Ever since independence, successive governments and political leaders have been expressing their resolve to repeal the Frontier Crimes Regulation, or FCR, integrate the tribal areas with the rest of the country, and grant political and fundamental rights to its people, as guaranteed in the Constitution of Pakistan. But, regrettably, none of them exhibited the political will and the determination to take the plunge. As a result, the people of these areas continued to be governed under a very oppressive and obnoxious legal framework promulgated about 100 years ago by a colonial power to serve its own interests. It is, however, heartening to note that after 64 years of our independence, finally a beginning has been made towards that promised national integration and granting of fundamental rights to 15 million people of FATA, through the signing of two orders by President Asif Ali Zardari; namely FATA and PATA Regulation Bill 2011 and Extension of FATA Political Parties Order 2002 on August 12, 2011. Although the FCR has not been repealed completely, yet the step taken by the government represents a major breakthrough that will set into motion an irreversible process of change in FATA, and eventually its integration with the rest of the country. The initiative is, as the proverb goes, better late than never. Under the FCR, the political administration could arrest any person and send him to jail for three years without trial, and could even extend it indefinitely. In addition, women and children could be arrested and sent to jail under the Territorial Responsibility. Likewise, under the Collective Responsibility clause of the FCR, the whole tribe could be arrested or penalised for any crime committed by the member of that tribe. The people did not have any avenue available to them to seek redress for their grievances against the excesses of the administration, or to protect their fundamental rights. Through the Regulation Bill 2011, a revolutionary change has been introduced in regard to the protection of the fundamental rights of the people of FATA. They have been granted the right to bail, and it has been made mandatory for the administration to produce the arrested person before the concerned authority within 24 hours, as is the case in other areas of the country. Now, they will be able to lodge an appeal with the appellate authority that has been created through the new legal arrangement. There will also be a FATA Tribunal enjoying the status of a High Court, bestowed with the powers of revision of the authoritys decisions. Moreover, the bill bars the arrest of women, children below the age of 16, and persons above 65 years. The new amendment forbids the takeover of the property of any person without adequate compensation, as per the prevailing market price in accordance with the procedure laid down in the Land Acquisition Act 1894. Similarly, a new section added to the FCR provides for adequate compensation to the defendants for implication in false criminal cases, and compensatory costs in civil matters. In January 2011, the status of Kala Dhaka was also changed from a provincially administered area to a settled area, as a first step towards the integration of the tribal areas with the rest of the country. As part of the reforms, a bill called Action in Aid of Civil Powers 2011 for FATA and PATA has also been promulgated to provide legal cover to the orders of the federal government authorising the army to take action against the terrorists in Khyber Pakhtunkhawa. It makes it obligatory on the army to comply with the principles of humanitarian law, while conducting such operations, and exercise the necessary precautions before using force, failing which the personnel of the armed forces shall be liable to strict disciplinary and criminal penalties. Further, the bill envisages a de-radicalisation programme of detainees, while explicitly prohibiting torture. That really gives a humane face to the government efforts to quell terrorism, and keeps the door open for the terrorists, who decide to abandon extremism or violent acts, to get back to normal life. In the backdrop of some reports of the violation of human rights by the personnel of the armed forces and an incessant propaganda by some international human rights organisations, the legislation is on imaginative move that could strengthen our credentials as a civilised nation. To improve the economic situation of the people and restore peace in the tribal region, the government is already in the process of implementing the 3-D policy (dialogue, development and deterrence), which has started to show some positive results. The army is engaged in an extensive rehabilitation and reconstruction programme in the areas that have been cleared of the terrorists. In June 2011, the COAS announced the construction of Wana-Angoor Adda Road. This 220 kilometres road will connect the tribal areas with the settled regions of the country, Afghanistan and Central Asia. A cadet college at Wana, a grid station, and the provision of healthcare facilities to the people of the area have also been envisioned. The extension of the FATA Political Parties Order 2002, too, is a significant step forward in granting political rights to the people, and bringing them in the mainstream of national politics. The implementation of their programmes in the tribal areas by the political parties will help in countering the pernicious one-sided campaign of the militants that rejects the State, the Constitution, democracy and our way of life. To give historic perspective to the reform process in the tribal areas, perhaps, it would be pertinent to mention that it was initiated by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto when through the 1973 Constitution he extended the executive authority of the government to these areas, and gave the right of adult franchise to the tribal people in the 1977 general elections. As Prime Minister, he focused on economic uplift and human resource development by constructing schools, colleges, hospitals, improving road networks, providing jobs and setting up industrial units in all the seven agencies of FATA. Later, the mission was carried forward by Benazir Bhutto when she filed a petition in the Supreme Court for political reforms in FATA in 2004. In November, the Senate adopted the PPP sponsored resolution. The issue also figured in the manifesto of the PPP during the 2008 elections. Soon after the governments formation, a Cabinet Committee was set up in April 2008 to initiate a process of consultations with all the stakeholders for reforming the system. The President also interacted with the FATA tribesmen during January 2009 on the issue. The Committee formulated its recommendation in the light of these deliberations, which were approved by the Cabinet and agreed to by the President in February 2009. However, the most appreciable aspect of the introduction of these reforms is that it enjoys the support and backing of all the stakeholders, including the political parties. Perhaps, it merits mentioning that the PPP, notwithstanding the incessant propaganda and conspiracies against it by certain elements to soil its credentials as a patriotic political entity, is the only party which can boast of having taken epoch-making decisions in regard to protecting human rights, facilitating self-rule and bestowing provincial autonomy on the federating units. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto gave the country a unanimous Constitution that guaranteed human rights. He introduced parliamentary democracy in Azad Jammu and Kashmir. The present government has given autonomy and self-rule to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan, granted autonomy to the provinces, and now taken a big leap towards ensuring constitutional and political rights to the people of FATA. These are irrefutable historic realities and for a dispassionate observer, deserve unqualified accolades. The writer is a freelance columnist.