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LANDI KOTAL: Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa has said he is in favour of the merger of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but any change in the status of the region would be made with the consent of all stakeholders, according to tribal elders.

“I myself favour Fata’s merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa after a recent meeting with the youth from the region who unanimously supported the merger plan,” more than two elders quoted Gen Bajwa as having said while addressing a select group of elders in Landi Kotal, Khyber Agency, on Friday.

He said no decision would be imposed from outside and only genuine wishes and desires of tribal people would be honoured, adding that a consensus would be developed on the future status of Fata along with desired changes in the existing administrative system with the army arranging a meeting of pro- and anti-merger elements from the tribal areas in near future.

Says army will arrange meeting of pro- and anti-merger elements from tribal areas

The army chief told the elders that some elements were receiving financial assistance from foreign countries to destabilise Pakistan and also sabotage the plan for Fata reforms. He said the army had in the recent past achieved great successes against militants and would not spare those who were planning and coordinating terror attacks from a foreign soil.

“The people of Fata along with the army have rendered great sacrifices in the war against terror and it was only with these sacrifices that peace has been restored and militancy has been controlled to a great extent,” he said.

Gen Bajwa told the elders that he was aware of the requirements of the tribal people for rebuilding their region after sustaining huge loses and said the army would ensure judicious utilisation of all development funds for Fata. “It is time that we focus on the development and rebuilding of Fata as the region has suffered a lot during the last 15 years of militancy and terrorism.”

About the fencing of border with Afghanistan, the army chief said the plan was producing desired results and it would be completed at all cost. However, he said he would try to mitigate the sufferings of local people who had been adversely affected by the implementation of the border management policy at the Torkham border.

Gen Bajwa was received by the Peshawar Corps Commander, Frontier Corps inspector general and officials of the political administration upon his arrival in Landi Kotal. Strict security arrangements were made in the entire region during his visit with the army and FC personnel taking control of all routes.

A select group of about 40 tribal elders was invited to the meeting with the army chief. The local media and politicians were kept away from the meeting.

The army chief told the tribal elders that intelligence agencies had succeeded in closing in on the murderers of Naqeebullah Mehsud and the army would soon arrest the real culprits. The ISPR said in a statement that Gen Bajwa visited Corps Headquarters in Peshawar and Khyber Agency. It said a detailed briefing on the security situation in Fata/KP was given at the corps headquarters, Peshawar bureau adds.

Progress on the Raddul Fasaad military operation, return of displaced people and development works was also reviewed. The army chief saw progress on fencing along the Pak-Afghan border in Khyber Agency and interacted with troops and tribal elders. Gen Bajwa lauded their sacrifices for peace and their full support for efforts of security forces. He assured them that ongoing consolidation efforts shall take the current gains towards enduring peace and stability.

Published in Dawn, March 17th, 2018