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Fata virtually a garrison region

PESHAWAR: The confrontation among various stakeholders over the future of Fata reminds one of Buzkashi, the national game of Afghanistan. The trophy of the brutal game is that a headless carcass is placed in the middle of a circle and surrounded by the players of two opposing teams. The game is about getting hold of the carcass and rushing it to the scoring area.

Likewise, tribal borderlands seem to be a headless carcass. The Sartaj Aziz committee`s report, which recommended the merger of Fata with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa inits 80 pages report, has divided Pakhtun leadership and tribal society.

The political discourse on Fata has converged only on the merger issue and ignored other sticky points like replacing the FCR with Tribal Area Rewaj Act, economic package etc.

Instead of visiting tribal agencies, politicians are transporting their activists and likeminded elders from tribal agencies to Islamabad or Peshawar for showing strength.

The parties having support in southern belt of KP and Pakhtun-dominated areas in the neighbouring Balochistan province are staunchly opposing Fata`s merger with KP. Political elites of Peshawar valley and adjacent Malakand division favour immediate merger of tribal areas with the province.The Awami National Party set the March 12 deadline for the government to declare the Fata-KP merger. The Qaumi Watan Party, Jamaat-i-Islami, PPP and PTI also demand the merger before the next general elections. The Jamiat Ulemai-Islam-Fazl and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party are warning their ally in the centre, PML-N that `anything against the opinion of the people of Fata`is unacceptable to them.

However, unlike Buzkashi, the players (politicians) are competing over the future of Fata and scoring their own points. The people of Fata neither mattered in this game in the past nor do they matter at the moment.

Their opinion has never been taken into consideration. For instance, the federal government has extended a total of 182 laws to the area so far but the successive governments did not bother to elicit the opinion of the local people or take parliament into confidence prior to extension of these laws.

Similarly, the parliamentary committee ledby SenatechairmanMianRazaRabbani, which took credit for the 18th amendment to the Constitution, hasn`t dared remove Article 247 relating to Fata.

The discussion whether to hold referendum on the future status of Fata or merge the region with KP without seeking the opinion of the local people is useless. The finaldecision will be made by the power that be.

With the script of Fata`s future already draf ted, the committee`s visit to tribal agencies and follow-up consultation in Peshawar and Islamabad were just formalities.

The administrative landscape in Fata has enormously changed. Fata is transforming from a tribal society into a garrison one due to its strategic location. The administrative powers are shifting from political agents to field commanders.

The Computerised National Identity Card (CNIC)is no more a valid document to enter areas like North Waziristan, Mehsud area of South Waziristan, and de-notified parts of Khyber, Orakzai and Kurram agencies.

The local people have to show Watan Card at security checkposts otherwise they are not allowed to travel to their native areas. The people have been sarcastically calling Watan Card as Mohib-i-Watan Card.

The chief of the army staf f has become the `de facto` head making all decisions regarding Fata. The army chief or lith Corps commander meet local elders during their visits, inaugurate development schemes and announce employment packages.

The Pakistan Army is directly spending funds in North Waziristan, South Waziristan and parts of Khyber Agency. The civil secretariat had released over Rs5 billion to the Army in 2015 for the reconstruction and rehabilitation in the three areas.On the other hand, the administrative practices and traditions have also changed.

The Army is in the driving seat of Fata, where decisions on matters ranging from security and development to disputes resolution among tribes rest with its field commanders.

Instead of political administration, the tribal people are now looking to the commanders in their respective areas for the resolution of their problems and disputes.

The administrative practice was that the colonel commandant stationed at the agency headquarters used to visit the office of the political agent to brief him about security issues. Now, the political agents are called to the offices of the colonel commandants for discussion. Same is the case with the divisional commissioners, who are higher in the administrative hierarchy than the political agents. Several of the functions earlier performed by the commissioners are now considered responsibility of the brigade commanders, which include addressing jirgas, participation in social gatherings and inauguration of schemes.

The politicalleadersinstead of discussing Fata in TV talk shows or jirgas should develop consensus on this issue.

The government should either take the issue to parliament for debate or convene a multiparty conference to settle the issue once and for all.-Zulfiqar Ali