When FATA MNAs Shahji Gul Afridi announced that all MNAs from the region were behind the proposed merger with Khyber Pakhtukahwa (KPK), it seemed too good to be true. For one, the tribal politics of the region could never envision a unanimous decision, and secondly, because such a momentous shift in tribal policy had come about without any contention or confrontation. It turns out that the lawmaker may have been slightly mistaken about the level of support his proposal enjoys – mistaken to the extent that he almost came to blows with other lawmakers over the issue.

As previously expected, the issue is contentious; lawmakers opposing the merger claim that the special status of FATA preserves its cultural uniqueness, and that the tribes of the region would be loathed to give up their individuality. Yet, the mere fact that a large number of lawmakers from that region have petitioned for change proves that to be untrue. FATA has existed in a bubble for decades, and the administrative method has caused a host of problem. The lack of government intervention leaves room for other powers to function in, the administrative backwardness stunts any attempt at top down control and the people of FATA’s living standards are far below the nation’s average. They may be comfortable and content in their tribal structure, but they remain citizens of Pakistan and therefore deserve the same services that the rest of the provinces receive.

Apart from a few how out rightly reject a merger, the rest agree that the time for change is nigh, even if merger with KPK is not the right option. A tribal Jirga meeting in Peshawar on Monday demanded that FATA be made its own province, while several lawmakers asked for a referendum on the merger question. It is clear that the people of FATA are ready for a change, ready to step into modernity. The issue now needs to be debated in the National Assembly, and relevant measures need to be taken.