ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan’s parliament on Thursday passed legislation to merge the country’s tribal regions along the Afghan border with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, a key step to ending the region’s much-criticised colonial era governance system.
While security in the restive region has improved, for years Islamist militants including the Taliban and al Qaeda have used Waziristan and its surrounding tribal areas to train and launch attacks in Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan, in part because the region has no government writ.
As a result, the region is central to efforts by Washington, Islamabad and others to combat militants.
The semi-autonomous region consists of seven big district and six towns known as Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and has been governed for over 150 years by colonial era tribal laws.
Rights groups have long argued that residents of FATA to have the same laws as the rest of Pakistan, pointing out that the use of collective punishment and other colonial-era laws against local people tramples basic rights.
“The law this parliament passed today will, God willing, bring positive results,” Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said after the 372 member house adopted the amendment with a 229 votes majority supported by ruling and opposition parties.
He said the region will be governed with rights equal to other parts of the country.
The reform bill was delayed for years mainly due to political wrangling but has long been demanded by the local population.
Abbasi said local elections in the region would be held this year to kick start a political process and said future governments will spend 100 billion rupees ($865 million) a year for a decade on development.
Over the past decade Pakistan’s military has launched several operations in FATA, displacing many people now forced to live in camps in districts just outside the tribal regions.
Writing by Asif Shahzad; Editing by Drazen Jorgic and Matthew Mpoke Bigg