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Fri. October 22, 2021
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Around the World, Across the Political Spectrum

FATA’s Mainstreaming Trajectory

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Recognized as one of the most dangerous places globally, FATA (erstwhile) has been a potential battlefield for great power politics due to its unfortunate geography. Throughout Pakistan's history, a sense of marginalization and alienation has prevailed in this tribal belt constituted seven agencies. But the year, 2018 marked a breakthrough after the passage of the 25th constitutional amendment bill, which formally merged FATA with KPK. However, the merger is still far from completion.

Being a victim of global power politics accompanied by the state's deliberative marginalization, FATA lags behind the mainstream country in education, health, and infrastructure, which was hugely damaged during military operations there. This secondary citizen treatment has led to people's disillusionment and resentment against the state because of minimal economic development and the weak writ of state there.

Moreover, the mainstreaming project initiated after the merger lacks the prerequisites to establish a strong set of institutions there. After the amendment, the repealing of colonial laws in totality led to creating a massive vacuum in terms of laws and regulations. In the absence of new rules and the abolishment of earlier, the 5 million people of FATA were left in a lawless state of affairs.

For any region to be mainstreamed along with other domains of state, the inclusion of voices of the indigenous population is vitally essential. Pakistan's top-down and exclusive project to mainstream FATA is detrimental to the national and local political dynamics. The efforts to modernize a culture employing obligatory cultural alterations will ultimately hurt the cultural core of that society. This is because of the basic fact that traditions recognized and accepted in one part of the world may necessarily sound offensive in other regions due to the diversity of human existence. However, this notion does not dictate us to prevent change.

The continuous calls for bringing political, legal, and social reforms in FATA culminated in its merger with KPK in 2018. However, the flawed mainstreaming project invites criticism because of its exclusive lens and short-sighted, narrow approach. Lack of focused institutions building policies is exacerbating the already complex governance dynamics of this conflict-ridden area. The nationalization efforts in FATA by the state at the expense of traditional culture and values aimed at mainstreaming are not to be blamed, yet its top-down and absolutist approach of inculcating nationalism in discontented masses also cannot be negated by critiques.

The lingering of FATA on the country's periphery in the context of socio-economic development for a long time can be attributed to the state's quest for strategic interests in this unfortunate geography. Now the state's striving to maintain its writ in this earlier, intentionally unregulated region is surging face. The indigenous masses are also coping with their cultural and social preservation, which is universally desirable and can draw many offenses if refuted and disturbed. Therefore, there is a need for adequately calculated moves and a holistic approach to the mainstreaming project of FATA for both the public and state's long-term interests.

Given the FATA's intricate and complex state of affairs, grand scale state interventions are not feasible and realistic. However, for the transition to be successful in the future, well-deliberated and phased efforts to integrate FATA with the mainstream are crucially necessary. Institution's building and organizational structures like the judicial system, modern criminal justice system, banking system, and the like institutions should be extended to this tribal belt. Media can play a pivotal role in this process. Hence free access to media should also be prioritized for the actualization of FATA's mainstreaming.

The economy of this tribal belt is informal and undocumented. One of the crux of mainstreaming project is the documentation and regulation of this otherwise unregulated economic sphere which includes huge inflow of money and export/import to the neighboring Afghanistan without due rules and regulation. The formalization of economy will at the one hand generate revenue for state’s exchequer and on the other hand will results into the protection and regularization of imported and exported commodities. However, this process also needs to be conducted phase wise as abrupt tax implementation and regularization will create unrest in tribal peoples.

The merging of this sort of huge area and subsequent developmental projects required extensive resources as mainstreaming is highly resource intensive process. Therefore, the revenue and resources generation in this area must also be prioritized by establishing peace as development and peace are intrinsically linked. In this regard, the financial alienation and separation of FATA through NFC award must be revisited. To achieve a true economic and social merger, the due allocation for FATA in the 10th NFC and federal divisible fool is inevitable.

For the governance system to be consolidated and made effective, maintaining peace is the primary prerequisite and it succeeds equality among citizens of the state. Hence, the state's discriminatory treatment of tribal people should be prevented primarily for trust-building and sustainable partnership for development in this neglected and conflict-ridden zone. Also, the gap between planning and implementation must be abolished by proper consultation and communication between policymakers and practitioners. Political participation by indigenous peoples should be encouraged and rewarded by authorities to make the integration process more inclusive and diverse, culminating in the most needed sustainability of this overall development process.

Muhammad Haseeb is a Bachelor’s fellow at the School of Politics & International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

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