The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government and a number of political parties have expressed reservations over the draft of the FATA reforms by the federal cabinet. KP Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak says the federal government is not sincere in the reforms as it has brought forward some suggestions which are objectionable and against the Constitution.

“We believe that FATA will be merged with KP ultimately, but they will not be given requisite powers. We want merger in true letter and spirit. There is no use of bringing a member from FATA in the KP Assembly with no powers. Merger must not take more than a month, but the federal government has unnecessarily made it too difficult,” Mr Khattak said.

The Jamaat-e-Islami Peshawar ameer Sabir Hussain says he welcomes the reforms recommendations despite having some reservations. He said the remaining problems can be resolved after the FATA-KP merger.

“We welcome the reforms package. However, we have reservations over excessive powers given to the governor and FATA Secretariat and the five-year merger period is also too long. Reforms should not be delayed further and FATA people should be elected in the KP Assembly in the 2018 elections. The FATA representatives in the KP Assembly should be given all powers to resolve problems of their people,” he said.

Central leader of the Awami National Party (ANP) Ghulam Ahmed Bilour believes that FATA reforms are being delayed deliberately for personal gains of some quarters. He said FATA people are being threatened on the pretext that their culture and independence is in danger.

“FATA people are deprived of basic rights for the last 70 years which are enjoyed by the people in rest of the country. They are Pakistanis and they deserve all their rights. Only 20 percent people in FATA may be opposing reforms for personal gains. The Jirga system is still working well in FATA and it is here to stay,” he said.

Pervaiz Khattak says the viewpoint of the KP government on the proposed reforms package has been conveyed to the federal government. He said all problems related to FATA reforms are being resolved through deliberations will all stakeholders.

“I request the Centre to complete the process after consultations. We have conveyed our reservations to high officials including the prime minister and army chief,” Mr Khattak said.

Apart from political parties, the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa also have different views about the reforms process. TNN has talked to people from various areas in KP to ascertain their opinion about FATA reforms draft approved by the federal cabinet.

Nek Marjan Betani from Dera Ismail Khan says: “FATA should be merged with KP. It will not have any negative impact.”

Hidayatullah Advocate from Bannu says: “FATA reforms process is very encouraging but it is too slow. The government should appoint civil judges in FATA. Few things which are easier must be done quickly.”

Samiullah from Zargari says: “FATA reforms will also benefit the people of Hangu besides benefiting the tribal population. It will improve law and order situation. People often commit crimes in settled areas and take shelter in tribal areas. Reforms should not be delayed further.”

Isarul Haq from Doaba, Hangu, says: “Reforms will ensure that the FATA people will get their rights under the Constitution of Pakistan. It will also turn KP into second largest province of Pakistan.”

Naweed from Sarband, Peshawar, says: “FATA reforms will give people access to their rights. It will help resolve problems of our tribal brothers.”

Muhammad Abbas from Nawi Killi, Peshawar, says: “FATA people have witnessed very hard times. Reforms will enable them to come out of that situation. Establishment of courts in FATA will help resolve their land disputes.”

Sajjad from Shabqadar, Charsadda, says: “It is important for the FATA schools to ensure returns of all students. Development projects, especially construction of roads, schools, colleges and universities will make FATA people stand on their own feet. The process will take time as the FATA people are used to living with tribal traditions.”

Nadir Shah from Shabqadar says he is not in support of merger. “FATA people have their specific culture in which they live with independence. Merger will not bring any positive change. Creation of a FATA province may be an acceptable option,” he told TNN.

Umar Khaliq Durrani from Lower Dir says: “Almost all political leaders want merger. This decision must not be taken without taking FATA people into confidence.”

Khaista Muhammad from Mian Killi says: “We are Pakhtuns of similar nature, therefore, merger is the best option. It will unite the Pakhtuns and our area will make quick progress. Currently the people of KP and FATA are divided and even transportation of trivial items like fodder for cattle or dung cakes from FATA to KP costs too much money.”

The federal government is firm on its stance of implementing FATA reforms, while the KP government has also made it clear that it will pursue all legal and constitutional options regarding their reservations.

