Federally-Administered Tribal Areas....Orphan or what?

Are the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) an orphan or a colony, and their residents second-class citizens or children of a lesser god that nobody in Islamabad ever talks of making them a province? The prime minister has just now vowed making the Seraiki province demand his party manifesto’s part. But not even he, not also the president, the FATA’s actual sole super-boss, has given just a fleeting thought to giving a province’s status to the region, which it qualifies for in every manner. Others are making demands for a separate province primarily on linguistic basis, though with strong political underpinnings. But FATA’s case is compelling on every merit - area-wise, population-wise, resources-wise, administratively, legally and even morally. When Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru, accompanied by Bacha Khan, drove into the Khyber Agency on a journey in pre-partition days to seduce the tribal people into accession to India, they stoned his car and made him flee back with a bleeding head. And when Quaid-e-Azam visited the tribal people, they welcomed him with warmth and garlands. They indeed had overwhelmingly plumped for Pakistan voluntarily and lovingly. And the Quaid may have vowed to them not to interfere with their tribal code, customs and traditions. But certainly he had not contemplated keeping them from modernity or emancipation. Nor had they opted for any kind of medievalism or primitiveness. They had aspired for a better deal than dealt them by the British colonialists who had made of them a sort of buffer zone in the region with their rivaling power, Czarist Russia. But the Quaid’s successors proved colossally unworthy. They kept the British governance dispensation intact in all its colonial trappings in the region. The only change was the complexion of face, from gora to kala. The Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) of the British colonialists stayed in place in its entire cruelty to administer the region, with snooty, pipe-smoking bureaucrats sitting in the federal government’s offices looking at it disdainfully as some kind of an ungovernable Wild West and its inhabitants as some sort of wild people not amenable to uplift, progress and development. It is this innate bureaucratic contempt that accounts largely for the tribal people being kept denied of what is their legitimate and inviolable due. Had the region been given the due recognition as an integral part of the country that it merits by every canon long ago and its inhabitants given the rights that their compatriots have in the country’s other parts, it would have been a far better place than what it is today. But regrettably that was not to be. Leave alone giving the FATA a fully-fledged province’s status, it has been dealt all through a raw deal even in development and progress. Palpably, it is a resources-rich land, offering enormous opportunities in horticulture, forestry and minerals, just to mention a few. An attempt was made to introduce the region to development by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government and help its people to exploit the tremendous natural resources their land is endowed with. But sadly that endeavour lost steam and withered away after his ouster. Had indeed the region made a big headway in development, its residents’ economic progress would have in time blossomed into their social emancipation as well inevitably, sucking them into the national mainstream to a salutary effect all around. The region would have ceased to be an abode of conservatism. The tribal affinities too would have undergone a markedly positive change. And it would have turned into a forbidding place, too, for extremist proclivities and alien poaching. Still, all is not lost, even though the region is presently being buffeted by militancy, mostly alien-fuelled. Let it become a province, with its own elected legislature, its own elected government and its own separate governor. With a vested interest in the system, the tribal people would not only enact laws and policies suiting their needs and aspirations and conforming to their deeply-held tribal mores, codes, customs and traditions. They would also team up and adopt ways and means to obviate the menaces and threats to their peace, security and stability. In fact, it is the denial of this basic right that has eaten into the tribal people’s spirit to stand up to the dark forces of extremism, fundamentalism and militancy. They suffer from a gnawing sense of deprivation and step-motherly treatment, a sense lately aggravated enormously by the official neglect of their internally displaced due to military operations and by CIA’s freely increasing drone incursions that claim more of their innocents’, including women’s and children’s, lives than militants’. If indeed despite international implications, an autonomous Gilgit-Baltistan could be made of Northern Areas, why FATA, in spite of being internationally-recognised Pakistani territory, cannot be made a province?

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