What is the most important need for formerly Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) at the moment? This is a tough question. The merger is pending with the Khyber Pukhtunkhwa (KP) government, the path is fraught with a plethora of challenges, and the status is in limbo. The 31st Constitutional Amendment was fueled by decades of activism (particularly pronounced since 2015), jirgas in all seven FATA agencies with nearly 3,000 maliks and elders, as well as 29,000+ comments on the hotline of the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions Division (SAFRON). It came into effect on May 24, 2018, just a week before the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN) government ended, placing a feather in its cap, but conveniently excusing it from any actual progress on the matter. The proverbial ball now rests squarely in Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf’s (PTI) court. There are administrative challenges. The Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), the draconian, nightmarish legislation that governed the lives of FATA residents, needs to be abolished (in its current form – Interim Governance Regulation). Policing needs to be extended to the tribal areas, and a plan for 45,000 new trained personnel was announced in November. There is urgent need for large-scale infrastructure development in the historically-neglected region. SAFRON needs to be abolished to ensure a free and independent FATA administration. Education and healthcare needs urgent attention, and piecemeal solutions will not work. In December 2018, the government announced that everyone in FATA would get health cards; but with no medical infrastructure, residents still have to travel far for medical needs. The long and short of it is that the merger may be done on paper, but it is far from a practical reality. Progress is inundated with a large slew of intricately interconnected factors, and there are detractions and distractions aplenty Speaking of education, there are education challenges. To date, there is one university in the region, and that too started operations in October 2016. There is urgent need for educational infrastructure for the disenfranchised youth, both in the region, and ensuring seats for students from tribal districts in institutions around the country. There is a need to collaborate with civil society and media to create awareness about rights and responsibilities, about opportunities and obligations. The student quota should be extended by another 10 years. In consultations with local leaders and politicians, there has been much emphasis on giving up old ways of thinking and backward traditions, and adapting to the perspectives of the modern age. However, little has been done to figure out how to go about achieving these targets. There are economic challenges. Tying in to the need for infrastructure needs, employment is a significant problem in the region. With a long-standing history of corruption and funds misappropriation, ensuring transparency and funds allocation is a challenge. The KP award in the National Finance Commission (NFC) has to be substantially increased, as it absorbsthe tribal districts. At least Rs.100 billion needs to be awarded under the NFC. There are questions about royalties on electricity generation and mineral mining. Land limitation still presents a challenge and its suspension may need to continue for another few years. Providing compensation packages for families that have been displaced time and again, or have lost their primary breadwinner, remains a challenge. Underlying all this is the gender perspective, because ensuring equal female participation in a region that is dominated by misogynistic and patriarchal traditions and systems is an immense issue in and of itself. There are political challenges. The National Assembly and Senate seats will reduce, while the KP provincial seats will increase. However, those elected in 2018 will continue to hold office in the National Assembly, and those in the Senate will complete their constitutional term. With an urgent call for elections, does that mean both provincial and federal ministers will serve terms simultaneously? The pending election also brings with it administrative, funding and monitoring challenges. The government-formed FATA committee has also come under fire for bringing to the fore anti-merger elements; this was seen as clear manifestation of the government’s non-seriousness (or perhaps inexperience). The long and short of it is that the merger may be done on paper, but it is far from a practical reality. Progress is inundated with a large slew of intricately interconnected factors, and there are detractions and distractions aplenty. The questions remains, what is the most important need for erstwhile FATA at the moment? The answer, put simply, is advocacy. With so many moving parts, none more important than the other, it is easy to get lost in the details. But for the keen eye with a macro perspective, the need is obvious. There is a clear and present need for focused reforms on pushing the envelope forward, on pushing for continued development and reforms, and for pushing the government to make the region a priority. Civil society, media, academics, intelligentsia, religious leaders and educational institutions can all play a role by pushing this to the fore, and ensuring a better future for the region. The writer is a senior research fellow at the Center for Research and Security Studies Published in Daily Times, January 25th 2019.