TNN arranged a panel interview with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) parliamentary secretary Shaukat Yousafzai, MPA from Qaumi Watan Party (QWP) Meraj Humayun Khan and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) central joint secretary Rehmat Salam Khattak on their viewpoint about the FATA reforms process.

TNN (from Shaukat Yousafzai): What is the current standpoint of the KP government over FATA reforms?

Shaukat Yousafzai: It is a very important issue as the FATA people are demanding reforms since long. The people of FATA want merger with KP as we have similar culture, traditions and values. Many people from FATA are doing business in Peshawar. Currently, Khyber Agency, which is just one kilometre away from Peshawar, has different legal system from KP. The administrative system of FATA should be shifted to KP to reduce difficulties of people. We offered full support to the reforms process when it was initiated. All the political parties except the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) welcomed the reforms process. It is beyond comprehension how the Centre will control the powers of members of provincial assembly from FATA in KP. Such a merger will not benefit FATA MPAs as they will be sitting with us in the KP Assembly and all their powers will rest with the government in Islamabad. They are conducting meetings about FATA reforms in Islamabad and the KP government has no role in it. The KP government will not accept this kind of reforms.

TNN (from Meraj Humayun Khan): What is your opinion about importance and need of FATA reforms?

Meraj Humayun Khan: Our party (QWP) will always support merger of FATA with KP. It will also benefit KP and will put a huge impact on the overall political scenario. Our party chief is repeatedly pointing towards this fact and we are also against the five-year transition period. Everything was finalised and a resolution in this regard was also submitted in the National Assembly. Now there is only one purpose of delaying the process — they don’t want to see the Pakhtuns united.

TNN: So the standpoint of the QWP and PTI on FATA seems to be similar?

Meraj Humayun Khan: Our views are similar. The chief minister is also in favour of quick implementation of reforms and local government elections in FATA. Therefore, FATA should be merged with KP before the 2018 elections to enable the tribal representatives to reach KP Assembly and work for the people’s rights. The chief minister is also right in his demand of clear demarcation of powers between the governor and provincial government. The proposed judicial system also needs explanation because it also talks of Riwaj Act. Riwaj was acceptable when there was no other law in FATA, but now the QWP will not support any provisions which don’t protect women’s rights. Tribal women will suffer greatly if Riwaj Act was implemented. We have very strong reservations over this issue.

TNN: Tribal elders are supporting Riwaj Act because the FATA people are accustomed to their traditions and they are not familiar with the new system?

Meraj Humayun Khan: The tribal women are unaware about Riwaj Act and judicial system due to lack of education. You will hardly find about 10 percent educated women there. Men are supporting Riwaj Act because it will ensure their dominance.

TNN (from Rehmat Salam Khattak): Do you think that the proposed reforms in FATA are in accordance with the requirements of justice?

Rehmat Salam Khattak: No one cared for changing the existing system in the tribal areas for the last 70 years. It was the PML-N government which started this difficult process with all good intentions and brought a comprehensive package in a very short time and presented it before the nation. It is the best thing happened to the FATA people since the creation of Pakistan.

TNN: But the KP government and their allies are criticising certain points in the proposed reforms. What is your stand on it?

Rehmat Salam Khattak: We are hearing allegations that PML-N does not want to see Pakhtuns united. Who is in-charge of reforms process? Who is doing all this work for uniting Pakhtuns? Why they are in a hurry? If not today, they will certainly unite after five years.

TNN: What is the guarantee that this will finally happen after five years?

Rehmat Salam Khattak: It will happen after necessary amendment in the Constitution of Pakistan. The most important thing is that FATA will get Rs120 billion development funds. The government wants to keep FATA separate for the time being to complete the ongoing uplift projects in its own supervision. FATA will be more developed than KP after completion of these schemes. These development funds cannot be given to KP now because it is feared that they will spend these funds in KP instead of FATA areas. We want to establish schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, roads and other infrastructure in FATA under our own supervision before handing it over to KP. If the tribal women are illiterate, then we should not impose our decisions on them and their parents, brothers and husbands should decide what is better for them. We will continue our efforts to promote women education in FATA and create awareness among them. If we have waited for 70 years, then we can also wait for five more years for completion of the reforms process.

