Pakistan's lower house of Parliament has passed a landmark constitutional amendment extending widespread political, administrative and human rights reforms to the country's northwestern tribal areas, a region that had long been a sanctuary to armed groups, reports Al Jajira.
The constitutional amendment, passed by the National Assembly in the capital, Islamabad, on Thursday, sees the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) merged into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province.
It effectively abolishes draconian colonial-era regulations that the districts had been governed under for decades, making its five million citizens equal citizens of the Pakistani federation.
The amendment will now be presented to the upper house of Parliament and the KP provincial assembly, where it is expected to pass without fuss, before becoming law.
"We needed a national consensus on this issue, and it was achieved," said Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi after the bill was passed.
"This is the start of a process, not the end of one. We need to gain the trust of the people of FATA, and that trust will not come just through words ... but the biggest need right now is the lack of development in FATA needs to be addressed. [...] We have to give the people of FATA the same schools, the same colleges, the same universities, the same hospitals, the same roads and the system as is available to everyone else in Pakistan. There should be no difference there."
FATA, once the headquarters of the Pakistan Taliban and a sanctuary for al-Qaeda, has seen a series of Pakistani military operations launched since 2008 to retake the area from armed groups. The last such operation was launched in 2014, displacing the Taliban from the North Waziristan tribal district.
The United States and Afghanistan allege that Pakistan still provides sanctuary to armed groups such as the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network, a charge that Pakistan denies.
Since Pakistan gained independence from the British in 1947, the country has continued to govern the seven tribal districts along its border with Afghanistan by direct rule from the capital, with each district ruled by a "Political Agent" (PA) appointed by the president.