ISLAMABAD: Maulana Fazlur Rehman — who is widely blamed for stalling measures aimed at mainstreaming the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) — told the National Assem­bly on Wednesday that the government could not decide to merge the tribal areas with Khyber Pakhtunkwa without first holding a referendum to ascertain the will of people.

He said his party’s stance had been the same since 2012, when the KP assembly passed a resolution seeking a merger with Fata, which caused some consternation.

He recalled that in the wake of the resolution, a jirga was convened in Pesha­war in July 2012, where it was agreed that there were a few options; the tribal areas could either be merged with KP, given the status of a province, or that existing rules should be amended to get rid of the draconian laws that prevail there.

He insisted that all three options had merit, adding that his party could not take a unilateral decision to back or oppose any of these options, especially at a time when military operations had uprooted a large chunk of the population.

Riaz Pirzada says matter of IB letter ‘settled once and for all’ following PM’s assurance

He claimed that it was decided at the time that this jirga would decide the fate of the tribal areas.

“There is no dispute on the question of a merger,” he declared, saying that whatever decision is taken should be taken in consultation with the tribal people.

He recalled that when the Rewaj Act was passed by the National Assembly, there was still no political agreement over it. He also contended that without extending the jurisdiction of the lower courts to the tribal areas, there was no use of extending the jurisdiction of superior courts to Fata.

He pointed out that exten­ding the Islamabad High Court’s jurisdiction to Fata was logical, since both were federal areas. But extending the Peshawar High Court’s jurisdiction there was tantamount to a merger. He also took exception to the fact that no one from the tribal areas was a part of the Fata Reforms Committee that had developed the reforms package.

He also announced that the youth of Fata would gather in Peshawar tomorrow (Friday), adding that then it would become clear what they wanted.

However, the JUI-F chief’s measured remarks on the issue of the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat declaration for electoral candidates surprised many in the house.

Adopting a far more congenial tone on the matter than most other parliamentarians had, the JUI-F leader said: “The entire assembly has committed a collective sin.”

He recalled the pandemonium in the house on the day that the controversial Elec­tions Act 2017 was first passed, and compared the changes in the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat declaration to the work of a pickpocket who would rob people in the midst of such confusion.

“We have to find out who committed this theft; we must find out who it was. But now, every side is trying to score points and put pressure on the other,” he said, calling for the law ministry to be charged with fixing responsibility for the change.

Pakhtun­khwa Milli Awami Party chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai — who is considered the other major opponent of Fata reforms — tried to explain his point of view. However, he was shouted down by the opposition, particularly Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf members, who objected to the deputy speaker’s decision of ceding the floor to Mr Achakzai, since Abdul Qahar Wahan of the same party had already spoken on the matter.

IB letter

Inter-Provincial Coordi­na­tion Minister Riaz Pirzada, who had publicly taken issue with his government over alleged directions to the Intelligence Bureau to probe 37 parliamentarians for links with banned outfits, on Wednesday announced that the “matter had been settled”.

He said that after the prime minister’s assurance on the floor of the house that the letter was fake and forged, the matter should be laid to rest once and for all.

However, when Deputy Speaker Murtaza Javed Abbasi — who was one of the lawmakers named in the alleged IB letter — asked the minister to explain why a media house involved in the matter should not be taken to task for maligning members of parliament, Mr Pirzada said that it was decided that no further action would be taken against the media house that aired the report.

Published in Dawn, October 12th, 2017