TNN: Will you succeed in your plans amid so many differences over the issue?

Rehmat Salam Khattak: Definitely, we will implement the proposed draft of reforms.

TNN (from Shaukat Yousafzai): Mr Khattak says reforms will be implemented in its existing form. Do you have any strategy to improve the draft of reforms or you will allow the Centre to go ahead with these reforms?

Shaukat Yousafzai: This is a very serious issue, but the government is not showing seriousness. How can the Centre use the Rs120 billion funds of FATA when it becomes part of KP? It will tantamount to lack of trust on the provincial government and an insult to their mandate. This money doesn’t belong to a person or party, but it is the money of Pakistan. Public representatives must have the powers to spend these funds.

TNN: The federal government wants to implement the reforms package which it deems correct. What will be your strategy in this regard?

Shaukat Yousafzai: Every party has its own policy, but we will also utilise our legal options. We cannot force anyone into doing what we want, but we can at least raise the issue in the Parliament and the provincial assembly. The issue concerns to the provincial government, therefore, keeping the provincial government away from it will prove counterproductive. The provincial government is quite capable of distributing funds in FATA. The Federation should trust the provincial government for fair distribution of funds. For example, if local government polls are arranged in FATA, then the provincial government will release funds for it in the same manner as the Centre will do it. Why will the province block the funds of FATA? This creates doubts about the intentions of the federal government. Rs120 billion is a very big amount and corruption in its utilisation can never be ruled out.

TNN (from Rehmat Salam Khattak): The federal government, as you mentioned, wants to raise the life standard of FATA people by fair spending of funds. There is a proposal in the reforms that FATA MPAs in the KP Assembly will not have the powers of legislation. How will this ban (from legislation) allow improve in the condition of FATA?

Rehmat Salam Khattak: The existing MNAs from FATA also don’t have the power of legislation for FATA, so what is wrong if the FATA MPAs don’t have such powers in the KP Assembly for the next five years. At least, they will get such powers after five years. Mr Yousafzai pointed towards possibility of corruption in the utilisation of Rs120 billion funds. We can also express similar apprehensions about the provincial government. This is not the suitable way to discuss this issue.

TNN: Tell us shortly why the tribal representatives will not get powers immediately?

Rehmat Salam Khattak: No one — KP government, FATA and tribal lawmakers — are prepared for it yet?

Shaukat Yousafzai: KP government is well prepared for handling the issue. The KP government is well placed to handle the issue due to its proximity with FATA than the Centre. I think Mr Khattak is confused over the issue.

Meraj Humayun Khan: It is an important issue, but the main question is that why confusion has been created over it.

TNN: Where the whole process is heading amid this atmosphere of confusion. What is your final suggestion for betterment of FATA?

Meraj Humayun Khan: They should be brought to the national mainstream and all rights should be given to them. Things will improve when their representatives reach the provincial assembly and raise voice for their people. The tribal representatives will have power to utilise tribal funds and will also make the federal government accountable in this regard.

Shaukat Yousafzai: The Centre is not sincere in this whole process. Who has stopped the Centre from developing FATA? Why are they waiting for the reforms package before announcing uplift schemes?

TNN: What are your legal options in this regard?

Shaukat Yousafzai: We will utilise our legal and democratic options and we will not stay silent over the issue. Our party will make final decision on it and we may also approach the court over it. However, we don’t want to impede the reforms process in FATA. We don’t want to give an excuse to the Centre that the provincial government impeded the reforms process. We just want to tell the FATA people that they should get all their powers instead of getting few powers. If the existing reforms package was implemented then the FATA representatives will be sitting with us but their powers will be exercised by the Centre.

This article has been taken from TNN programme ‘Badloon’ which discusses political activities and reforms process in the tribal areas. TNN producers Shan Muhammad and Salman Ahmed prepared this programme which was broadcast from five radio channels of FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

TNN correspondents: Shah Khalid, Gul Muhammad Mohmand, Gohar Wazir, Shah Nawaz Afridi, Malik Azmat, Nabi Jan Orakzai and Rizwan Mehsud contributed to this article.