Map ofPakistan: iStock
Map ofPakistan: iStock

With a population of more than 405 million and an area of 27,000 square kilometers, Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas’ seven agencies (Bajaur, Khyber, Momand, Kurram, South Waziristan, North Waziristan, and Orakzai) and six frontier regions have been merged into the northwestern province of Khyber Pashtunkhwa.

Historically, the frontier region along the Afghanistan border was strategically vital to colonial powers in terms of their economic, political and security interests in Central-South Asia. To contain Russian expansion to Central-South Asia, the British Empire invaded Afghanistan and two wars were fought- in 1839-42 and 1878-79, respectively.

The frontier tribal region (FATA) became sandwiched between the British and Afghan forces. The tribal Pashtun supported Kabul against the British forces and the British colonial forces were defeated in the First Anglo-Afghan War of 1839, but became victorious in the Second Anglo-Afghan War of 1878-79. Despite the victory, the British faced heavy and constant attacks by the Pashtuns, a serious threat to their interests in the region.

In 1893, the British compelled the then king of Afghanistan, Amir Abdur Rehman, to sign the Durand Line Agreement, which enabled the colonial power to implement the Frontier Crime Regulation (FCR) in the area for administrative and political purposes. The region remained a self-governing zone independent of the British legal system in place on the sub-continent, even after the establishment of Pakistan in 1947. Its administrative affairs were controlled by tribal elders and political agents under the auspices of the FCR.

In 1947-8, the then governor general of Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, ordered airstrikes on the frontier region to crush the liberation movement led by Faqir of Ipi (Haji Mirza Ali Khan Wazir). But later on, Quaid e Azam agreed to accept the unique status of tribal areas as per the agreement. Since 1947, the FATA has been a  semi-autonomous authority under the FCR.

Five articles of Pakistan’s 1973 constitution – 1, 2, 51, 57 and 247 – were extended to the FATA to confirm it as an integral part of the country. Article 1 and 2 confirmed the territory as part of Pakistan and articles 51, 57 and 247 extended the authority of the president to the region. But the FATA was still not completely under the government of Pakistan’s control.

In 1979, Pakistan and the US made the region a hub for jihadists to fight against the Russian presence in Afghanistan. Tens of thousands of mujahedeen and international proxies were installed in the FATA to counter the USSR’s presence in Afghanistan

In 1979, Pakistan and the US made the region a hub for jihadists to fight against the Russian presence in Afghanistan. Tens of thousands of mujahedeen and international proxies were installed in the FATA to counter the USSR’s presence in Afghanistan. The culturally rich and socially peaceful fabric of the frontier region was transformed into one of extremism and religious fundamentalism that brought remarkable changes to the entire structure of the region.

Exploiting the instability, the Pakistani authorities were able to control the FATA from Islamabad. Their tactical military operation against trained terrorist elements in the FATA led to political instability, economic crises, cultural destruction and administrative failures. Consequently, the federal government decided that the FATA needed to be brought into the mainstram to secure Islamabad’s geopolitical and geo-strategic interests.

In November 2015, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif formed a five-member FATA reforms committee to look into its future; either merging it with Khyber Pashtunkhwa or focusing on economic, political and social reforms to develop the region. A detailed report was drafted but the views of the people of the FATA regarding their future were completely ignored.

Recently, the Pakistani establishment put pressure on political parties to merge the FATA with Khyber Pashtunkhwa for the sake of security and the protection of strategic interests. On May 24, parliament merged the FATA with Khyber Pashtunkhwa. The merger aims to help the state to secure its strategic interests and assuage China’s concerns over security threats.

Problems on the horizon

The decision to merge the FATA with Khyber Pashtunkhwa was arguably unwise, as it will create new problems with the passage of time. The Pakistani authorities don’t understand the dangers of merging areas into other regions without a plebiscite. In a democracy, every individual has the right to an opinion. In the FATA’s case, the entire population (more than 4.5 million) was ignored and forced into a marriage with with Khyber Pashtunkhwa. The northwestern province is plagued by security threats, unemployment, crime,  political corruption and infrastructural failure. The FATA’s forced marriage will exacerbate these problems of both the country and the province.

Unfortunately, the myopic approach of Pakistani policymakers, who are more concerned about geography than integrity and development, are putting the country on the road to disintegration and insecurity. In the current scenario, the merger doesn’t mean integrating Pakistan but pushing the country towards more serious issues that will surely lead to a crisis.

In 1969, the merger of the former princely state of Swat into Pakistan is a vivid example in this regard. Swat is now facing insecurity, economic problems and infrastructural challenges. The situation has also created more problems for Pakistan, ie conflicts, insecurity, lawlessness, economic failure, wretched infrastructure and educational failure.

The best option for ensuring the political stability and economic prosperity of the FATA was to grant it special status modeled on the Gilgit-Biltistan Council. As a council, it could have ably administered economic and political affairs. Anyway, let’s see how long this forced marriage survives.g

Rahim Nasar, an Islamabad-based security and political analyst, a PhD scholar, writes on regional security, political and strategic affairs with special focus on Central and South Asia. He tweets on @RahimNasari