• Rs110bn 10-year uplift package okayed
• Supreme Court, PHC to have jurisdiction in the region
• LG polls will be held after next general elections
ISLAMABAD: The government on Thursday approved a set of steps to be taken for proposed merger of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and a 10-year reform package to bring the tribal region on a par with other developing areas of the country.
Over Rs110 billion development package, proposed by a six-member Fata reforms committee, has been approved for the seven agencies of the tribal region. Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and the Peshawar High Court will be extended to Fata, where a new blend of judicial and traditional jirga system will provide justice to people.
Introduction of local government (LG) system, education and jobs opportunities for youth and upgradation of Levis Force are part of the 24-point Fata reforms. However, LG polls will be held after 2018 general elections.
The decisions were taken at a meeting of the federal cabinet presided over by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the PM House.
The reform package will soon be sent to President Mamnoon Hussain for final approval and then a constitutional process will be initiated to implement it.
Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz, head of the reform committee, said at a press conference after the cabinet meeting that merger of Fata with KP would be completed in five years. “We had four options for mainstreaming of Fata — to keep the status quo, to form a council on the pattern of Gilgit-Baltistan, to form a separate province or to merge it with KP — and we opted for the last one,” he added.
Elaborating why the government wanted merger of Fata with KP in five years, he said the five-year transition period would be utilised to prepare Fata for restoration of a durable peace.
The transition period will see rehabilitation of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and reconstruction of infrastructure, houses and shops, launching of a major programme for socio-economic development, establishment of elected local bodies, introduction of judicial reforms to extend the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and the high court, capacity building of law enforcement agencies, particularly Levies Force, to enable them to perform policing functions, carrying out land settlement and preparing GIS-based computerised land record and capacity building of the Frontier Constabulary for efficient border management.
He said the reforms committee had visited all Fata agencies and met over 3,500 tribal elders during a consultative process to prepare the reform package in the light of their demands and suggestions.
Replying to a question about an increase in the number of KP Assembly seats in view of merger of the tribal areas, he said the seats the provincial assembly would be increased in the light of the coming national population census.
Asked whether the KP government had been taken on board over the merger plan, the adviser said the provincial government fully supported Fata reforms package. “Without the cooperation of the KP government the plan cannot work. The entire administrative control of Fata will be handed over to the provincial government and the federal government will deal only with security and financial resources for Fata,” he said.
Highlighting the reforms package approved by the cabinet, Mr Aziz said over a century-old Frontier Crimes Regulations would be replaced by a new law to be introduced through a constitutional amendment.
He said repatriation of IDPs would be completed by April 30, a special committee comprising public representatives of Fata would be formed to implement the 10-year development plan, three per cent of gross federal divisible pool (approximately Rs100bn) would be given to Fata every year in addition to Rs21 billion allocated for IDPs.
According to the adviser, transit and Rahdari system will be abolished, Auditor General of Pakistan will ensure transparent utilisation of development funds, salaries of government employees in Fata will be 20 per cent higher than those of KP and connectivity of Fata with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor will be ensured. A social welfare package will be announced under the Benazir Income Support Programme, State Bank of Pakistan will ensure opening of commercial banks’ branches in the tribal areas and quota system will be introduced to provide job opportunities to Fata youth in KP and other provinces.
Earlier, chairing the cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Sharif said it was a collective responsibility of the federal government and the provinces to come forward for development and mainstreaming of Fata, Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and Gilgit Baltistan (GB).
“Pakistan belongs to every Pakistani and all areas of the country should have equal rights and access to national resources,” he said.
He said the cabinet had accorded in-principle approval of the recommendations of the Fata Reforms Committee. “Today is a landmark date in the history of this country. Since the dawn of our nation, select people have been treated differently due to their place of birth.”
Mr Sharif said Fata people had been deprived of their fundamental rights for too long and were facing economic deprivation, pains of terrorism and anguish of isolation.
He said the roadmap for Fata’s merger with KP would provide the people constitutional protections, establishment of local governments, an extension of the criminal justice system, modern policing and a share in the fruits of development.
“The people of Fata will no longer be at the whims of an unjust and unaccountable system. Today, they are on the true path of freedom and now they can share in the dream of prosperity and be a part of a country on the road to becoming stable, secure and safe for people of all stripes,” the prime minister said.
He said Pakistanis living in far-flung areas of AJK, GB and Fata must be enabled to get access to services and facilities available to the residents of Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar and Quetta.
“It is our responsibility to focus more on under-developed areas and provide opportunities to their residents to progress in different fields of life,” he said.
Speaking at the press conference, Federal Law Minister Zahid Hamid, also a member of the reforms committee, said the judicial set-up in Fata would be a blend of existing judicial system of the country and centuries old jirga system of Fata.
He elaborated that civil judges would form a council of jirga on any complaint and the issue would be decide by the council/jirga. Then the decision will be sent to the civil judge for final decision. “Jirga system will continue to exist on the demand of elders of tribal areas,” he said.
“In case the complainant disagrees to the decision, he will have the right to appeal in the high court and the Supreme Court,” he added.
KP Governor Zafar Iqbal Jhagra, another member of the committee, said the government had taken a landmark decision. “A new history is being written in the country after 70 years,” he added.
Minister for States and Frontier Regions Abdul Qadir Baloch said the 10-year development package would continue even after merger of Fata with KP in five years. “The federal government will protect the development package till the next 10 years,” he added.
Published in Dawn, March 3rd, 2017