It is heartening to note that today will mark the first batch of families displaced by Pakistan’s War on Terror returning to their homes in the tribal areas. According to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Sardar Mahtab Ahmad Khan Abbasi, the federal government shall arrange the return of 2,500 displaced families from Sarwakai and Sararogha tehsils of South Waziristan Agency starting today. Further, 20,000 families of Tehsil Bara in Khyber agency and 18,000 families of Tehsil Mir Ali of North Waziristan Agency will begin their return from 20 March and 31 March, respectively.

Keeping in view the fact that there are now more than 300,000 displaced families from FATA, a region of late infested by barbaric Taliban, it is a moment for great reflection.

Despite being a globally recognized “territory” of Pakistan, Tribal Areas (federal as well as provincial) are treated as semi-autonomous by the Pakistani state, in the old fashioned way of Kings seeking tributes from perky tribal elders without interfering with their local laws and disputes. However, this framework collapsed over the past 12 years with the violent rise of the Pakistani Taliban.

The return of displaced families shows the federal government’s confidence in the success of Operation Zarb-e-Azb against the Pakistani Taliban operating in Tribal Areas. However, while sending these families back, we must pause for a moment and consider: who are we sending them back to? The outdated control of elders or a new version of the Taliban? Does the failure of elders to control the Taliban not show that tribal areas would only produce more militants if the Government of Pakistan did not step in with full force and charm under the Constitution? Do the residents of the tribal areas want or deserve Islam, fundamental rights, modern laws, local governments and other gifts of the Constitution available to all other Pakistanis?

Perhaps all these national considerations are trumped by the Pakistan army’s need to have a backdoor to escape from in case of a successful Indian attack on the front door. Moreover, weak Afghan governments continue to tempt Pakistan with the easy way out.

However, in light of the losses sustained and lessons learned since 9/11, even the most Machiavellian view of politics would suggest that the federal Government must take the next logical step in this sordid affair: the constitutional incorporation of the tribal areas to bring it at least at par with Balochistan, that is, the next best ranked “territory” under the ostensible control of Islamabad Capital Territory.