The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) cannot have it both ways. It cannot demand indigenous, isolationist policies and special rights, while also asking for greater integration with, and more funds from, the center. Yet it seems a section of its representatives want just that – the best of both worlds.

Standing outside the Peshawar Press Club. Haji Bazar Gul Afridi, a tribal elder and central president of the Khyber Union, a public welfare body in Khyber Agency, recently told reporters that the merger of FATA with Khyber Pakhtunkhawa (KP) was unacceptable to tribal people of the region.

While the arguments he presented merit consideration – and refutation – one simple fact is evident; he only represents a small section of the FATA populace. Many MPs from the region, especially those from the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) are in favour of the merger, while several other hold ambivalent views.

Let’s look at his arguments. The primary reason given to oppose the merger is the protection of “local tradition and customs’, but in the same sentence he calls for the abolition of the Frontier Crimes Regulation – the special law that awards the region it’s semi-autonomous status and its local laws. It seems Mr. Afridi is cognizant of the need for reform, but does not want to give up his autonomy – and hence his power – that comes with reform.

Similarly, he opposed the extension of the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction over the region because “the local Jirga system can handle all legal issues” – a statement negated by the series of perverse and unjust decisions meted out by these Jirgas – while asking for a legislative council to be formed to make new law. These contradictions continue throughout; local body elections and a NFC award is demanded, but provincial status and taxation is opposed.

Administrative systems can be customised to a certain extent, beyond which a trade-off must be accepted. FATA now stands at the cross roads where it must make that trade off. Modernity and development, or isolation and customary law – it must pick a side, only one.