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Merger and the challenges ahead

While people are celebrating Fata’s merger with KP, there are quite a few voices of caution and dissent about the Interim Governance Order that need to be heard

Merger and the challenges ahead

If one looks at the historical evolution of democratic societies, of democratisation, one notes that changes either come through revolutions or evolution.

A revolution comes when the establishment (which is more than just military) refuses to respond or by giving in some concessions by adapting itself to challenges. Evolution and gradual change occurs when the establishment responds by giving in partially to demands of people. It gives in to some demands, to avoid revolutions and to retain its power.

However, the process continues; people demand more after gaining and celebrating the gains made. The establishment resists, but then gives in a little more. The process gradually evolves a society, a state, moving to a stage where we see more diffusion of power, a relatively better system of checks and balances and more inclusion of the excluded. This is called the process of democratisation and progressive change through evolution.

The process that had started about two years back, with the formation of Fata Reforms Committee headed by Sartaj Aziz, got a lot of boost when the committee presented its report, and a detailed roadmap for merger of Fata with KP.

Without repeating the detailed description, this process got delayed and revived more than once. Despite broader consensus in support of mainstreaming through merger, with the exceptions of two political parties, the process was stalled and people started believing that it was postponed till after the 2018 elections.

Suddenly, the process revived after a meeting of the National Security Committee last week. The National Assembly, Senate and provincial assembly passed the 31st Amendment, providing for the merger of Fata with KP, through a process that will take five years, from 31 May 2018, the day the amendment was affirmed by the president. People are celebrating it, with some voices of caution and also voices of dissent.

No one can deny the need for an interim arrangement as the merger was simply impossible in one day, or in a very short time. A lot of work has to be done. Lower judiciary has to be recruited and trained; police force has to be raised as well as many other administrative structures are to be built from scratch.

The state had proposed Rewaj Act in 2017, later renamed Rewaj Regulations, as transitional arrangement for the time between the end of FCR and implementation of normal laws. However, as a result of widespread opposition the Rewaj Regulations were held back along with the whole process of mainstreaming.

A lot of work has to be done. Lower judiciary has to be recruited and trained; police force has to be raised as well as many other administrative structures are to be built from scratch.

Then earlier this year, the extension of judicial system to Fata bill was passed; however, it also provided that the higher judiciary will only start working on extension whenever the government decides. The government is clearly not in a hurry to do that.

Suddenly, when everyone thought the Fata mainstreaming had been left to be decided by the next government and parliament, in a rather swift move, the 31st Amendment Constitutional Bill was approved by all concerned and the president has signed it.

Why such a sudden and quick decision? No one has clear answers. Some see the military’s role in it as it happened immediately after the decision of National Security Committee. Why the military wanted it is again a question mark. However, many feel the rise of Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) has much to do with it, even though PTM was completely neutral on the subject.

Probably, many factors went into the decision — the public support led by most political parties, human rights activists and Fata’s educated youth becoming more vocal and feeling encouraged when the process was initiated two years ago, in addition to the pressure of PTM — but eventually the state considered Fata merger will defuse the situation.

Whatever the reason and whoever gets the credit, the merger was broadly welcomed creating euphoria, appreciation and happiness. However, while people were eagerly waiting for the assent by the president, they got Interim Governance Order, which repealed the colonial-era FCR, declaring tribal agencies as tribal districts and changing the post of political agents to deputy commissioners.

The reason for issuing this interim order approved prior to the 31st Amendment seemed to be able to have a transitional system, without any input from the parliament. However, this can be amended or even replaced by the new provincial assembly of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. However, it will remain enforced till new legislation.

This was a worse version of FCR. This order without the extension of higher judiciary and with no clear time frame has generated concern, anxiety turning into anger. Those celebrating it feel betrayed and those opposing the merger, feeling surer of the correctness of their stand, are saying ‘we told you so’. This order furthers the mistrust between the people and the state. Ideally, it should be extensively amended, however, that will require more time and cause undesirable delay in the reform process.

So, the most practical action that can somehow defuse the anger against it can be immediate extension of the higher judiciary, which will serve as a check on the discretionary powers of the bureaucracy under this order, removing the clauses on relocation of people and whole communities and villages and giving a clear timeframe.

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It will be better if it is amended by removing some of the most criticised clauses without waiting for new elections. In any case, all parties, especially those that supported the merger, must include it in the manifesto and vocally re-affirm commitment to make even these transitional arrangements more in line with basic human rights and immediately extend the jurisdiction of the higher judiciary.

People living under inhuman conditions, while wishing for a better life, and some of them working for change, may accept that as their fate. But once they are given hope, they start expecting and believing change is around the corner; they cannot be wished or forced back into their slumber. Any delay in action, to clear the confusion and dismay created by this order, will create a situation that will be impossible to control, neither by very sincere actions nor by the use of force.

 

The writer is former Chairman and Professor, Department of International Relations, University of Peshawar

Prof. Ijaz Khan

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Former Chairman and Professor of Department of International Relations in University of Peshawar

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