FATA reforms shelved indefinitely yet again

Published: May 18, 2017
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PM Nawaz Sharif shakes hands with JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman. PHOTO: EXPRESS

PM Nawaz Sharif shakes hands with JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman. PHOTO: EXPRESS

ISLAMABAD: The much talked about and much-awaited reforms package for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) appears to have been shelved indefinitely after an unexpected change of mind in the ranks of both treasury and opposition.

The government on Wednesday decided not to move ahead, at least for the time being, on two important legislations presented before parliament earlier this week – a constitutional amendment to create seats for Fata in the Khyber-Pakhtunkwa (K-P) Assembly and a bill to establish a new judicial system in the tribal belt.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif directed his party to postpone movement on both bills till he returns to the country following a phone call with his ally Maulana Fazlur Rehman earlier in the day. Fazl’s Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl and another government ally, the Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, had been opposing the proposed reforms package prepared last year by a panel headed by Sartaj Aziz.

Multi-party conference: Bureaucrats ‘hindering’ FATA mainstreaming

Nawaz conveyed his directives through Minister for States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) Lt Gen (retd) Abdul Qadir Baloch. “The minister has told us that we will not move the bills for voting in this session after the prime minister’s conversation [with Fazl],” Shahabuddin, a Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz MNA from Fata, told The Express Tribune.

Immediately after Nawaz’s directions, both Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf seemingly withdrew their support from the proposed Fata reforms.

The development is likely to put the long due reforms process on the back burner for yet another indefinite period. The ongoing National Assembly session is last one of the current parliamentary year before the budget session.

Ruling party members say it was apparent from day one that JUI-F and PkMAP would not support the reforms package. Nawaz held several futile meetings to convince the heads of both parties otherwise.

“The JUI-F representative, before the start of the new session, had conveyed that his party might not have opposed the bills during voting if certain reservations were removed,” Shahabuddin said, adding that the prime minister’s surprise move had left him and his colleagues baffled.

Fata reforms panel turned into federal cabinet committee

The fatal bullet appears to have come from the two main opposition parties.

Former president Asif Ali Zardari – whose Pakistan Peoples Party holds decisive say in the Senate – had asked his party’s parliamentarians to vote against the Rewaj Act once the government moved it for a final vote in parliament. PPP had been neutral, if not a strong supporter, towards the government’s proposed Fata reforms package.

In a statement on Wednesday, Zardari’s spokesperson Senator Farhatullah Babar quoted the PPP co-chairman as calling the Tribal Areas Rewaj Act 2017 “against basic human rights and inconsistent with the goal of the merger of Fata and K-P.”

PTI, which rules K-P, was also quick to announce its opposition to both bills.

K-P Chief Minister Pervez Khattak held a meeting with National Assembly and Senate members from PTI in Islamabad, telling them he doubts PML-N intentions. He claimed that the 30th Amendment and Rewaj bills were aimed at pitching the people of Fata against K-P.

“Mala fide on the part of the federal government can be gauged from the fact that the proposed amendment bill has totally ignored articles 1, 246 and 247 of the constitution which are the main cause of the whole problem,” he said.

“On the other hand the repeated letters of the K-P chief minister – whose government is the main stakeholder to the issue – have never been responded to by the prime minister,” Khattak added.

(WITH INPUT FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT IN ISLAMABAD)

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