ISLAMABAD: The much stalled reforms package for Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) has finally caught the attention of the prime minister and his close aides as the federal cabinet is taking up the issue in its meeting today (Thursday).
The much talked about, but equally much delayed Fata reforms package was pulled out at the 11th hour from the cabinet’s meeting on February 7, 2017 eliciting widespread criticism of lawmakers of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P).
The same thing happened on December 16, 2016 when the cabinet deferred the passage of reforms package for Fata on the grounds that a broader consensus was needed. The broader consensus consisted of taking two of the government’s allies into confidence.
FATA reforms for dummies
The two political allies of the government - Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) - had concerns since day one. JUI-F’s chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman recently addressed a public gathering stating that his party was in favour of mainstreaming Fata but not its merger with K-P. Rehman later softened his stance about holding referendum in Fata by stating, “Let people of Fata decide their fate instead of outsiders.”
While PkMAP chief has also time and again been expressing his opposition to the merger of Fata with K-P, interestingly PkMAP has no representative in parliament from Fata, while JUI-F has only one lawmaker from South Waziristan.
Another major aspect of the delay was refusal of Sindh and K-P governments to spare financial resources for Fata and establishment of security fund from the federal divisible pool in the recently held Council of Common Interests meeting.
Fata senators are also scheduled to meet Awami National Party’s (ANP) Asfandiyar Wali Khan today (Thursday) to discuss the future course of action against dilly-dallying tactics of the government on the passage of reforms agenda. When the cabinet pulled out the agenda from its meeting, it irked Fata lawmakers and parties from K-P, including Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and ANP.
Opposition in the Senate also walked out of the session in the last sitting, terming the cabinet’s decision as indiscriminate.
Besides, last month a representative convention of tribal people from Fata at the Convention Centre in Islamabad demanded Fata’s merger with K-P and representation in the K-P Assembly in the 2018 elections and threatened to take to roads if the demands were not met by March 12, 2017.
It was after drawing severe criticism that the PM’s office on February 10, 2017 issued a press release stating that reforms package will be placed before the next meeting of the cabinet.
Fata reforms committee had finalised the report in November 2015 and the completion of its report within 10 months had generally been appreciated by lawmakers inside parliament.
Lawmakers divided over fate of FATA
Headed by Adviser to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz, the committee comprised of Governor Jhagra (and governor Abbasi before him), Safron Minister (retd) Lt-Gen Abdul Qadir Baloch, Law Minister Zahid Hamid, National Security Adviser (retd) Lt-Gen Nasser Janjua, and Safron Secretary Muhammad Shehzad Arbab.
For implementation of the 10-year development plan, the six-member committee headed by Aziz suggested allocating 3.0 per cent of resources from the federal divisible pool to Fata along with its merger with K-P. Besides, Fata would be getting Rs90 billion per annum against the development plan. Immediately after rehabilitating internally displaced persons, the committee proposed holding local government elections in Fata by the end of 2017.
Both houses of the parliament have already had lengthy debates on the 80-page report. Over 150-page summary was submitted to the cabinet with details of all the discussion and fieldwork about the reforms and visits of the committee along with recommendations.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 2nd, 2017.