In a landmark decision the incumbent Cabinet has approved FATA reforms committee’s proposals including: merger of FATA in KPK, complete abrogation of Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR), establishment of benches of High Court and Supreme Courts, jurisdiction of regular law of the land supreme to the Rawaj system in the areas and induction of 20,000 personnel to look after security in the longer run. Before an analysis of these reform proposals meant to be completely implemented in 10 years it is pertinent to recall political, geostrategic dynamics of FATA and its history of reforms.

The complexity of terrain, unusual political norms and unique yet entrenched judicial system of our tribal areas named Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA) was undoubtedly among the plethora of challenges that Pakistan inherited from the partition of the sub-continent. In the initial years Pakistan successfully overcame the dire administrative and resources challenges and made it evident to the world that no matter how hard the circumstances this land of pure is meant to shine and survive. It was the call of the hour that these areas were embraced in their entirety with their unique outlook and then later their elders be consulted for permanent solutions for complete a normalisation of these areas.

Throughout history successive governments have tried time and again to initiate this process of FATA reforms yet none of the efforts bore fruit. The reason of failure or partial success of earlier reforms attempts was that they were not wholesome in nature. FATA reforms cannot be effectively implemented unless and until they cover reforms in all of vital areas of administration, legal, political, social, internal and international security challenges. Half baked reforms proposals as have been attempted earlier were meant to die as rhetoric as they focused on one area and left the other. In 1996 the government introduced adult franchise in FATA but this decision could not improve the governing situation of the inhabitants of FATA because it didn’t have provincial status and provincial representatives were not chosen through this franchise. In 2002 efforts were made to effect local bodies in FATA but it failed to improve any ground situation because local representatives there had no real powers. In 2006, a committee recommended FATA reforms primarily focusing on administrative aspects. As a result, after 2006, the FATA secretariat became more independent with increased development funds and a separate Additional Chief Secretary. However, these reforms totally ignored the legal and social aspects and as a consequence governance and development indicators were not promising. In 2011 legal reforms were prescribed for FATA according to which few parts of Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) were to be amended. However, these legal reforms fell short of the vital aspect of bringing these areas under the jurisdiction of the normal court system of Pakistan and awarding fundamental rights to the people of the area as par with rest of the citizens of Pakistan.

In the light of analysis of earlier efforts of FATA reforms, the recently approved reform proposal seems having all the ingredients to succeed because it appears comprehensive in its nature while covering administrative, political, judicial and societal aspects of these areas. FATA merger in a regular province will address its administrative deficiencies and to facilitate it Federal government has also proposed that additional 3% funds to be given for development of these areas.

Abrogation of the FCR will bring the judicial system of these areas at par with the rest of the country. The continuation of the Rawaj system is under jurisdiction of regular Courts, High court and Supreme Court benches which are proposed to be established in the area will be fully operational and authorised to uphold rule of law and law of the land. On the political side of the picture it is heartening to note that FATA MNAs fully supported these reforms and they are insisting on and immediate merger into KPK so that to participate in coming general elections. However, the government took the wise step of not doing it in hurry as all tribal leaders and complex geostrategic situation should be given enough time to be fully prepared for wholesome, meaningful and permanent reforms.

Moreover the location of these areas has serious internal, regional and international security and political dynamics which should be carefully accounted for before implementing any reforms. The seven tribal agencies situated in the north west of Pakistan have ever been crucial in defining our security situation, our bilateral relations with Afghanistan and geostrategic diplomacy and politics of the regions and of the world. The Pashtun populated FATA namely Bajor, Mehmend, Kurram, Orakzai, Khaiber, North Wazisitan and South Waziristan agencies border with troublesome provinces of Afghanistan like Kunar, Khost, Paktika, etc. Thus, governmental policy or reform efforts for FATA have multiple direct implications. Being border areas FATA has been vulnerable to overt external intrusions like drones and mal-intended covert conspiracies by foreign hostile elements. Through one pretext or another the presence of drone strikes have been violating the sovereignty of Pakistan. When Pakistan claims of uprooting terrorism and incorporating these areas as regular provincial areas there should be no space left for any such drone ventures.

To remedy covert conspiracies hosted in these areas, Pakistan’s valiant armed forces and civil and military leadership took the brave steps of launching an armed operation in the tribal areas and of launching nationwide Operation Zarb-e-Azb. Militant hideouts in Swat Valley, North Waziristan, South Waziristan were brought under scathe of a ruthless armed operation. Later, a full scale armed operation named Zarb-e-Azb daringly led by Gen Raheel Sharif in all tribal areas along with intelligence based operations (IOBs) across the country, dismantled the infrastructural presence of militants in our country. And as a logical next step operation Radd ul Fasaad has been launched throughout the country to eliminate the facilitative base of such terrorist elements so that to curb this menace forever. It is a progressive development for FATA which has been physically purged of terrorism, that the government under directions of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has very timely approved FATA reforms.