Saturday, January 14, 2017

Business Recorder editorial Jan 14, 2017

FATA reforms A row seems in the offing between the Centre and the provinces over the former’s proposal that the latter part with their share of the divisible pool to the extent of two percent for FATA and one percent each for Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir to finance their respective development. In the case of FATA, this would amount to Rs 60 billion, over and above its federal government Annual Development Programme, which in 2016-17 amounted to Rs 18.2 billion. The provinces argue that FATA, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir are under the control of the federal government and it should be funding these areas’ development, not the provinces. This impending row should be viewed in the context of the Sartaj Aziz-headed FATA reforms committee 80-page report, which its chief wants early approval for from the federal cabinet. However, senior figures in Islamabad reportedly argue that the report, even if approved by the cabinet, may remain a dead letter like similar reports in the past unless a financial package has been worked out for its implementation, with clear guidelines on who will foot the bill. Sartaj Aziz is impatient with such quibbles, insisting early approval of the report is essential, with the financial package details being worked out thereafter. Reportedly, the report seeks a merger of FATA with the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Now, as far as the proposal to exact funds from the provinces’ share of the divisible pool is concerned, the latter are already up in arms against the three percent deduction from their share on account of security for the China Pakistan Economic Corridor and another one percent each for climate change and sustainable development goals. Added to the proposed FATA levy, that would bring the total deduction from the provinces’ share to nine percent. As an example of the provinces’ thinking on the issue, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Pervez Khattak has protested the deduction at source by the federal government of funds for the census and the withdrawal of the subsidy on fertilizer. This is just a glimmer of the deep distrust between the provinces and the Centre, particularly Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh, both having non-PML-N governments. Analysts think that the federal government, unable to meet its own financial needs, is trying to encroach on the provinces’ domain, in the process undoing the spirit and thrust of the 18th Amendment and taking away the hard-won enhanced share of the provinces in the last National Finance Commission Award. Based on the track record and the recent practices of the Centre, the provinces harbour the suspicion that if they make any further concessions, the federal government is likely to seek more deductions. The discord over funding FATA’s development aside, has the federal government and its reform committee report thought through the difficulties and implications of attempting overnight change by merging FATA with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa? What must be kept in mind is that Pakistan inherited at independence the arrangements imposed by the British in the 19th century, with a view to containment of any threats from Afghanistan and Czarist Russia beyond. The tribespeople were deliberately kept away from mainstream development in order to provide a bulwark for the British Empire in the subcontinent as part of what came to be dubbed the ‘Great Game’. The draconian laws and rules imposed on the tribespeople by the colonial power, including collective punishment under the FCR, are a blot on a free people’s conscience. However, where such arrangements have been in place for so long, and given the sensitivity of the tribal areas, it may be advisable to make haste slowly. Perhaps the wiser course is providing development, education and health services to the tribal people, softening gradually and incrementally and to the extent the security situation allows, the boundary between FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and contemplating ascertaining the will of the tribespeople before imposing any ‘top-down’ 21st century version of what the British did long ago. Insofar as the ground situation allows, we should not shrink from offering the people of FATA a voice as to their future within Pakistan for the first time through a referendum or similar electoral exercise.

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