‘Merger brought few benefits, but still it hasn’t gained desired pace’

PESHAWAR: The bill for merger of erstwhile FATA with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was approved by the Senate on May 28, 2018 after its approval by the provincial and national assemblies after which it was signed by ex-president of Pakistan Mamnoon Hussain on May 31, 2018.

The former president had said after signing the bill that the people of tribal areas will now have access to all their rights like other citizens of the country and expressed hope that it will begin a new era of development and prosperity in tribal districts. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), as per its party manifesto, after coming into power in last year’s general elections accelerated the process of merger of FATA with KP. The main steps by the PTI government in the merger process includes extension of the Supreme Court and the KP High Courts’ jurisdiction, RTI law, merger of Levies and Khassadar personnel into KP Police, frequent visits by the KP cabinet members to tribal districts, Sehat Insaf Cards, Insaf Rozgar Scheme and reforms in various other sectors.

Public opinion is divided over the implementation status of the reforms process with some showing complete satisfaction over the process and others showing dissatisfaction with the pace of the merger process and development schemes.

Malik Gulzar Khan, a tribal elder from North Waziristan, says abolition of the FCR and access of tribal people to their rights are the main benefits of the merger process.

“Political agents exercised unlimited powers in the previous set up and tribal maliks were also hand in close coordination with them. They did not want merger with KP to save their powers. Now we have got rid of the FCR, now we have judiciary and police. Our area is now moving towards development,” he told TNN.

Aziz Ahmed Orakzai, a social activist from the Orakzai District, says the merger process has brought a number of benefits, but still it hasn’t gained the desired pace.

“We are happy that we are under the Constitution of Pakistan now and facilities of courts and police have also been provided, but still we have some reservations. First of all, the process is very slow which needs to improve. There are some areas where reconstruction and rehabilitation hasn’t been initiated yet. The youth are particularly concerned over appointment of non-local people in the police force. Unemployment ratio is high in tribal districts; therefore, local youth should be given jobs in the area instead of appointing non-locals,” he siad.

Jameel Turi, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) president for Kurram district, says the benefits of the merger process will remain invisible until release of the promised funds for these areas. He says the government should focus more on education and health sectors.

“Funds for tribal areas must be released without delay and special emphasis must be given to health and education sectors. A drawing master cannot do the job of physics or zoology teachers. Every vacant post must be filled by qualified candidates. Education is backbone of development; therefore, we must focus on this sector,” he said while talking to TNN.

A number of projects have been initiated in the merged districts, but major project has been started for tribal women.

Sawera Bibi from Kurram says, “I have completed Higher Secondary School and the computer training (CT) certificates, but I don’t have any job and I am sitting in my house. This situation has rendered my qualification useless. The merger process has been delayed unnecessarily. Had the process been completed timely, its benefits would have been received by now. I am still hopeful that the situation is improving and things will be better in future. Women should also receive their due share in the development process.”

Wakeel Khan Afridi, a representative of a youth organisation from Bara, says, “One year is a short period and some people are also putting impediments in the merger process that is why its benefits are not visible now. He says many projects have been initiated in the first year of the merger process.” He further says, “There are some achievements, but that are not visible now because some people are putting hurdles in the merger process.”

A number of projects have been introduced in the tribal districts during the last one year and many people in the area say that they felt being a part of the mainstream politics for the first time after initiation of the merger process.

Farmanullah from Mirali says the main benefit of the merger is abolition of FCR and access to the judicial system which enabled the tribe people to approach the courts for their rights. He says many projects and vacancies are coming to our area now.

Aymen from Kurram says the unjust system of FCR has come to an end and now the tribal people have access to judiciary where they will get justice. She says integration of Levies and Khassadars into KP Police is a good step. She says women will also get access to justice under the new set up.

Muhammad Adnan Afridi from Bara says the government did not fulfil its promises which were made at the time of the merger. He says the government pledged Rs.110 billion funds by tribal districts haven’t received even Rs.110 so far. “If one goes to tribal hospitals or schools, he gets a clear picture of the situation. Tax exemption is also only for the next four years,” he told TNN.

Malik Rauf from Orakzai says merger process is underway, but its benefits are not visible yet. He says tribal people want visible improvement in their lives.