ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa met Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman at Parliament House on Tuesday to discuss the proposed merger of the tribal areas with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The meeting took place in the prime minister’s chambers, but there was no official word on it from the Prime Minister’s Office. However, speaking to repor­ters afterwards, Maulana Fazl shared some details and said more meetings were expected to take place over the issue.

The army chief’s participation in the meeting is being viewed as a significant development, since most of Fata is being looked after by the army, especially the areas where military operations are in progress.

Talking to reporters, Maulana Fazl — whose JUI-F is one of only two parties in parliament opposing the merger of Fata and KP — said he presented his party’s stance on the Fata reforms.

He and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai are the only two stakeholders who continue to stonewall efforts to pass fresh legislation to change the status of the tribal areas.

He said further consultations with the government would continue over the reforms bill. “However, there will be no further meeting with the military leadership on the issue,” he added.

Informing the media about his Monday night meeting with the prime minister, Safron Minister Abdul Qadir Baloch and National Security Advisor retired Lt Gen Nasser Janjua, the JUI-F leader said: “We had a detailed discussion on the matter and decided to continue our discussions,” he said.

The JUI-F chief said he met the COAS Gen Bajwa in the prime minister’s chambers after he was informed that the latter wished to meet him.

“We presented our stance to them; that they have to obtain the approval of the JUI-F supreme council on Fata,” he said, adding that PM Abbasi acceded to his request and had expressed his willingness to meet the supreme council and try to get them to agree on the matter.

“It is now up to the prime minister when he meets the JUI-F’s supreme council of Fata jirgas,” he said.

Answering a question, he said the JUI-F was not opposed to Fata reforms, but said there were some constitutional constraints in the way of the merger, which should be resolved first. “How can the jurisdiction of the provincial high court be extended to federal areas?” he asked.

Meanwhile, the opposition continued to boycott proceedings of the National Assembly over the inordinate delay in tabling the Fata reforms legislation.

One by one, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah, Jamaat-i-Islami’s Sahibzada Tariqullah, Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s Sheikh Salahuddin and Awami National Party’s Ghulam Bilour all protested the way the government had made a mockery of parliament by first including the bill on the agenda, and then removing it at the eleventh hour.

Mr Tariqullah warned that if parliament could not solve the tribesmen’s issues, they would take to the streets and resort to holding sit-ins to press for their rights.

After his speech, Speaker Ayaz Sadiq observed that the draft bill might be tabled before the house on Wednesday (today), adding that the house might soon get “the good news”.

Published in Dawn, December 20th, 2017