The issue of FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) reforms is one of gravity and vulnerability; the people of FATA have been through their share of hardship, especially under the draconian British-established Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR), and the matter of reforms to the law is one of utmost importance and emotion, with which the government must proceed with caution. In this case, delaying the introduction of the reforms bill, as the government failed to do in the Assembly session on Monday, does not help.

This time, it is particularly frustrating because the impression given was that preparations for the FATA merger, and that the delay of the government is just procedural, and not a direct refusal. Minister for States and Frontier Regions (Safron) Abdul Qadir Baloch said the government is trying hard to complete the preparation and announce the merger during its tenure because it had worked hard on the process; and that it was implementing all recommendations made by the Fata Reforms Committee in January 2017. However, to the annoyance of opposition parties, who staged a walkout at the Assembly session, the very urgent issue of reforms and merger is being stalled with no proper explanation.

Part of those recommendations include scraping the FCR, money allocated to FATA under the National Finance Commission (NFC) Award, and a potential merger with KPK. It is speculated that it is the last one which causes the government’s reluctance to introduce the bill, since PML-N’s ally, JUI-F has opposed a merger.

Granted, the government has had a lot on its plate, with the remnants of the Khatam-e-Nubuwat fiasco, the Model Town case inquiry, and the setbacks with CPEC. However, it is precisely because of these little delays and lack of prudence that the government practices that caused a crisis in those situations, and could potentially cause one here too. Already, the warning signs are there; with Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) workers and supporters declaring a long march from Khyber Agency to the Parliament and gathering at Faizabad Interchange.

Quite often, one does more damage by doing nothing rather than direct offence. After the Faizabad protest fiasco, and the delay of the Model Town and Orange Line case, the government should’ve learned its lesson on not letting molehills become mountains. However, it appears that by withholding and unnecessarily delaying the Fata Reforms Bill, they may again be lighting the match to a potentially explosive situation.