STATES and Frontier Regions Minister retired Lt Gen Abdul Qadir Baloch avoids using the term ‘merger’ and, instead, employs the vague term ‘mainstreaming’ for the tribal areas.
STATES and Frontier Regions Minister retired Lt Gen Abdul Qadir Baloch avoids using the term ‘merger’ and, instead, employs the vague term ‘mainstreaming’ for the tribal areas.

ISLAMABAD: The government on Tuesday failed to evolve a consensus on the controversial Rewaj Bill 2017 after lawmakers on both sides of the aisle opposed the move, terming it a ploy to delay reforms in the tribal areas.

In the specially-convened meeting of the National Assembly Standing Committee on States and Frontier Regions (Safron), lawmakers questioned the logic behind tabling the Rewaj Act when a special committee, formed by the prime minister, had already recommended merging Fata with the province of Khyber Pakhtun­khwa (KP) and nearly all parties had agreed to it.

Minister for Safron Abdul Qadir Baloch found himself in hot water when members badgered him for a categorical statement on whether the government wanted to merge Fata with KP or not.

He avoided using the term “merger” and, instead, kept employing the vague term “mai­nstreaming” for the tribal areas.

Fata lawmakers slam govt’s ‘delaying tactics’

He said the government was committed to “mainstreaming” Fata and the introduction of the Rewaj act was a first step in this direction. He told members that the law would replace the draconian Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), which had been imposed on the people of Fata since the British Raj and had been opposed by every political party.

The meeting was chaired by Mohammad Jamaluddin, whose Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) has opposed Fata’s merger with KP, and was convened on an urgent basis to discuss the Rewaj Act, which was introduced in the National Assembly on Monday amidst heated arguments from supporters and opponents.

The NA session, which was called specifically to take up the draft laws aimed at mainstreaming the tribal areas, witnessed unsavoury exchanges between JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Fata lawmakers.

The government had also introduced a constitutional amendment bill, seeking to include 23 seats for Fata in the KP Assembly.

Moving the bill, the Safron minister had stated that the bill was aimed at “providing for a system of administration of justice, maintenance of peace and good governance in the Fata and protected or administered areas”.

NA Speaker Ayaz Sadiq had referred the bill to the Safron committee with the directive to submit its report on Thursday (tomorrow).

Besides legislators from the tribal areas, Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) Shazia Marri also gave the minister a tough time. She said the minister was contradicting himself, saying on one hand that the government wanted to bring Fata into the mainstream and, on other hand, complaining that a special law was being imposed on the people of Fata.

Fata MNAs, including Shah­jee Gul Afridi and Shahabuddin Khan of the ruling PML-N, also opposed the proposed law, saying that when the tribal areas became a part of KP, provincial laws would become applicable on its residents as well.

Shahabuddin said that people of Fata didn’t need the Rewaj Act. Despite belonging to the ruling party, the MNA alleged that the government was delaying the implementation of the long-awaited reforms.

The committee chairman then adjourned proceedings without announcing any date and time for the next meeting.

Talking to Dawn after the meeting, Ms Marri accused the government of only paying lip service to the people of the tribal areas.

She was of the view that to make Fata a part of KP, the government needed to amend Article 1 of the Constitution, which defined the geographical territories of the provinces, and Article 247, which empowered the country’s president to make decisions about Fata.

In the presence of Article 247, she said Fata could not become a part of KP, adding that whenever Fata was merged with KP, the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and high court would be extended to that area and the Rewaj Act could then be challenged in court.

Published in Dawn, May 17th, 2017