The key element of social control,” according to Noam Chomsky, the renowned American scholar, “is the strategy of distraction, that is, to divert public attention from important issues.” It is unfortunate that this strategy has become a glaring feature of our domestic politics. The ruling elite has failed to protect Pakistan’s sovereignty, improve economy, end corruption, contain extremism, limit the arrogant superpower and ensure good governance. Hence, it has turned to distraction by creating and politicising issues of little importance.
The ANP’s demand to merge Fata with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, or KP, is emerging at a time when the entire region is “a boiling pot with a tipping lid.” Military oppressions, suicide bombings, target killings and drone attacks, have paralysed the lives of innocent tribals. The people of Fata, who are living in such a miserable plight, need to be consoled, helped and protected. But unfortunately, instead of extending a helping hand and pulling its chestnuts out of the fire, the ANP has stabbed them in the back. Et tu, Brute?
As a prelude to the scheme of greater Pakhtunkhwa, the ANP tried and succeeded in depriving Fata of its historical and geographical symbol - the name of “Khyber” - through the 18th Amendment. Dara Khyber - the route of empire-makers - belongs to Fata. Taking Fata’s name away and granting it to the NWFP to rename it as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was nothing, but a planned conspiracy, naked robbery, and a glaring example of rapacity of its symbolic treasury. It is unfortunate that the elected representatives from Fata remained silent when Parliament was busy in robbing Peter to pay Paul. But today, the people are not silent spectators. They will and they must struggle hard for a separate provincial status for Fata. They have strong reasons, indeed, which entitle them to have their own province.
Firstly, Fata is a separate entity with its own history and different administrative and political experiences. It is a historical monument of the people’s struggle against invaders and a symbol of their staunch patriotism towards Pakistan. It is a legacy and a sacred trust of their ancestors, which deserves to be preserved.
Secondly, Fata is the most oppressed region that is still ruled by the century old Frontier Crime Regulation (FCR) - a symbol of medieval absolutism. The people want to be free from the inhuman aspects of this colonial legacy. But due to the traditional, social and political structure of a tribal society, they are not in a position to adjust with the modern administrative system. Hence, like Hegelian dialectic, they need to compromise between tribal traditionalism and political modernism for the expulsion of imposed absolutism. But the compromise has to be made with the consent of the people of Fata for which they need a separate province.
Thirdly and again, Fata is the most deprived, the most impoverished and the least developed area of the country. The remedies for its miseries and backwardness lie in a separate province, in which the people have a major say in the management of their internal affairs. Placing Fata at the mercy of KP will be like setting a wolf to watch the sheep.
Fourthly, Fata has been exploited on the name of religion for many decades and now it cannot afford to be exploited further on the basis of ethnic nationalism of ANP.
Fifthly, India’s presence in Afghanistan has put Pakistan’s territorial integrity in jeopardy. In such a situation, Fata has to play a role of iron curtain on the western frontier, which is only possible if we keep it intact and retain it in the hands of all-weather tested patriots of the tribal areas.
Last but not least, the people of Fata have borne the brunt of wars and instability in Afghanistan. They deserve to be benefited if there is cooperation and trade between Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia. Merging Fata with KP and expecting change in its destiny is an illusion that should be avoided.
The ANP and its followers should not be resentful at our genuine demands. We cannot entrust our destiny in the hand of someone else. We have the right, the resources and the capabilities to have our own province and shape our own destiny within the constitutional limits of the federation of Pakistan. In the present situation, however, it is not possible for Fata to be a separate province. We have to bear the status quo till an appropriate time comes.
At this time, the government should improve the law and order situation; focus on education and health sectors; and create opportunities for the tribal youth. The people should not be punished physically, mentally, psychologically and economically for the crimes committed by someone else through the FCR. The army in Fata should focus on the heart and mind front. The region should be protected from expansionists and imperialists. Bleeding Fata to feed KP should be discouraged and stopped. It is oppression and “he who allows oppression,” in the words of Erasmus Darwin, “shares the crime.”
n The writer is former youth parliamentarian from Fata.