An ultimatum was announced in a one-page declaration issued at the end of a multi-party conference (MPC) organised by parliamentarians from Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) on Saturday – implement the proposed reforms and carry out the merger with Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) or prepare for a march on Islamabad. The conference asked for the convening of a special session of National Assembly and the Senate before May 20th to restart the stalled debate before it forces the government’s hand by taking the matter to the streets.

It is undeniable that the conversation over the FATA-KP merger and the attached reform has fallen to the wayside due to intervening events. What had been a national consensus and productive debate has now been relegate to lower realms of priority. While the government may have agreed in principle to carry out the merger, there are still major elements of it that need to be worked through on a national level, not least the fact that the Riwaj Act – the replacement for the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) – drew considerable criticism from several parties when it was unveiled. There is need to iron out the kinks of this bill, details of which are still not clear.

And while the parties may be divided over certain features of the merger there is bipartisan support for the merger itself and for the ultimatum presented – the government will have to consider their demand. The government must take “take the administrative, financial and legal steps required for the merger of FATA with KP” according to the words of the statement, even if it is the last major legislative action carried out by the government before the elections.

It is imperative that the electoral side of the administrative changes be carried out before the next elections as they will have a major impact on the composition and political make-up of the KP and national assemblies. It is essential that representatives from FATA be part of the national and provincial governments for the next term of five years while the overall reform package of ten years is being implemented. Having representatives from the region part of the executive will make the process smoother over the coming years.

There is temptation to put off such hefty changes till the elections, but the government must fullfill its pledge to the people of FATA. In any case they are prepared to remind the government through force if they falter.