The National Assembly (NA) on Friday passed a bill extending the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court (SC) and the Peshawar High Court (PHC) to Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), one of a handful of reforms paving the way for a merger of the tribal areas with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The Supreme Court and High Court (Extension of Jurisdiction to Fata) Bill 2017 was presented in the house by the newly appointed Law and Justice Minister Mahmood Basheer Virk.

The bill was passed comfortably as it faced opposition only by Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) lawmakers. JUI-F MNA Naeema Kishwar presented amendments to the bill which were rejected by the house.

MNAs from Fata embraced and congratulated each other after the bill was passed.

Speaker Ayaz Sadiq and Minister for States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) Abdul Qadir Baloch congratulated the house on the development, with the Safron minister stating that a long-standing demand of the people of Fata had been met and various issues causing a delay in the Fata-KP merger would soon be resolved.

Leader of the Opposition Khursheed Shah said that the house had first successfully brought about the election reforms and now had extended the courts' jurisdiction to Fata.

"The people of Fata have made important sacrifices and should now be rewarded with a merger," he said, demanding that the Fata merger bill to be brought to the house in the next session.

Shahji Gul Afridi, a lawmaker from Fata thanked the members of opposition and government who voted for the bill. "The bill being passed has truly completed Pakistan today," he said.

Life in Fata is currently regulated by the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), according to which jirgas accord punishments in civil and criminal cases on the basis of their own traditions and beliefs while the state assumes a limited role. With a political agent as the judicial authority, criminal and civil cases are decided by him.

The Fata reforms, which include its merger with KP as well as the extension of court jurisdiction, are a part of one of the points listed in the the National Action Plan (NAP) countering terrorism in the country.

The move to extend jurisdiction was previously rejected by the opposition as it was perceived to be a delaying tactic by the government to avoid the Fata merger in a bid to appease its coalition partners, the JUI-F and Pashtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), who opposed it.

The federal cabinet had approved the extension of the SC and Islamabad High Court (IHC) to Fata in September last year but the NA Standing Committee on Law and Justice later changed it to PHC from IHC as MNAs from Fata said it would be extremely cumbersome for residents of Fata to travel to the federal capital for justice.

A bill to merge Fata with KP still hangs in the balance amid opposition by the JUI-F and PkMAP.

The JUI-F chief has stressed the need for Fata to maintain an "independent identity" and believes that any decision regarding its future must be taken in accordance with the wishes of its residents.

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