ISLAMABAD: Opposition members on Tuesday staged a walkout from the Senate to register their protest over delay in introducing reforms in tribal areas.
Soon after the question hour, parliamentary leader of the Awami National Party (ANP) Ilyas Ahmed Bilour, while speaking on a point of order, accused the government of delaying implementation of the recommendations of the Fata reforms committee headed by Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz due to political expediencies.
Without naming anyone, the ANP senator alleged that the prime minister had removed the Fata reforms from the agenda of the recently held cabinet meeting on the pressure from “one person”.
Mr Bilour praised the reforms committee, saying it had unanimously finalised its recommendations, including merger of the tribal areas with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
ANP blames ‘one person’ behind change of recent cabinet meeting agenda
“If you don’t make a decision by March 12, we will show what a sit-in really looks like,” threatened Mr Bilour before leading a walkout joined by all opposition parties. They, however, returned to the house after a few minutes.
Media reports suggested that Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) leader Mehmood Khan Achakzai’s opposition to the move had thrown a spanner in the works.
It may be recalled that Fata legislators and a number of opposition parties had already threatened to hold a protest march in Islamabad on March 12 if the reforms were not carried out by the government.
Azam Swati of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf said his party supported the merger of Fata (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) with KP, where the PTI was heading a coalition government.
Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) chief Sirajul Haq was of the opinion that it was a “historic opportunity” for the rulers to take this great step for the benefit of 10 million Fata people who, according to him, had been living in a “prison”.
Mr Haq said the present government had taken a bold step by forming a committee on the issue, but regretted that now it was backtracking from implementing its recommendations.
PkMAP’s Sardar Azam Musakhel, however, said that no decision should be taken in haste and without considering the will of the Fata people.
Mr Musakhel, who is known for his straightforwardness and fearless criticism of the government despite being a part of the PML-N-led ruling coalition in Balochistan, did not make any argument with the opposition senators realising the sensitivity of the issue.
Earlier this month, the Fata MNAs and other opposition members had lodged a strong protest in the National Assembly over the federal cabinet’s decision to drop the Fata reforms package from the agenda.
Qaumi Watan Party chief Aftab Sherpao had termed it the “most unfortunate development” and said: “It appears that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was initially in favour of these reforms, is no longer enthusiastic about them. If there is some pressure on the prime minister, he should rise above it and play the role of a statesman.”
However, the prime minister had in a statement last week said the Fata reforms package would be placed before the next meeting of the cabinet. He said his government had taken the initiative to evolve a consensus on empowering the people of Fata and that it was on his directives that extensive consultation had been carried out with all stakeholders.
Mr Sharif had also dismissed the reports about pressure on him from some parties as “speculative”.
Asif Zardari’s concern
Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarians chief Asif Ali Zardari expressed concern over reports that the government had shelved the Fata reforms proposals and called for their early implementation to give the tribal people their legitimate rights as equal citizens of the country.
“For far too long the patriotic people of tribal areas have been mistreated under the vestige of colonial rule and denied their basic rights. It is a grave anomaly that the Constitution describes tribal areas as part of Pakistan territory, but the same Constitution denies them their basic political rights. This anomaly must end if the tribal areas have to be mainstreamed and its people treated as equal citizens of the state,” the former president said in a statement ahead of his return to Pakistan this week.
He was of the view that calls for a referendum in the tribal areas would achieve nothing but delay and possible reverse the reforms process.
“There is no provision in the Constitution for referendum in tribal areas which provides for ascertaining the wishes of people for structural changes through jirgas only,” he said, adding: “Let us also not forget that the terms ‘referendum’, ‘chief executive’ and ‘90 days’ have been badly corrupted by dictatorships.”
The former president said that along with rehabilitation of displaced families, the powers of the president with respect to tribal areas be transferred to parliament, giving representation to them in the KP Assembly, extending jurisdiction of superior courts, ending the draconian laws and empowering the people through directly elected local governments.
Mr Zardari also called for placing before parliament the proposed Riwaj Act replacing the FCR (Frontier Crimes Regulation) and the local bodies’ laws instead of enacting them through an executive order.
He appealed to the political leaders opposing the reforms to reconsider their stance and not allow themselves to be remembered as thwarting the reforms against the wishes of the tribal people. He also asked PPP leaders to help develop a consensus on the reforms by engaging the sceptics in dialogue.
Published in Dawn, February 15th, 2017