Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani on Tuesday termed United States (US) President Donald Trump's refusal to meet Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in New York over the pretext of being busy as "degrading" to Pakistan.

PM Abbasi is likely to meet US Vice President Mike Pence on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session in New York, where the premier will represent Pakistan.

Rabbani, while chairing a Senate session, insisted that PM Abbasi should not meet Pence. "If Donald Trump does not have time to meet our prime minister, then there is no point holding a meeting with the vice president," he asserted, adding that the US approach towards Pakistan is "degrading".

Ties between Islamabad and Washington have been terse since Trump announced a new policy for Afghanistan and South Asia in his first speech as commander-in-chief, in which he accused Pakistan of "harbouring agents of chaos" and "providing safe havens to terrorists",

"Pakistan is playing a leading role in countering terrorism in the region," Rabbani said. "All supplies for US troops in Afghanistan go through Pakistan's air and land routes."

'Govt should draft policy response to Switzerland incident'

Taking notice of the appearance of "free Balochistan" posters in Geneva, the chairman Senate demanded that the government draft a policy response to the incident.

Pakistan’s Permanent Mission to the UN in Geneva “has counted eight posters and one digital poster on display since this Monday [September 3],” according to a letter written by an official to Swiss authorities.

Ambassador Farukh Amil, the permanent representative of Pakistan to the United Nations (UN) said, “It is quite conceivable that local city authorities received certain revenue fee for display of these posters,” stressing that “any notion of 'Free Baluchistan' is a flagrant attack on [the] sovereignty and territorial integrity of Pakistan.”

According to the letter, the BH — the apparent sponsor of these posters — is an affiliate of the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), which is a “listed terrorist organisation under the laws of Pakistan and other countries, including the United Kingdom.”

“The fact that terrorists or elements linked with terrorists operate openly for their propaganda campaigns in the peaceful and serene city of Geneva, capital of the United Nations, is a matter of grave concern,” the letter said.

“The use of Swiss soil by terrorists and violent secessionists for nefarious designs against Pakistan and its 200 million people is totally unacceptable,” the ambassador had said, demanding that “the incident is fully investigated with a view to blocking its recurrence in the future.”

Yesterday, Pakistan had summoned the Swiss envoy and lodged a protest against the incident.

Rabbani today asked the interior minister to coordinate with the Foreign Office in order to record its statement on floor of the house regarding the "anti-Pakistan posters" displayed in Switzerland.

He directed that the government should respond to the display of the posters.

'PM Abbasi aware of country's challenges'

Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal dismissed the concerns expressed by the PPP leader Senator Aitzaz Ahsan who termed it 'alarming' that the sitting premier appeared unaware of "serious threats" to the country mentioned by Chaudhry Nisar during a TV interview.

Nisar had claimed that only four people were aware of the threat ─ himself, two military officers, and ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

Iqbal said none of the challenges being faced by the country are hidden from any of the stakeholders, including the Senate and the National Security Committee (NSC). He added that PM Abbasi is the elected leader of the country and is aware of challenges it is facing.

Iqbal assured the Senate that the country is well-equipped to deal with the challenges it is facing. He said that the NSC reviews the country's security status on a regular basis.

'Fata merger with KP in less than five years'

The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) is to be merged with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province in less than five years, Minister for States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) Abdul Qadir Baloch said during a briefing to the Senate Whole Committee over Fata reforms on Tuesday.

Baloch, in today's session, said that there would be a step-by-step imposition of state laws in the tribal region.

He opposed the proposition that the jurisdiction of the Peshawar High Court be extended to Fata, saying that the decision would be seen as the beginning of the merger process.

"Fata's population has opposed the merger with KP," he told the Senate. "They say that the decision will be taken once they [the displaced persons] are resettled in their homes."

The SAFRON minister said that in order to bring Fata into mainstream, it is vital to establish and maintain peace in the area, and therefore, he said, army troops will remain in the region for the time being.

"The army has complete administrative control over Fata and even the political agent cannot operate without the armed forces," he said.

Baloch assured the Senate that troops will be recalled from the region, but it would be a gradual process.

Commenting on the presence of the armed forces in the region, Rabbani said that while no one has any doubts about the army's efforts to eliminate terrorism, when it comes to governance and implementation of Constitution, the role of the forces is to guard the borders. He also pointed out that the military has interfered with civilian governments in the past.

Baloch further said that the appointment of a chief operating officer (COO) of grade 20 who will be answerable to the governor of KP has been approved.

PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar, however, treated the announcement of a COO appointment with scepticism.

"A civilian COO will be appointed for sometime but will be replaced by a military officer later," he said. "Fata should not be militarised further," he insisted and added that the post of COO be removed, despite Baloch's assurances that no military officer was under consideration for the post.

Babar feared that due to military control in the tribal region, development projects worth billions of rupees may be awarded to Frontier Works Organisation and the National Logistics Cell instead of civilian companies. Baloch however, said that this would not be the case.

The suggestion to include Fata MPs in the KP Assembly in 2018 was retracted as the government said that tribal ministers will be included in the KP Assembly once the region is merged with the province.

Rewaj Bill withdrawn over opposition's concerns

Baloch also told the Senate that the government had decided to retract the controversial Rewaj Bill 2017 for Fata, citing reservations of opposition parties.

The Rewaj Bill was introduced in May and aimed to repeal the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) law that was imposed in Fata during the British colonial era.

Though the government has not released details of the controversial bill, despite repeated demands from Fata and KP ministers, the Federal Minister for Law and Justice Zahid Hamid had said in a separate statement that the Rewaj Bill 2017 was finalised in line with the wishes of the people of Fata, to accord complete protection to their customs and introduce the country’s legal code.

However, the bill has been opposed by the representatives of the tribal area in the assembly as well as the opposition time and again.

The Senate Whole Committee will prepare further recommendations regarding Fata reforms which will then be debated upon in the Parliament.