WEBDESK: In a rare display of unity, the tribal parliamentarians across the board have unanimously decided to seek a constitutional amendment allowing merger of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) with the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. The draft bill for the proposed 22nd Amendment Act 2015, jointly submitted with the National Assembly secretariat by the Fata MNAs last week, is expected to be tabled in the next session of the lower house in October.
The filers are confident to have it passed with required majority given the unconditional support they claim was pledged to them by all the parliamentary parties. The support for smooth passage of the bill in the Senate is going to be no problem either, they claim. That the bill reflects complete consensus of tribal parliamentarians despite their clashing worldviews on a host of issues and the unquestioned support pledged to them by members from both sides of the aisle is a development that sounds so much surreal.
Merger with KP has been a topic of lingering national debate for decades; the pro-merger movement stiffly opposed by advocates of an independent province for seven Tribal Agencies and six FR Regions, which are described in the Constitution as “territories of Pakistan”. Why now – it is so much out of the blue. Of course, the Awami National Party (ANP) and Pakistan Muslim League (N) have been seeking this merger in the past too, insisting that it is the only way to mainstream the residents of Fata.
If Aftab Sherpao’s Qaumi Watan Party too has joined the pro-merger group, it is no surprise either. But independent observers would like to know: Is it that ‘the powers that be’ have advised merger of Fata with KP to ensure a deeper writ of state in some badlands of tribal region given inadequate legal system in there, or is it the brainchild of some political groups to dilute political clout of ruling Tehreek-i-Insaf in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa?
The question acquires relevance all the more if the merger is also opposed by the Fata Grand Alliance (FGA); and also, if the motive behind the bill is to get rid of federal control through the President and his nominated provincial Governor? According to the FGA, to get rid of Islamabad control and fall into lap of Peshawar would be like jumping from the frying pan into the fire.
Presently, the case of Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (Pata) is no different either, the FGA argues.
The Alliance promised to launch ‘Save Qabayal’ movement to counter the parliamentarians’ merger move. Seemingly so, the proposed merger of tribal areas with Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is going to be a contentious issue, forbidding a quick-fix approach – as was the case with some of the recent constitutional amendments which keep getting out of tune with the ground realities.
Ideally, the National Assembly should hand over this draft bill to a committee, with powers to extensively draw on non-official private sector expert opinion. And should it be done, there are quite a few areas of interest and inquiry that should be looked into. For one, there may be a referendum to find out whether the residents of tribal areas want a merger or a separate province.
And is it is likely that grant of a provincial status to Fata would generate a similar demand in Gilgit-Baltistan and somewhere else in the country where seeds for separate provincial status lie buried but not very deep.
It may also be looked into if this merger would be seen by some as revival of the ‘Greater Pushtunistan’ bogey, given that some of pro-merger stakeholders had once pursued their agenda on these lines. Then there is a debate in close confabulations of tribal leaders as to which of the Fata towns could be the capital should Fata become a province?
Or, is it that the tribal parliamentarians feel being inadequately looked after in distribution of development funds that they want a change in their status? And, how come the KP government would be able to give Fata extra funding to catch up with rest of the regions if it has not been able to cure backwardness of deprivation in some of its southern districts?
And, whether the tribal people can be provided speedy justice under extended jurisdiction of Supreme Court and High Courts without changing the constitutional status of Fata? Another question: Can the people of Fata have the kind executive council of their own instead of being ruled by Islamabad.
It is imperative that the question or proposal of merger is thoroughly debated inside and outside the parliament for sensitivity of the issue forbids any hurried approach and quick legislation.