Pakistan witnessed a landmark achievement in recent days when the Federal Cabinet approved the merger of the Federally Administrative Tribal Areas (FATA) with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) under a gradual process of five years. In November 2015, the federal government formed a committee under foreign policy adviser Sartaj Aziz to recommend reforms in the tribal belt. The committee did a wonderful job and compiled a report and made proposals in 2016 after consulting stakeholders in all the seven tribal areas part of FATA. The Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif implemented these reforms to bring the region at par with other areas of the country.

This merger means the reconstruction of FATA, situated along the Afghan border and had long been the hotbed of militancy posing threat to security and stability in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the wider region. Before operation Zarb-e-Azb, the area was considered as the most dangerous spot in the world. The merger will create prospects for peace and stability in the country. The merger is a consultative and democratic process and political discourse, which is an achievement of PML-N government. Almost all the major parties achieved hailed this decision.

A 10-year reform package has introduced to develop the tribal region. According to these reforms the entire administrative control of FATA will be handed over to the provincial government and the federal government will deal only with security and financial resources for FATA. Elders and agents will no longer rule the region. There will be an end to the beneficiary system, privileges quota allocations, and permits.

These reforms will empower the common masses and they 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 and 3 percent of the National Finance Commission (NFC) award will be allocated to the region. Introduction of Local Government (LG) system are part of the 24-point FATA reforms. However, LG polls will be held after 2018 general elections.

FATA is governed by the draconian Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) made by the British. These laws give all powers to the political agent and they can punish the entire tribes and clans for the actions of individuals. Our Constitution doesn’t allow parliamentarians from FATA to legislate for their area and Section 7 of the article keeps the tribal region outside the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and the High Courts.

In these reforms Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and the Peshawar High Court will be extended to this region. The judicial set-up in FATA will be a blend of existing judicial system of the country and centuries old jirga system of FATA. Civil judges will form a council of jirga on any complaint and the issue will be decided by the council/jirga. Then the decision will be sent to the civil judge for final decision. In case the complainant disagrees to the decision, he will have the right to appeal in the high court and the Supreme Court.

The proposal to merge FATA with KP includes ambitious economic plans to reduce gaps between the province and the tribal areas. Resources will be allocated to the region as part of the Public Sector Development Programme As planned, urban hubs will be set up in the headquarters of all agencies to spur economic growth. Regular institutions and banks will also be established in the region to bring it in the mainstream system and culture. This gives a new cohesion to Pakistan. Over Rs110-billion development package has been approved for the seven agencies of the tribal region.

Transit and Rahdari system will be abolished. Auditor General of Pakistan will ensure transparent utilisation of development funds. Salaries of government employees in FATA will be 20 per cent higher than those of KP and connectivity of FATA with the China Pakistan Economic Corridor will be ensured. Education and jobs opportunities for youth and up gradation of Levis Force are part of the also FATA reforms.

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. At the same time FATA will not maintain its separate identity. It will become an integral part of the KP province, giving it a new recognition among the provinces in Pakistan. The people of FATA will be regarded as an integral part of Pakistan and are no longer be at the whims of an unjust and unaccountable system. It is really a landmark achievement of the PML-N Government to transform the centuries old tribal society into a vibrant democratic civil society in Pakistan.