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ISLAMABAD: The anticipation surrounding the much-awaited merger of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa lost lustre on Thursday as the second consultative meeting of parliamentary political parties, chaired by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, on reforms in the tribal areas ended on an inconclusive note.

The representatives of various parties refused to budge from their previous positions, compelling the prime minister to end the meeting with an announcement that he would now discuss the matter with the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leadership at its central executive committee (CEC) meeting.

With only 20 days remaining before the expiry of the government’s five-year term, PM Abbasi’s government may not be able to fulfil its promise of merging Fata with KP because the plan is being opposed by two of the government’s allies — Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party. The PML-N may not be able to afford to lose their support, with the general elections around the corner.

Second consultative meeting of parliamentary parties remains inconclusive

Earlier in the day, while participating in the budget debate, PkMAP president Mehmood Khan Achakzai referred to a previous meeting on Fata reforms and said that only two out of 12 Fata MNAs had supported the merger. “Why, then, is there so much pressure for it?” he asked.

A brief press release issued by the Prime Minister’s Office also indicated that there was no headway made in the meeting despite the fact that the prime minister had announced last week on the floor of the National Assembly that the government wanted the merger of Fata with KP before the end of its term on May 31.

The press release said: “A meeting of parliamentary leaders and representatives of various political parties was held today at the prime minister’s chamber in National Assembly with Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in chair. Matters relating to implementation of Fata reforms were discussed during the meeting.”

Talking to Dawn, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah said they had made no progress in the consultative process, and added that the prime minister’s announcement that the merger would be made this month was mere “eyewash” because the government could not annoy the JUI-F and PkMAP. “Both JUI-F and PkMAP are hardcore allies of the PML-N and the government will never go against their will,” he added.

“I also told the prime minister in the meeting that the government could summon sessions of the National Assembly and Senate to deceive people into believing that the government was actually serious about the merger, but the ruling party will ask its members not to attend the sessions so that the merger plan could not be passed by parliament,” he maintained.

He said that the prime minister had assured the meeting that the government was determined to make Fata a part of KP and the issue would be presented before the recently formed CEC. “The prime minister was of the view that he will present the point of view of opposition parties and the government allies (PkMAP and JUI-F) before the CEC to reach a logical conclusion on the matter,” he said.

A source in the PML-N said that all parliamentary parties had refused to budge from their previous stances as the JUI-F and PkMAP had opposed the merger and termed it “against the will of people of Fata”.

When contacted, Prime Minister’s Adviser on Law Barrister Zafarullah was hopeful that the government would manage to merge Fata with KP before the expiry of its term.

He said he was heading a high-level committee formed to enact a new law for Fata which would be enforced after the abolition of Frontier Crime Regulation (FCR) for an interim period. “The committee met today to give final touches to the new law,” he added.

Published in Dawn, May 11th, 2018