ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly on Monday unanimously passed the 26th Constitutional Amendment Bill, formalising an increase in the number of seats for the erstwhile Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) in the National Assembly and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly.
The bill was passed with 288 votes after speeches from the representatives of all the parliamentary parties. Prime Minister Imran Khan also attended the session and lauded the National Assembly for the show of unity.
The bill, moved by Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri and Member of National Assembly (MNA) Mohsin Dawar, amended Article 51 and Article 106 of the Constitution, to increase the seats for the newly-merged tribal districts to 12 in the National Assembly and to 24 in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assembly.
More than 280 members took part in the voting for different clauses of the bill. During the roll call 288 came and voted in support, while no one opposed. Prime Minister Imran Khan, who was present in the house, briefly spoke on the bill and took part in the voting process. He praised the lawmakers' unity on the bill.
Speaking on the bill, Dawar said that the state was responsible for protecting rights of all of its citizens and giving them true representation in all walks of life, while Qadri appreciated Prime Minister Imran Khan for raising voice for rights of the people of former Fata.
The current allocation of the general seats made on the basis of provisional results of the population census 2017 did not include internally-displaced persons in the population of erstwhile Fata, Dawar told the house. "The current enhancement in the seats will remain effective till the next census," he added.
Qadri told lawmakers that the people of tribal areas faced immense difficulties and because of displacement, they were living like migrants in different areas of Pakistan. The minister thanked the opposition parties for their across-the-board support for the legislation and expressed hope that consensus among parties would continue on other national issues.
Former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) said that the law to merge former Fata with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was passed by the last parliament. He mentioned the support of Maulana Fazlur Reham, Sartaj Aziz and Nawaz Sharif for the passage of law for Fata merger.
"Elections on enhanced seats should be held within six months," Abbasi proposed. Pointing out that the government could not grant the tribal people their due rights without adequate funds, he said: "We need to have consensus on issues facing the country."
Abbasi noted that there was consensus on the government's decision to provide Rs100 billion in funds to the people of ex-Fata for 10 years to stimulate development in the area. He called for determining the modalities for the funding.
After the spread of terrorism and subsequent counter-terror operations, the former prime minister said, there was hardly any population in the area, when the census was conducted in 2017. "Allocation of resources and allocation of seats in the National Assembly are both dependent on the population."
Maulana Wasay of the Jamiat Ulema Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) said his party supported the increase in the seats for former Fata despite its reservations. He said that people of the tribal districts were suffering poverty and terrorism. He added that JUI-F wanted a separate province for tribal areas.
Former prime minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) reminded the house of the efforts of the late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the late Benazir Bhutto and former president Asif Zardari for reforms in former Fata and for ending Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR).
Amir Haider Hoti of the Awami National Party (ANP) assured of his party's full support for efforts aimed at protection of rights of the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Agha Hassan Baloch of the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) proposed increase in the number of seats for Balochistan.
Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) and other parties also backed the bill. Speaker Asad Qaiser congratulated the members and the nation on the passage of the constitutional amendment bill and afterwards prorogued the house for an indefinite period.
The PTI government wanted to get the bill passed last week, soon after the house committee on law and justice presented its report. However, the opposition refused to vote on the bill without holding a thorough debate in the National Assembly.
Former Fata merged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa through the 25th Constitutional Amendment Bill passed on May 31, 2018. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has already announced a schedule for the election to 16 seats for the merged districts.
Dawar told the house that under the Constitution, the elections in erstwhile Fata areas for the provincial assembly seats are to be held by July 25, but added that he would move another amendment for a six-month extension in the deadline for holding of the elections.
South Punjab province bill
Prior to the passage of the bill, another constitutional amendment bill, pertaining to the formation of a South Punjab province was also presented in the National Assembly. The bill was moved by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) legislator Makhdoom Syed Samiul Hassan Gillani.
The house adopted a motion, authorising the speaker to constitute a special committee of the treasury and the opposition members to examine the bill. Speaking on the occasion, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi supported the bill.
"Creation of South Punjab province was a promise made by [the ruling] PTI to the people of Pakistan," Qureshi told the lawmakers, adding that the party would "do all in its power to fulfil its promise" and seek the support of all stakeholders to ensure that the bill was passed.
"We have done it previously and we again invite the Pakistan Peoples Party [PPP] to sit down with us for discussions. We will do all that is required to ensure that the people of South Punjab are given their due rights," Qureshi said.
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