Sherry Rehman Image Credit: Supplied

Islamabad: Pakistan’s Senate on Friday unanimously passed a landmark bill extending the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court (SC) and Peshawar High Court (PHC) to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).

The Supreme Court and High Court (Extension of Jurisdiction to Fata) Bill 2017 has already been approved by the National Assembly.

The bill is termed historic as it abolishes a century-old repressive colonial-era law known as Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) imposed in tribal areas. The passage of the bill safeguards the right of the tribal people by allowing them access to SC and PHC — a long-standing demand of the people of Fata.

The leader of the opposition, Senator Sherry Rehman, congratulated the Senate for passing the bill and said, “This is a first and key step towards mainstreaming of Fata Reforms.” The bill also signals an eventual merger of the tribal areas with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).

Speaking on the occasion, the Minister for States and Frontier Regions (Safron) Abdul Qadir Baloch said: “All rulers, including me, are indebted to the people of Fata. No efforts were made in the past to give full rights to the people of Fata.”

In his speech, he criticised the current FCR law — first enacted in 1901 by the British Government in the Pashtun-inhabited tribal areas — under which the jirgas (tribal council) accord punishments in civil and criminal cases on the basis of their own traditions and beliefs with limited role of state. Baloch assured the lawmakers that the government was serious in its commitment to ensure the merger of Fata with KP.

The bill saw opposition from two key political players in Fata and allies of the PML-N led government — Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP). Lawmakers from both the parties staged a walkout. In the absence of both the protesting parties, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) passed the landmark bill.

Earlier this week, Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa also stressed that it is imperative the region is “mainstreamed” and merged with KP according to the wishes of its people.