Mainstreaming FATA was one of the most important points in the twenty points program of National Action Plan (NAP) approved by an extra ordinary All Parties Conference (APC) on December 24, 2014, a week after the brutal massacre of young students by criminal terrorists in Peshawar Army Public School. Since Pakistan was well known for wasting long years first in denial of terrorism and later on just talking about curbing it so the APC decided to go for an Action Plan instead of squandering further precious time by busying ourselves into hairsplitting in abstract theoretical debates. But if the experience of the last one-yearis anything to go by it has become pretty clear that most of the twenty points program is not meant for implementation. No roadmap with any timeline exists for implementing NAP. FATA parliamentarians did introduce a bill in the National Assembly for the merger of FATA in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but the federal government scuttled that initiative by creating yet another committee for “ascertaining“ the opinion of the people of the area (interestingly enough there is no one from FATA in the aforementioned committee and most of the ministers who are members of the committee can’t speak Pashto and speak through interpreters). Again there is no timeframe for the work of the committee. So FATA Pashtuns who lived as subjects of British colonial order for around a century seems to be condemned to keep on living under exactly the same (or even worse) status in an independent Muslim country. There is no visible sign of their becoming citizens any time soon with access to fundamental rights. In this day and age they still have to live in the “black hole”, and “no go area” beyond the jurisdiction of courts and access of media and civil society.
After continuing for close to two years operation Zarb-e-Azb doesn’t seem to have fully cleared FATA from terrorism. Shawaland Datakhel are yet to be cleared even after intense aerial bombardment and droning, a position that has not changed for last so many years. Yet another drone attack in Khurram Agency last week shows that certain “assets” have relocated there after military operation in North Waziristan.Momand Agency saw murderous attacks by terrorists against security personnel during the last week killing at least nine khasadars. Curfew had to be imposed for forestalling terrorist onslaught. Schools and hospitals had to be closed. News about minor terror attacks and blowing up of schools do emerge from other agencies. Political or civilian oversight of military operation in FATA is almost non existent and the area is not open to media or civil society so there is not much in terms of even reporting about the challenges faced by non-combatants let alone provision of any relief to them.
Millions of Internally Displaced Persons (Pashtuns) are not any more on the political radar of either the government or political parties. Their ordeal that was supposed to last for few months doesn’t have any end in sight even after about two years (in case of North Waziristan). The country’s media has also put its back on their camps in Bannu and other places. Pakistani state doesn’t seem to be interested in winning the war for hearts and minds. You need that only if you want to take the people along. But if you have no plan to empower the people and include them in the decision-makingprocess, then why to bother yourself. For example around one hundred thousand IDPs had crossed over into Afghanistan’s province Khost in 2014 from North Waziristan. Afghan government was reported to have helped them in establishing camps and there were reports about some activity by UNHCR. But the government of Pakistan has not sent any formal official delegation even once to look into their situation or to discuss with them any plan for their possible return. Even those who live inside Pakistan have no focal person or institution to turn to for relief in case of violation of their rights. Their disempowerment knows no limits.
One hopes that the new Governor of Pakhunkhwa will make a place for his name in history by supporting reforms in FATA, although it is easier said than done. The entrenched vested interest of officialdom ruling the area has put up stiff resistance against any change. But they have overplayed their hand. Terrorists could run a virtual state in the area in the vacuum created by statelessness. The country can’t afford the status quo anymore. The Article 247 of the Constitution that bars the Pakistani Parliament from legislation for FATA and bars the Supreme Court of Pakistan from hearing cases must go. How can Pakistan call herself a Republic with such a monstrous anomaly? Refusal to hold local government elections in FATA is simply an affront. Every democrat in the country should raise his/her voice for the empowerment of FATA Pashtuns. It goes without saying that situation in Afghanistan is closely linked to situation in FATA . Our steps for filling the gaps in terms of the writ of the state in FATA will indicate our seriousness about stabilizing Afghanistan.
The writer is a retired Senator and an analyst of regional affairs.