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Islamabad Approves Plan To 'Mainstream' Federally Administered Tribal Areas

A FATA rights convention in Islamabad on February 6.
A FATA rights convention in Islamabad on February 6.

ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan's government has approved plans to bring the country's semiautonomous tribal areas into the political mainstream -- a move that would end federal rule of the region and extend the jurisdiction of Pakistan's national courts there.

The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along Pakistan's volatile border with Afghanistan have long been a stronghold for Taliban fighters and Haqqani network militants.

Sartaj Aziz, head of the government's reform committee, said the government in Islamabad had approved the reforms "in principle" on March 2.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told his cabinet the government wants "to bring tribesmen into the national mainstream so that their deprivations can end."

Aziz said FATA would be merged into neighboring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province within five years.

Key reforms would include extending the jurisdiction of Pakistan's national courts, incorporating tribal law enforcement into the national security forces, establishing parliamentary representation for the tribal areas, and ending collective-punishment laws that date from the British colonial era.

For the reforms to take effect, the plan approved by the government on March 2 must now be codified as a draft constitutional amendment that requires approval by two-thirds of the lawmakers in both chambers of Pakistan's bicameral legislature.

There are 104 members of the upper chamber of Pakistan's parliament, the Senate, and 342 lawmakers in the lower chamber, the National Assembly.

In 2016, both chambers of Pakistan's legislature approved a draft version of the plan.

FATA's seven tribal agencies -- Bajaur, Khyber, Kurram, Mohmand, North Waziristan, South Waziristan, and Orakzai -- are home to about 8 million people, most of them Pashtuns.

The Pashtun tribes that inhabit the region are semiautonomous and had maintained good relations with Islamabad until the collapse of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in late 2001.

FATA was created in the 19th century by British Colonial India authorities.

Since the partition of British Colonial India into two separate states, Pakistan and India, the areas of Pakistan known as FATA have been administered centrally according to a mixture of local tribal traditions -- known as Pashtunwali -- and by civil laws.

Some local tribal leaders have long demanded reform to FATA, saying its status has fueled violence and poverty.

With reporting by Dawn and Geo News