CREDIT goes to Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and the military leadership for tenaciously advocating Fata reforms in the face of unreasonable opposition by two key allies of the PML-N government, Mehmood Achakzai of the PkMAP and Maulana Fazlur Rehman of the JUI-F.

The National Security Committee returned to important matters of the state on Saturday with a marathon meeting that, among other issues, endorsed the merger of Fata with KP and a raft of administrative and judicial changes to bring the tribal areas into the national mainstream.

The endorsement of the NSC could boost the possibility of a constitutional amendment bill being tabled in parliament and approved before parliament is dissolved at the end of the month.

The amount of time available is certainly less than ideal for debating an amendment to the Constitution, a legislative process that should never be rushed through, but the issue of Fata reforms has been nationally debated and other than the PkMAP and JUI-F, there is no known and significant parliamentary opposition to the reforms and to Fata’s merger with KP.

The triumph of the latest push to introduce meaningful reforms is the decision to merge Fata with KP relatively quickly, within a year, according to reports in the media, rather than allow uncertainty to linger.

As a compromise, an earlier plan had suggested a five-year process of so-called mainstreaming of Fata followed by a decision on whether to merge the region with KP.

Certainly, there are vast implications for the people of Fata and KP whether they are merged into a single federating unit or have separate identities.

But a Fata stand-alone province would have affected the very balance of the federation by introducing a fifth province and could have spawned a number of foreseen and unforeseen problems in the original four provinces.

The debate on whether the country ought to have more provinces is a significant one and will continue, but the needs of Fata are far too urgent to allow further delay.

Rapid mainstreaming with the end-goal of a relatively quick merger with KP is the right way ahead for Fata.

With only days left until the end of the parliamentary term, delays and obfuscation could prove fatal to the cause of Fata reforms.

All parliamentary parties that support Fata reforms should ensure the presence of their MNAs and senators in parliament and the party leaderships should work with Prime Minister Abbasi to push through what would be a historic moment for Fata and the country.

There has been too much suffering in the tribal areas; it is time to offer the people of the region meaningful stability, peace and prosperity.

The rights, systems and services in the rest of the country must be made available to the people of Fata.

Published in Dawn, May 21st, 2018

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