The Riwaj Act was the headline feature of this government’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) reforms; a legal restructuring of the land, to be followed by routine and uncontroversial development programs. However, this explosive reform package has turned out to be more of a spluttering squib.

This is not to say that the reform package was not appreciated – parties and groups applauded a consensus over “mainstreaming” FATA, and lauded the government into achieving the task. It just seems that they expected more. Consensus is surely laudable, but it must lead to something tangible.

The government’s plan on a merger was vague and uninspiring in the first place. It delayed the decision on the merger till after the “transitional period” but granted seats in the KP Assembly to representatives from FATA, as well as a chunk of budget, which confused everyone involved. However, it is the Riwaj Act that has disappointed the most. Signalled as the end of the colonial era with an end to the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), the new act is little more than a dressed up version of previous system. It allows Jirga and local court decisions to be challenged in higher courts, but does nothing to provide modern judiciary to the land itself. The biggest argument in favour of this “hybrid system” was that it allegedly respected the wishes of the tribal people who wanted to preserve their customs and traditions, as the name suggests. That now seems to be far from the actual picture.

All FATA Political Parties Alliance, the Bajaur Political Parties Alliance, the FATA Students Organisation and representatives from many parties – including the PPP and the PML-N – have come in strong opposition to the Riwaj Act, calling it a system that “violates their fundamental rights under the constitution.” The Riwaj Act was billed by the government as the voice of the people of FATA, but it seems they want something else entirely.

The people want to step out from the colonial era into the modern one – completely. They want to be protected by the constitution, have access to modern courts and have their representatives speak for them in an empowered legislative body. They want modern hospitals and modern schools. These are not people clinging to their customs, but a population that is going so far as to threaten mass protests if they are not treated as “equal citizens”.

This requires a complete and proper merger between FATA and KP – nothing transitional, nothing halfway. It requires that no special law be drafted for the region, only that the FCR be repealed and the constitution extended to cover the land. Development programmes and such are all well and good but this is what the people of FATA really need – to be considered a part of Pakistan, and not feel colonised by it.