ISLAMABAD: The government is expected to table the long-pending Fata reforms bill in the National Assembly today (Thursday), with official sources claiming that the ruling party has decided to reject pressure from its coalition partners against the merger of Fata with Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
The government on Wednesday continued consultations over the reforms issue, with a meeting taking place between Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and members of the Fata Supreme Council, most of whom belong to the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F).
The PM had already held detailed deliberations with party members, including party chief Nawaz Sharif, members of the opposition and army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.
In the wake of the frenetic deliberations, the ruling party looks increasingly likely to bring in the lower house the Fata reforms bill meant to approve the merger of Fata with K-P, despite opposition from the JUI-F and the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), the federal government’s coalition partner.
And in case of the PM’s approval, the treasury benches would move the Fata reforms bill in the National Assembly today.
The Express Tribune has learnt that during his meeting with members of the FATA Supreme Council, the PM said that there was a nation-wide consensus on the Fata reforms and the government was in no position to resist pressure from the public and political parties, given that the general elections were scheduled after a few months, and any backtracking on the issue could cost the PML-N dear.
Reportedly, the Supreme Council members tried to convince the PM to delay the reforms bill for a few more days, but he was not in favour of entertaining the request anymore.
Last month, the JUI-F had set up its Fata Supreme Council, a body that vehemently opposes Fata’s merger with K-P, and terms the proposed merger a part of the US agenda.
Prior to the meeting between the PM and the Supreme Council, Federal Minister for States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) Lt-Gen (retd) Abdul Qadir Baloch informed the Senate that the Fata reforms bill would be tabled in the National Assembly on Thursday (today).
According to the state-run media, Baloch said the government was committed to implementing recommendations of the Fata Reforms Committee.
He was responding to a calling-attention notice moved by PTI Senator Syed Shibli Faraz regarding delay in the legislation for the merger of Fata with K-P.
The minister said the Fata Reforms Committee gave 25 recommendations, and directions had been issued for the implementation of 24 of them while only one recommendation regarding extension of the jurisdiction of superior courts was a matter of concern.
He expressed the hope that the issue would also be sorted out soon, and hopefully the bill would be tabled in the National Assembly on Thursday, according to a statement run by the state media on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq had expressed the hope that the Fata reforms bill would be tabled in the National Assembly on Wednesday. However, the government failed to introduce to bill.
Also on Tuesday, the prime minister, the army chief and JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman held a meeting but the PM and the army chief did not succeed in mustering the JUI-F chief’s support.
Reports suggested that after his meeting with the JUI-F chief on Monday, the PM was convinced that the JUI-F was unlikely to budge from its stance. He then decided to seek help of the army chief. But Fazl reportedly stuck to his stance after which the government looks like going ahead with the Fata’s merger with K-P without taking Fazl or Mahmood Khan Achakzai into the loop.
The government had announced bringing the Fata reforms bill in the NA on Monday last week, but it could not, allegedly due to pressure from Fazl and Achakzai. Since then, opposition parties repeatedly boycotted the NA proceedings last week and staged walkouts against the government’s apparent backtracking on the Fata reforms issue.
Meanwhile, Fata activist Nizamuddin Salarzai in an apparent reference to JUI-F chief Fazlur Rehman said that the whole process of enacting reforms in Fata had been held hostage to the ego of one individual.
He said that in order to substantiate his claim of a vast majority being opposed to the merger plan, the JUI-F chief had presented a list of lower cadre officials to the government, saying they were not in favour of the reforms package.
And, Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Ahmed Shah on Wednesday said the opposition would support the Fata reforms bill when presented in the lower house.
He said this while speaking on the floor of the house before staging a walkout in protest against the government failure to include the Fata bill in the Wednesday’s agenda of the house.
(With additional reporting from Vaqas Asghar and input from APP)