Yesterday, the Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain signed a legislation that merged FATA with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. At least notionally, the people of FATA now have the same rights as all other Pakistanis do. In a sense, the decolonisation of FATA began yesterday.
This is a landmark moment for Pakistan and the wider region. But the aspect of this decision that interests me most is: why now? What caused the Overton Window to shift now, making this policy change became feasible?
The FATA region has been critical to the Pakistani military-jihadi complex’s Afghanistan policy. The Haqqani Network and other assorted groups have used this region as a launchpad for their operations inside Afghanistan. And given that the military-jihadi complex (MJC) is at the helm of affairs in Pakistan, the FATA-KP merger indicates a change — tactical or strategic — in the MJC’s policy.
A strategic policy change implies that the MJC is seriously reconsidering its approach of using terrorism to achieve strategic gains. It further means that reeling under self-inflicted losses, the MJC is now thinking of reversing its policy stance towards Afghanistan and perhaps India. Though this sounds like great news, it is also just too good to be true. An indicator that supports this sceptical assessment is this: the MJC has merely replaced the colonial-era Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) with an Interim Regulation Order — old wine in a new bottle. ANP leader Afrasiab Khattak had this to say regarding the merger:
After 25th Amendment FATA is merged into KP in theory. But in practice it still remains in clutches of military & civil bureaucracy as extension of the judiciary’s jurisdiction is put on hold & Interim Regulation is new FCR. Declare benchmarks & timeline.
— Afrasiab Khattak (@a_siab) May 31, 2018
It is more likely that the merger is a tactical response that the MJC was forced to concede. If so, what were the forces that enabled this concession? The success of the snowballing Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) certainly seems to be the immediate trigger. Abolition of FCR was one of the major planks of this movement and the Pakistani Army has at least temporarily taken the wind out of PTM’s sails by agreeing to the FATA-KP merger. This is what a Pakistani analyst had to say regarding the PTM’s role in the merger:
the pressure created by the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) cannot be ignored. The PTM has criticized the military for its heavy-handed approach in terms of dealing with ethnic Pashtuns living in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The movement has attracted strong support internationally and successfully built a narrative that accuses the military’s heavy presence as a reason for the region’s ill-treatment. While the military may have been planning to ensure FATA’s regulation, the pressure generated by PTM has only expedited the process.
But then again, if you have followed Pakistani politics long enough, you know that backing down is not the MJC’s style. If PTM were the only factor, they would have been managed through disappearances and even assassinations by the garden variety of namaloom afraads at the disposal of the MJC. So clearly, there’s some other factor at play here.
My speculation is that pressure by the US government had some role to play here. In fact, an allegation to this effect was made by Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman. There might be some grain of truth in this. A test for this hypothesis could be the economic gains Pakistan receives from the US (and IMF) in return for this ‘historic’ step. In recent months, Pakistan’s external debt situation has only worsened and the MJC seems primed to take a detour in its foreign policy in order to meet urgent economic needs.
What do you think made the MJC change its FATA policy?