Pakistani territory, unlike FATA, which it declares as an integral part of its territory. Gilgit-Baltistan is described as a territory only “administered by Pakistan” and is thus excluded from the Constitution.

GB is excluded from representation in the Pakistani parliament and other important federal bodies. Although FATA is represented in the parliament with no power over any kind of legislation for its region.

GB has a Supreme Appellate Court for Gilgit-Baltistan; it holds those cases are not appealable to the highest court in Pakistan. It has no share in the National Finance Award Commission. It has been defined as a province, but without giving it actual jurisdiction over subject matters provided under the legislative list for provinces.

The 2009 Order of GB creates a “region” that is mainly controlled by the federal government, and their locally elected legislative assembly is dominated by the legislative council nominated from Islamabad.

For example, the 2009 Order makes up the Council in such a way that eight out of the fifteen members of the Legislative Council are not elected by the people of Gilgit-Baltistan, and seven are individually nominated by, or appointed on, the advice of the Prime Minister of Pakistan, while giving extensive powers to the “Chairman of the Council,” which is, in fact, the Prime Minister of Pakistan.

In the GB administrative unit, there is a significant amount of confusion: who has the power, and who in practice is in control, and hence continues to be in a fix.

How would FATA benefit from a system, which would be practically dominated by the federal government? The Gilgit-Baltistan administration might be an enviable option for some, but considering that it has been run by a colonial governance system for the past 69 years, and excluded from the NFC Award, it is not a great option for an extremely poor and ignored FATA. Such an autonomy for FATA is meaningless.

The GB model governance system and status wouldn’t benefit the people in FATA. It does not ensure its mainstreaming and hence cannot alleviate its problems. The same story would continue albeit under different nomenclature.

Therefore, the only way forward is to integrate FATA into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It’s not only the most feasible and achievable option but the one most desired by the people of the area.