On the eve of 62nd Independence Day of Pakistan, President Zardari announced a package of political and judicial reforms in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of the country. The reforms package aims to grant about 3.5 million people of the tribal areas the fundamental political and legal rights by extending the Political Parties Act and by making drastic amendments in the draconian law of the colonial era-Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR). Though constitutionally part of Pakistan, the people of FATA comprising seven political agencies and six Frontier Regions have long been denied the rights and privileges available to the citizens living in other parts of Pakistan. The reforms would allow the political parties to function in the areas, curtail arbitrary powers of arrest and detention of the citizens under FCR, allowing them the right to appeal before an appellate tribunal to be set up for the purpose, and exempt the women and children from the punishment under the collective responsibility clause of FCR for the crime committed by individuals. The demand for bringing the tribal areas at par with other parts of the country in terms of physical and social infrastructure and economic and political development has been a longstanding one and endorsed by almost all the political parties, civil society organisations and human rights groups of Pakistan. But no government in the past 62 years took the initiative to meet the demand. After the introduction of universal adult franchise in 1996, the reforms package announced by Zardari is the most important step in the direction of revamping almost a century old political and judicial structure of the tribal areas, which will have far reaching implications for not only the region but also for the whole country. The reforms announced by Zardari would go a long way in fulfilling the aspirations of the people of the tribal areas for emancipation and usher in a new era of political and social development. For the last more than five years, the government has pursued a strategy in the tribal areas, which relied more on its military component. With the announcement of the package the missing link of political reforms would be added to make the existing FATA strategy more integrated and truly comprehensive. The process initiated by the reforms would help fill in the vacuum created by the collapse of traditional politico-administrative structure based on absolute power of the 'political agent' introduced by the British. It will further marginalise the militants, who have already been badly mauled by the military operations in Swat and other districts of Malakand Division. The reforms would weaken the sway held by the militants over the tribal areas through a reign of terror and intimidation. The reforms offer a historic opportunity to the tribal people to become the masters of their own fate instead of resigning it to the wills and whims of the militants as the case is today. There is no doubt that like the decision to introduce universal adult franchise in 1996, the people of FATA would enthusiastically welcome the start of political activities in their areas under the Political Parties Act as it will make available to them a wide range of political choices However, announcing the reforms is one thing and implementing them is quite another. And in this regard merely solemn pledges and good intentions do not matter. What matters is an objective and dispassionate assessment of the on-ground situation and firm and unwavering determination to execute the plan for reforms with the help of honest and efficient administrators. Premised on these considerations, this article proposes that the federal government should focus on the following three areas while implementing the reforms package announced by Zardari. Firstly, the writ of the government must be established in the tribal areas before any reform implementation task is undertaken. The present situation of the areas is such that there is nothing left to reform. There is total chaos and lawlessness and the writ of the government is nowhere to be seen. Although military operations have achieved significant success against the militants, their influence in the areas is by no means completely finished. The security forces are still being attacked, pro-government tribal leaders are also being assassinated, and suicide bombings are taking place. According to some reports, South and North Wazirstan are completely controlled by militants belonging to various factions of TTP. The government just does not exist in these areas. For the local people, therefore, it is the Taliban and not the government functionaries who are relevant for security, governance and redress of their grievances. The situation in other tribal agencies is also not completely satisfactory. There have been clashes involving security forces and militants in Bajaur and Orakzai Agencies, although Bajuar was long claimed to have been cleared of the militants. In Khyber Agency near Peshawar, fighting between rival religious factions is continuing unabated and has claimed a number of casualties on both sides. How can political change be brought about and relief to the people provided under the announced reforms package without an effective presence of the government? It is therefore essential that without wasting any time, the government should make its presence felt in the tribal areas by restoring its writ. The time is most opportune as the militants are under growing military pressure and getting increasingly isolated politically. Secondly, the political and administrative system based on FCR is more than a century old. It will not be easy to do away with it in one go. Particularly in the existing situation of pervasive chaos and anarchy, it will not be advisable to scrap the system without first erecting the alternative structures. The principal flaw in the FCR is that it combines administrative and judicial powers in one authority-the 'political agent', who under clause 40, can imprison any person on suspicion of murder or sedition and put him in jail for three years. The jail term can be extended to a period of six years and there was no appeal against the decision of the 'political agent'. In all other parts of the country, executive and judiciary have been separated. The same principle should be followed in the tribal areas. What is needed is an administrative structure, which is credible and responsive to the people and takes immediate steps to redress their grievances. The strength of the militants does not lie in their guns and bullets; it rests on their clever manipulation of local grievances against the corrupt and inefficient government functionaries. If the government wants to eliminate the influence of the militants, it must concentrate on the winning the hearts and minds of the people by redressing their grievances, providing them cheap and speedy justice and creating employment opportunities. The government should make an immediate assessment of the difficulties and hardships being faced not only by the people of the tribal areas but also by the people of Swat and Malakand Division and install a civilian administrative structure that has the capacity to remove those hardships. The introduction and implementation of political reforms will make sense only after the urgent task of redressing the local grievances arising out of the fighting between the army and the militants is accomplished. Thirdly, the credibility gap between the government and the people created by half-hearted measures and inconclusive military campaigns during the last five years must be narrowed down by a clear and long-term policy on Taliban and the future of the tribal areas. There is no harm, after the situation returns to normal, to conduct some ground research to find the views of the people about the future set up for their areas. The results of such a survey may be startling and even disappointing for many spokesmen of the tribal areas, who while sitting in Islamabad/Peshawar have consistently opposed changes in the old structure. In 1996, when the government of caretaker PM Miraj Khalid announced its decision to introduce universal adult franchise, these elements opposed it on the ground that the tribal people were not ready for this change. But the reform was so enthusiastically welcomed by the people that in certain constituencies turn out soared to 50-60 percent. Now that the government has announced reform package, it must remain steadfast and implement it with full determination. Despite some reservations expressed by certain political and civil society circles, the announcement of a reform package for FATA by President Zardari is a significant development in the political history of Pakistan. It will pave the way for direct participation of the people of the tribal areas in the political process. The implementation of the reforms would also bring immediate relief to the people. These measures would certainly enable the government to take further measures for the economic development and establishing much needed social and physical infrastructure in the areas. The writer is a senior research fellow at the Islamabad Policy Research Institute, Islamabad. E-mail: Rashid_khan192@yahoo.com