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EDITORIAL: Seven agencies and six frontier regions called Fata were merged with the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) in 2018 through the 25th Constitutional Amendment that abolished its discriminatory status and granted it all the fundamental rights.

Not only were its Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCRs) repealed, the merged region was also inducted into the national mainstream, constitutionally and economically, with representation in provincial and national assemblies alike.

But five years on, that doesn’t seem to have happened in real terms. The situation has, therefore, generated calls for restoration of ex-Fata’s special status. Addressing a media encounter in Peshawar recently, a group of tribal elders representing the Fata Qaumi Jirga demanded immediate separation of tribal districts from KP.

The merger with the province has pushed the tribal region into further backwardness and there is growing sense of deprivation among tribal people, they have claimed.

The impression persists that Fata-KP merger was not a popular demand, and now that it has happened it has done nothing to ameliorate the lot of the tribal people in their areas. And, whatever is planned and done in their areas it is done without taking them into confidence. “No university, college, school, hospital or major road has been built in the region,” they complained, adding that “even the schools that were demolished during the anti-terrorism operations have not been rebuilt so far”.

The tribal elders appeared particularly cut up at the inordinate delay in the release of promised funds of Rs 110 billion and 3 percent share in National Finance Commission Award to tribal districts. Given that nobody listens to them at local and regional levels, they want to meet Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

The tribal jirga did narrate in so many words what ails them and it wants restoration of Fata’s status of tribal districts and regions, but not what they conveyed indirectly. In other words, they told the powers-that-be in Islamabad and Rawalpindi that the sense of deprivation on the part of the tribesmen tends to breed revolt against the state and thus upholds the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP’s) cause of restoration of ex-FATA special status.

Left to themselves in extreme poverty, deprived of their rights as equal partners in the statecraft and bereft of what they legally own, the tribesmen appear to be inclined to rethink their future. Their forefathers had voluntarily offered the Quaid-i-Azam to be part of the newly-created Pakistan.

But what followed over the last several decades leaves them with a sense of betrayal. An average tribesman is not the votary of TTP manifesto as he has suffered immensely at its hands. He doesn’t want them to be among them and become a terrorist against the state of Pakistan. But for how long? A hungry bear doesn’t dance.

The governments, both provincial and federal, need to rethink and come up with policies and plans that not only carry out promises made to them, particularly by making payments against their share in the country’s economic pie.

Additionally, the jirga wants a larger bench of the Supreme Court to hear their case against merger and a meeting with the prime minister. They must be heard by the apex court and the concerned quarters must arrange the jirga’s meeting with the prime minister without any further loss of time. By neglecting their calls and demands, the state would be depriving the armed forces of local support they need in the fight against terrorism.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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