ISLAMABAD: With the merger of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) getting closer, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government would be happy to leave office with this feather in the cap as the country’s major political parties on Tuesday almost agreed on the new draft of the constitutional amendment bill.
After attending a meeting of the parliamentary leaders presided over by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, a jubilant Shah Mehmood Qureshi of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf said all the parties had reached a consensus on the draft.
Mr Qureshi said they had decided to present the constitutional amendment bill in the National Assembly on Thursday.
On the other hand, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) claims that it has not so far endorsed the draft that was presented by the prime minister to them after getting it approved from the federal cabinet.
The sources said the PPP had objected to some of the provisions in the draft and pointed out some ambiguities in it. However, the sources said that the prime minister had assured them that the government would present the draft again to the parliamentary leaders in its meeting on Wednesday.
Consensus reached in parliamentary parties huddle; JUI-F, PkMAP skip meeting
Sources in the opposition told Dawn that the PPP members pointed out in the meeting that the government had not even omitted Article 247 of the Constitution from the draft.
Article 247 of the Constitution titled “Administration of Tribal Areas” that places Fata under the command of the president says that “no act of Parliament shall apply to any Federally Administered Tribal Area or to any part thereof, unless the President so directs, and no Act of Parliament or a Provincial Assembly shall apply to a Provincially Administered Tribal Area, or to any part thereof, unless the Governor of the Province in which the Tribal Area is situated, with the approval of the President, so directs; and in giving such a direction with respect to any law, the President or, as the case may be, the Governor, may direct that the law shall, in its application to a Tribal Area, or to a specified part thereof, have effect subject to such exceptions and modifications as may be specified in the direction”.
“We want the merger of Fata with KP and want to welcome the people of Fata into the mainstream. There are some anomalies (in the draft) which are needed to be fixed. We have requested the government in this regard and hopefully it will be done tomorrow,” said Opposition Leader in the Senate Sherry Rehman, who also attended the meeting with party’s parliamentary leader in the National Assembly Syed Naveed Qamar.
Interestingly, no representative of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) and the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) — the two opponents of Fata’s merger with KP — attended the parliamentary leaders meeting.
The government has already decided to present the Fata Reforms Bill in the National Assembly with or without the support of its two allies.
When contacted, JUI-F information secretary Hafiz Hussain Ahmed said that his party strongly opposed the merger of Fata with KP without seeking the consent of the tribal people through a referendum.
The JUI-F leader said the party stood by its stance over the issue that no decision regarding Fata should be taken without seeking the opinion of the tribal people.
He said that JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rahman was in Saudi Arabia and the party would announce its future course of action upon his return to the country.
In reply to a question about the possible strategy of the party if the constitutional amendment bill is presented in the assembly on Thursday, he said the strategy would be decided by the party’s parliamentary group in consultation with other opponents of the Fata merger.
The JUI-F leader, however, made it clear that his party was not against the concept of mainstreaming of Fata and also supported the move to abolish the black laws of Frontier Crimes Regulation from the tribal areas.
According to an official handout issued by the Prime Minister Office, the meeting of the parliamentary leaders was attended by NA Speaker Ayaz Sadiq, Dr Shireen Mazari of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission Sartaj Aziz, Qaumi Watan Party chief Aftab Sherpao, Ghulam Ahmed Bilour of the Awami National Party, Shah Jee Gul Afridi from Fata, Sahibzada Tariqullah of the Jamaat-i-Islami, Mir Hasil Bizenjo of the National Party, Safron Minister retired Lt Gen Abdul Qadir Baloch, PM’s Legal Adviser Barrister Zafarullah Khan, Law Minster Mahmood Bashir Virk, Khalid Maqbool Siddiqi of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement and former law minister Zahid Hamid.
Earlier, the federal cabinet approved the constitutional amendment for merger of Fata with KP.
The meeting presided over by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi finally decided that Fata would become a part of KP.
“The cabinet also approved placement of draft constitutional amendment before the parliament for the merger of Fata with KP.”
It has been learnt that the government has incorporated almost all major suggestions of the opposition, especially those suggested by the PTI in the draft bill.
The government was reportedly planning to present the bill in the NA on Friday but it had to be put off on the suggestion of the opposition parties, which wanted to present a comprehensive package incorporating amendments to all relevant articles of the Constitution instead of doing it in a piecemeal manner.
The National Assembly had passed a bill on January 12 extending the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and the Peshawar High Court to Fata, as a first major step towards mainstreaming the tribal region and its eventual merger with KP.
The bill was passed comfortably as the only opposition to the bill came from JUI-F lawmakers.
On May 2, the prime minister had informed the National Assembly that the National Implementation Committee on Fata Reforms had finalised the “timeline” for various actions required to be taken for mainstreaming of Fata, including its merger with KP. He had told the members that Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa was also present in the meeting.
Mr Abbasi had announced that the Agency Development Fund had already been abolished in Fata and that they had decided that the local government elections in Fata would be held before October this year.
The federal cabinet in its meeting in March last year had approved a set of steps to be taken for proposed merger of the Fata with KP and a 10-year reform package to bring the tribal region on a par with other developing areas of the country in line with the recommendations of a six-member special committee headed by then adviser to the PM on foreign affairs Sartaj Aziz.
The implementation of the Fata Reforms Package was stopped by then prime minister Nawaz Sharif following its strong opposition by the JUI-F and PkMAP.
Published in Dawn, May 23rd, 2018