Integrating Ex-FATA: Where Do We Go From Here?

It has been five years since the tribal districts were legally merged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but a lot of work remains to be done to bring these areas and their people into the mainstream

Integrating Ex-FATA: Where Do We Go From Here?

The military and police have been under a relentless assault in the recently-integrated districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Before we can discuss how to stop these attacks, it is essential to delve into the reasons behind these attacks and understand why the former tribal districts are slipping into turmoil; why these areas are characterised by a severe lack of law and order, leaving the inhabitants in a state of deprivation that is nurturing animosity towards the government and law enforcement agencies.

The merger of the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) with the settled areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province in 2018 marked a historic milestone for the region's development and integration. As the newly merged districts undergo a transformative period, it becomes imperative to focus on mainstreaming residents of these areas and empowering them to actively participate in the province's progress. 

This article outlines key strategies that can promote inclusivity, social harmony, and sustainable development within the merged districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.


Education plays a vital role in empowering individuals and the society in which they are inset, thus driving social change. 

Paucity of funds for the Newly Merged Districts could potentially lead to a catastrophic situation that spirals out of control

It is imperative to focus on establishing quality educational institutions in the merged districts, ensuring access to education for all, and promoting skill development programmes to equip individuals with the necessary tools for economic growth.

Collaborations with local communities, NGOs, and private sector organisations can aid in developing educational infrastructure, teacher training, and vocational centres, enabling individuals to acquire skills which align with the job market's needs.


Infrastructure development is a critical component of mainstreaming the merged districts. Investment in road networks, healthcare facilities, water and sanitation systems, and reliable electricity supply can significantly improve the quality of life for the local population. 

Infrastructure projects should be designed to address the specific needs and geographical challenges of the merged districts, ensuring equitable distribution of resources and improved connectivity to other parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Economic (in)stability

The federal government had pledged an annual allocation of Rs100 billion from the divisible pool for ex-FATA, intending to bridge the development gap, improve infrastructure, reduce poverty, and generate employment opportunities in the region. Regrettably, the government has fallen short of fulfilling this commitment. 

A recent letter from the interim chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa underscores this issue, emphasising that the paucity of funds for the Newly Merged Districts could potentially lead to a catastrophic situation that spirals out of control.

By facilitating entrepreneurship, attracting investments and promoting industries aligned with the region's potential -- such as agriculture, tourism, and minerals -- can foster economic growth and improve livelihoods. 

Government support in providing financial resources, training programmes, and market linkages can empower local entrepreneurs and enable them to contribute to the region's economy.

One could argue that the law of Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR), introduced in the newly merged districts after its merger in KP, stands out as one of human history's most ineffective legal mechanisms

Preserving cultural heritage

The cultural heritage of the merged districts holds immense significance and should be celebrated and preserved. Encouraging cultural events, festivals, and exchanges between different communities within KP can foster social integration and strengthen unity. Efforts should be made to provide artists, musicians, and craftsmen with a platform to showcase their talents and promote cultural diversity. Additionally, initiatives that promote intercultural understanding and harmony, such as cultural exchange programs and awareness campaigns, can bridge gaps and foster mutual respect among diverse communities.

It would be unjust to overlook the dedicated efforts of the military in fostering artistic endeavours throughout Khyber Pukhtunkhwa, specifically within the Newly Merged Districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Notable examples include the recently organised Orakzai Spring (Sparlay) Festival in the merged district of Orakzai and the Pashto Adabi Conference held in Peshawar. Drawing from the profound teachings of Khushal Khan Khattak, the revered father of Pashto poetry, the conference featured sessions on peace-building and countering violent extremism. Furthermore, a cricket tournament for specially-abled children was held in the volatile Bajaur district.

Improving governance

Transparent and accountable governance is crucial for effectively mainstreaming the merged districts. Establishing a robust local government system, ensuring representation and participation of the local population, can empower them to actively engage in decision-making processes. 

Strengthening the rule of law, promoting justice and inclusivity, and addressing the historical grievances of the merged districts will go some way in instilling confidence amongst the people and pave the way for their integration into the larger provincial framework.

One could argue that the law of Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) introduced in the newly merged districts after its merger in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa stands out as one of human history's most ineffective legal mechanisms. The ADR entails a process wherein, during any dispute, a Deputy Commissioner establishes a modern version of the traditional Jirga, comprising representatives from both involved parties and the state as an arbiter. Typically, five elders, known as Maliks, are selected, with two representing each side and one representing the Deputy Commissioner. 

After numerous meetings, the Jirga reached a decision. However, here lies the intricate challenge: When a verdict is issued against a specific party, and that party refuses to endorse the decision, the verdict holds no legal significance. Regrettably, neither the district administration nor the courts possess any authority to enforce it.

The path forward

The mainstreaming of the people of the newly merged districts in KP requires a multifaceted approach that addresses their educational, infrastructural, economic, social, and governance needs. By focusing on these areas and implementing targeted policies and initiatives, the government can foster an environment of inclusivity, sustainable development, and social harmony in collaboration with civil society organisations and the private sector. Through these efforts, the people of the merged districts can fully participate in and contribute to the progress and prosperity of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as a whole.

The author is a freelance journalist based in Islamabad.