ISLAMABAD: The government fears that an immediate merger of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) with Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) will be detrimental for the development of the area as funds allocated for them are likely to be misused once the province takes their control.
“Merger [of Fata with K-P] right now will have a detrimental effect. We feel that once Fata is merged, the development funds for the areas are likely to be used in major cities of the province,” said the Minister for States and Frontier Regions (Safron) Abdul Qadir Baloch on Monday.
“There is already a perception that funds are spent on the K-P’s bigger cities like Peshawar, Mardan and Charsadda [at the expense of other areas],” he said while speaking before the National Assembly Standing Committee for Safron which was discussing the Riwaj Bill 2017.
Baloch said that an immediate merger would create several issues which K-P would have to manage on its own in view of the provincial autonomy envisaged under the 18th Amendment to the Constitution.
“Besides, the FCR [Frontier Crimes Regulations] and other systems including that of political agents would take time to be replaced with the new laws,” the minister added in reply to a question.
On Monday, the government failed to evolve consensus on the controversial bill after all members of the committee as well as special invitees rejected it, calling it a new type of the FCR, a colonial era law that governs Fata.
Baloch said they had sought details from the Ministry of Law about extension of the jurisdiction of Islamabad High Court (IHC) and the Supreme Court to the areas of Fata.
“We will also soon appoint a chief operating officer (COO) to implement recommendations of the parliamentary implementation committee about Fata,” the minister said.
The panel members, however, expressed serious reservations over the proposed law and a PML-N lawmaker – Shahbuddin Khan – asked Baloch to stop putting ‘the accursed people of Fata’ under bureaucracy. “This Riwaj act is a monster… it will eat up everything just like FCR,” he said.
The minister, however, tried to assure him that rights of Fata would be protected in terms of development and Rs100 billion would go to these areas for 10 years even in case of its merger with K-P.
MNA Sajid Turi, another lawmaker from Fata, blamed the minister and the government for not consulting the stakeholders and parliamentarians of the region while formulating the draft bill. “First listen to us and then share your idea,” he added.
Sahibzada Tariqullah from the Jamaat-e-Islami asked the government to revisit idea of adopting a law which is facing ‘so much criticism from every lawmaker’.
After almost 10 lawmakers – from the PML-N, the JI, the MQM and the JUI-F – rejected the bill, the minister said the government was not in any haste to pass it. “If you people reject this bill then please recommend an alternative as well,” he said.
Shahabuddin said the president of Pakistan could declare with one stroke of a pen that “the whole or any part of a tribal area shall cease to be a tribal area”.
Shahjee Gul Afridi also said the chapter of Riwaj Act should be closed once and for all. He also called for the merger of Fata with K-P rather than its simple ‘mainstreaming’.
“If this is about mainstreaming, then submit this in writing and I will suggest to the PM to stop the act and tell him that all lawmakers want a merger,” he said.
The members rejected formation of a sub-committee to develop consensus on the bill and it was agreed that the matter would be discussed in the next meeting to resolve the issue amicably.