The much-awaited reforms package for the underdeveloped Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) region was again shelved by the government this week which led to uproar in the National Assembly.
Opposition parties on Thursday boycotted National Assembly (NA) proceedings for fifth day against the withdrawal of the FATA Reforms bill from the agenda of the house.
The members of opposition parties staged a walkout from the NA and vowed to continue their boycott until the much-delayed legislation was introduced.
“No question hour, no business will be allowed to carry out in the assembly till the inclusion of FATA bill in the agenda” stated Pakistan Peoples Party’s MNA Naveed Qamar. “It was unanimous decision of the opposition parties not to attend the proceeding of the house” he said.
Leader of the Opposition Khursheed Shah said the government had pulled out the FATA Reform bill from the agenda without taking opposition parties into confidence. Shah said that black law i.e. Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) had been imposed for the last 70 years and “It is impossible for us to accept two different laws in one state.”
NA member Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao said recommendations of the FATA reform committee were encouraging. “Majority of the people in FATA, especially youngsters desire to be part of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,” he stressed.
Awami Muslim League (AML) chief Shaikh Rashid Ahmad said “It was the unanimous decision of the whole nation to table the Fata Reform Bill in Parliament. So why is it being made controversial?”
The bill was reportedly dropped off the agenda because of opposition from two government’s allies — Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Fazal-Ur-Rahman and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai.
“This is my democratic right to oppose any issue in parliament as FATA reform bill will create problems for the country” PkMAP chief Achakzai told media. He said FATA issue should be solved by taking the people of the area into confidence. A JUI-F leader called for the formation of a committee to debate over the issue and demanded a separate governor for FATA.
The recommendations to bring the tribal areas at par with the rest of the country were approved by the federal cabinet on March 2 and Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi also pledged to implement FATA reforms but the matter has been delayed since then.
Pakistan Army has also publicly expressed its support for reforms in FATA for the development of tribal areas and to sustain the achievements of security forces
Addressing a delegation of elders and youth from FATA on December 13, Chief of the Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa assured that Pakistan Army fully supports mainstreaming of the region in line with aspirations of tribal brothers. Acknowledging the sacrifices of the tribes of FATA, Gen Bajwa said their contributions were “being consolidated” as the region moved “from relative stability to enduring peace.”
The chiefs of the allied parties in KP government, Imran Khan and Siraj-ul-Haq, have voiced support for the people of FATA and urged for KP-FATA merger.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairperson Imran Khan said the federal government and its allies, including Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Mahmood Khan Achakzai, are a hindrance to reforms in FATA. He said PTI will protest with the rest of the Opposition as well as the people of FATA until their demands are fulfilled.
Meanwhile, Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) chief Siraj ul-Haq has warned his party will stage a protest in Islamabad if government fails to ensure the merger of FATA with KP before December 31. “Residents of tribal areas want their rights, they want a merger with KP, and they want the abolition of FCR,” Haq emphasised.
The elders of Kokikhel tribe from Khyber Agency and students in Bajaur Agency have also criticised the federal government for delaying FATA reforms bill. The Kokikhel elders led by Mohammad Irfan Kokikhel told a press conference in Peshawar that removal of Fata reforms bill from the agenda of National Assembly was tantamount to a drone attack on tribal people. The tribesmen were deprived of all fundamental rights owing to imposition of Frontier Crimes Regulation in FATA, they said.
What is the FATA Reforms Bill?
The FATA Reforms Package was approved by the federal cabinet on March 2 to bring underdeveloped tribal regions into the mainstream, but the government later deferred the Reforms Bill due to political issues.
The package envisages both legal and administrative measures for the development of tribal areas such as mainstreaming of FATA and abolishment of the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) and extension of jurisdiction of the Peshawar High Court and Supreme Court to the region.
The KP Assembly had adopted a resolution in December 2016 in favour of merging FATA with KP that would help rehabilitate and reconstruct the infrastructure including roads, communications, power lines, water supply, education and health facilities.