The Federal Cabinet approved the merger of the Federally Administrative Tribal Areas (FATA) on March 2, under a gradual process of five years. The region will fully merge into the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). FATA will be ruled by new laws instead of old draconian colonial Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), drawn by the British to administer the region with an iron hand.

Initially, the Governor from Lahore administered the affairs of the FATA under the Punjab Frontier Crimes Regulation. As the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) was created in 1901, the authority was transferred to the Governor of the NWFP. Under the new judicial system, the FCR will be replaced by the Tribal Areas Rewaj Act. The jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and the Peshawar High Court will be extended to the region to bring it under the law of the land.

Elders and agents will no longer rule the region. There will be an end to the beneficiary system, privileges quota allocations, and permits. There will no more intermediaries but there will be a direct system. Now commoners will rule the system. Democratic dispensation will be erected. The people of FATA will be given free mandate to elect their representatives in next year’s general elections as well 3 percent of National Finance Commission (NFC) award will be allocated to the region. Regular institutions and banks will also be established in the region to bring it in the mainstream system and culture, neglected for 67 years after the independence. This gives a new cohesion to Pakistan.

The proposed FATA reforms were debated and discussed for long but different parties represented their own thoughts and agendas that delayed the reforms process. After all twists and turns, a firmed decision was made.

The Jamiat Ulema-e Islam (Fazl) (JUI-F) and the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party still opposed the reforms. The Chief of JUI Maulana Fazl ur Rehman felt deceived by the PML-N as coalition partner in the centre, and he strongly opposed the reforms.

He was of the view that first reforms should be introduced in FATA for five years and then on the basis of this assessment decision should be made whether or not to merge FATA with KP. He thought FATA is not in a position to be merged with the KP in the prevailing circumstances.

Qaumi Watan Party chairman Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao called the FATA decision vague.  While coalition partners of the PML-N opposed the FATA package, the Awami National Party President, Asfandyar Wali Khan, appreciated the Cabinet for taking up the report of the FATA Reforms Committee. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf  (PTI) hailed the decision. The Jamaat-i-Islami also supported the merger.

The PML-N believed that enough discussion has happened on the reforms and it is time to implement them to bring the region at par with other areas of the country. The FATA Reforms Committee was headed by Sartaj Aziz, Adviser on Foreign Affairs. The Committee did a splendid and a landmark job.

According to Dr Saeed Shafqat, Director of the Centre of Public Policy & Governance (CPPG), Lahore, the Cabinet decision on FATA is a ‘’good move and welcome development and see how it unfolds the needs that should be carefully watched’’. Dr Rashid Ahmad Khan, a visiting professor at the Pakistan Study Centre, University of the Punjab, Lahore, founds the ‘’government road map is still littered with contradictions, and it may have to make a number of changes and adjustments to satisfy who still oppose it’’.

As a whole, the FATA reforms will further integrate the Federation of Pakistan, creating unity among different parts and people. The image of the country will be enhanced and the Government will be in an effective position to handle the war on terrorism in accordance with laws and regulations. The anti-smuggling and drug trafficking measures could be effectively implemented that could enhance the national revenue after special privileges were tarnished.

The FATA reform is a landmark achievement of the PML-N Government to transform the centuries old tribal society into a vibrant democratic civil society in Pakistan. The region of FATA would become an integral part of the KP province, giving it a new recognition among the provinces in Pakistan. The KP province will be enlarged. It could receive an area of 27,220 km and a population of 4.4 million.

FATA will not maintain its separate and distinctive identity any longer. Its separate status created complete lawlessness and forced the military to take action. FATA will not bring into the mainstream but it will gradually merge into the KP in the next five years. It is a much greater decision than expected by others.

There are seven tribal agencies that formed the FATA. Their merger into KP is natural keeping in mind the close geographic and Pushtun ethnic bonds. The merger was a consultative and democratic process and political discourse was achieved. The merger also means the reconstruction of the FATA region damaged by the prolonged Afghan war and fight after 9/11. The FATA region is a border area with Afghanistan and the merger could create prospects for peace and stability in the country.