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Can merging regions bring peace and justice to Pakistan? Open in fullscreen

Usaid Siddiqui

Can merging regions bring peace and justice to Pakistan?

FATA's Darra Adamkhel: a hub for people-smugglers and drug-runners, hosting a notorious weapons market [AFP]

Date of publication: 7 March, 2017

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Comment: As the north-western tribal areas prepare to be incorporated into Pakistan's regional governance system, many predict an end to 'terrorism' here, as long as the government listens...

On March 2, the Pakistani government approved the merging of Pakistan's tribal regions, known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), with the neighbouring north-west province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).

The move has already been heralded as a success, as it does away with the Frontier Crimes Regulation; an unjust colonial imposition administered under the sole jurisdiction of the federal government, long criticised for being an affront to the basic human rights of the people of FATA.

For more than a decade, FATA has been central to the "War on Terror", which has decimated whatever little political, economic and societal infrastructure previously existed.

Extremist violence, coupled with ongoing military operations, have taken a heavy toll on the people here.

The merger with KP, if executed properly, has the potential to provide the region and its people with a greater sense of security and political representation



The merger with KP, if executed properly, has the potential to provide the region and its people with a greater sense of security and political representation to address the debilitating violence that has consumed their lives in recent years. It may also bring some degree of financial and social prosperity to one of the poorest regions in the world.

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FCR and colonial legacy

The FCR was constituted in 1901 during British colonial rule. It was an administrative legal framework aimed at the maintenance of law and order in the region - considered to be great importance to the British. According to Article 247 of the Pakistani constitution, the parliament of Pakistan has no jurisdiction over the area and it falls under the direct executive of the Pakistani president.

Of particular concern has been Section 21, which assigns collective responsibility to whole tribes and residents of an area should one person from the community commit a crime. Innocent men and women have been punished under this collective clause; even two-year-olds have not been spared.

Last year in South Waziristan, one of the seven agencies of FATA, the political administration blew up a market in the city of Wana as punishment for the killing of an army officer and others injured in a terrorist attack. In the immediate aftermath of the explosion, a curfew was imposed in the area, restricting the movement of thousands - with 6,000 shops ordered to be closed.

A 2010 Amnesty International report titled As If Hell Fell On Me called the FCR:

"...part of a tapestry of an antiquated and draconian system of limited government with little or no recognition of or respect for human rights, the rule of law, due process, political representation, or democratic institutions."

Amnesty and other human rights organisations have long encouraged the FCR to be abandoned, and for Pakistan to apply existing political, legal and human rights to the people of FATA.

'War on terror'

Since the advent of the "War on Terror" in 2001, the FATA region has gained worldwide notoriety for being a hotbed of "terrorist activities", serving as a sanctuary for Taliban militants from Afghanistan and a home to local extremist outfits such as the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Counter-terror strategies such the Pakistan military's relentless bombardment of the tribal area, in addition to US drone strikes have displaced close to one million people from their homes.

Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan says the merger
could end terrorism in the region [Anadolu]


Pakistani politician and former cricket star Imran Khan says FATA's merger with KP - a region in which his party is currently in power - could help eradicate the menace of terrorism in the two regions.

While Khan's rather blanket pronouncement is worth scrutinizing, KP's provincial security apparatus, in addition to its political and material resources, may well be beneficial in providing stability in the FATA region providing a wider range of platforms for the tribes to recommend how to best tackle the scourge of terrorism in their cities. 

With the integration of FATA with Pakistan proper, American and Pakistani military campaigns are likely to end, as currently no region in which the Pakistani constitution is applicable has been subjected to airstrikes and hellfire missiles - with a few notable exceptions - even though cities such as Peshawar in KP have been subjected to relentless extremist violence.

Not everyone is optimistic... Several tribal leaders have alleged that the merger does not represent the will of the people of FATA, who were largely left out of the decision-making process.



A dicey road ahead

Not everyone is optimistic. Many have raised concerns that the federal government has not consulted fully with the local population or outlined the operational details of the merger. Several tribal leaders have alleged that the merger does not represent the will of the people of FATA, who were largely left out of the decision-making process.

Some have accused the government of being more interested in symbolic gestures rather substantive change.

Rustum Shah Mohmand, former interior and chief secretary of KP, recently wrote "the focus should be on reconstruction and rehabilitation of an area and people that has gone through such turmoil and seen so much devastation", rather a mere "change in status".

Further, the provincial government in Punjab, led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's party, has come under severe criticism for profiling Pashtuns after a recent spate of attacks. Such reports make the Pashtun from FATA - the overwhelming majority in the tribal areas and in KP - wary of any future dealings with central government.   

It is too early to tell whether the merger will be a success or failure. Much will depend on the government's willingness to listen to what is being asked, rather than following the decades-long tradition of dictating to a people who never had the opportunity to chart their own future.

Usaid Siddiqui is a freelance Canadian writer. He has written for PolicyMic, Aslan Media, Al Jazeera America and Mondoweiss on current affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @UsaidMuneeb16

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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