As Operation Zarb-e-Azb enters its last phase in FATA, with military officials claiming that only 1.5 percent of the area of the region remains to be cleared, it is time for the country to start treating the area as its own. The biggest hurdle that faces this integration is the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR). The draconian law, which has collective punishment as one of its salient features, has been used to subjugate people in the tribal areas since the colonial period. The fact that one person’s crime can be used to punish an entire family or even a tribe bears testament to all that is wrong with FATA’s laws.

There are positive developments underway, however minimal they might be. There were only 16 reported cases of polio this year, an amazing feat if the previous years’ abysmal performance is taken into account. The FATA Secretariat also recently formed a Grievances Redressal System (GRS), aimed at enabling the people of FATA to express their complaints and concerns against the system, but how useful that will be under the current legal system is debatable. Apart from reforming laws and scrapping the FCR, the state needs to establish courts in the region as well, to ensure that some modicum of justice is available to the people. The government however, both provincial and federal are more inclined towards merging FATA with the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA) of KPK.

One of the best initiatives so far is the FATA Education Foundation’s move to train teachers from 45 private schools, providing psychological assistance to children that have been traumatised. The two-day workshop is barely scratching the surface however, if serious efforts are to be made to rehabilitate children that have suffered greatly at the hands of the war. Provision of services and public goods should also be made a priority, because terrorists often use problems in the system to their advantage for radicalisation.

The rehabilitation of FATA does not merely mean that sending the people back will mean the work is done. The state now has to ensure that militants can never find safe havens in FATA, or else all the hard work will be pointless. The real hard work starts now, and the state needs to establish a real presence, one that does not involve guns to coerce the population into subjugation. The curtailment of basic rights and liberties cannot continue, and the people of FATA must no longer be treated like second-class citizens.