PESHAWAR -- The Pakistani government has appeared to give the green light on long-awaited and much anticipated reforms that would bring the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA) into the country's political mainstream.
The National Implementation Committee (NIC) on FATA Reforms last week endorsed the merger of FATA with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Province, and the federal cabinet Tuesday (December 26) urged expediting the merger, Dawn and The Nation reported.
The NIC, chaired by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, also agreed to let FATA elect 23 members to the KP Assembly in the July 2018 general elections.
The NIC meeting took place December 18, but the landmark decisions were not immediately made public, Dawn reported December 26.
The Pakistani cabinet initially approved the FATA Reforms Bill September 11. Federal Law Minister Zahid Hamid tabled the bill in parliament September 16.
The government has been delaying approval of the FATA Reforms Bill to achieve consensus, The Nation reported December 27.
The bill, if approved, would end collective punishment under the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) and extend the rule of Pakistani courts to FATA.
The draconian FCR dates back to colonial times. Under the FCR, tribes living in FATA settle their disputes through tribal jirgas, while political agents appointed by the KP governor rule all seven agencies.
"The fate of the tribes, which was put under the whim of jirgas and controlled by the [FCR], will take a new course after the extension of courts to tribal areas," FATA Lawyers Forum President Ejaz Mohmand told Pakistan Forward December 20.
"Under the proposed system, it will be possible for courts to ensure transparency, legality and legitimacy in the work of the jirga system, besides monitoring its operating procedure and decisions," he said. "Moreover, residents would be entitled to move to courts if the decisions made by a jirga were biased and unsatisfactory."
Functioning courts provide easy access to justice, the absence of which is a major factor affecting safety, security and economic stability in FATA, according to Mohmand.
"Residents of areas where uncertainty prevails often face increased risks of manipulation and injustice, leading to discrimination, abuse, infringement of rights and economic instability," he said.
Giving tribe members access to the judicial system will "ensure them equal chances to thrive, survive and prosper", he said.
Shahab Uddin Khan, a National Assembly member from Bajaur Agency, appreciated the extension of the Pakistan Supreme Court and Islamabad High Court's writ to tribal areas, but said, "It would be much better if we were granted the right to access the [nearby] Peshawar High Court".
"The patriotism and resilience shown by tribe members during military operations [against militants] ... cry out for reciprocation by the motherland," he told Pakistan Forward.
"The proposed judicial system would not only free the tribal administrative system from unjust interference and monopolisation but also ensure that it's working by rules and regulations," he said.
The proposed reforms would lead to the social and economic integration of the tribal belt with settled areas creating endless opportunities of growth and development, said Ajeeb Ullah, a Peshawar-based trader from Mohmand Agency.
"The availability of an organised legal system in tribal areas would help decide matters that have been pending for years," he told Pakistan Forward.
"I have an old property dispute that has not been resolved due [to the lack of a] proper system governing property in tribal areas ... and there is no demarcation record," he said. "Extending the courts' jurisdiction to tribal areas would help resolve many of the issues that are left undecided."