Pakistan’s cabinet approved on Thursday a plan to introduce reforms in the lawless tribal regions along the border with Afghanistan – an area that has provided sanctuary to armed groups for years.
Authorities began the reform process in the northwestern region after fighters with al-Qaeda and the Taliban established sanctuaries there. The army regained control of the last of the territories in an offensive launched in mid-2014 that lasted until the end of 2016.
“We want to bring tribesmen in the national mainstream so that their deprivations could end,” Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told the cabinet.
British colonialists in the 19th carved out a mountainous strip of Afghanistan that was administered under a combination of civil laws and local traditions.
The special status for the tribal areas continued after Pakistan gained independence from Britain in 1947 because the tribes were divided on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
The final report on reforms proposed merging the seven semi-autonomous Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) with Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
The set of constitutional, political, and administrative reforms are aimed at bringing the areas at par with the rest of the country, a spokesman for Sharif said.
A 10-year development programme will be introduced for all of FATA and the merger will be carried out over a period of five years.
Amad Khan, from Bajaur Agency in FATA, told Al Jazeera the reforms will put a proper education system in place.
“We have sacrificed a lot for Pakistan and for years we haven’t been given our basic rights,” he said.
“This reform will bring schools, colleges and a proper health system in our areas accessible to us. Even though it took years to be acknowledged by our country, we are thankful that it finally happened.”
More than 1.8 million people from FATA have been displaced by insurgency, counter-insurgency and other related violence in Pakistan. Most of them live in IDP camps in Peshawar and urban centres such as Karachi.
“People look at us as terrorists since we come from that area… No, that is not true. I myself have lost my uncle in a terrorist attack, we have suffered a lot, so this little change brings hope,” said Khan.
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies