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PESHAWAR: The overdue Fata Reforms Bill seeking merger of the tribal region with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will be tabled in the National Assembly on Wednesday, two credible sources told Dawn.

They said that the bill that was earlier expected to be presented in the assembly on Friday had to be put off on the suggestion of the opposition parties, which wanted to present a comprehensive package incorporating amendments to all relevant articles of the Constitution instead of doing it in a piece-meal manner. “This is going to be a whole package of reform amendments,” one of the sources said, declining to share further details.

A meeting chaired by Prime Minister’s Special Assistant on Law Barrister Zafarullah and attended by all key figures from the opposition parties had reached a consensus on speeding up and completing the entire merger process in a year instead of spanning over the original five-year plan, the sources said.

Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has already announced that elections in the KP Assembly constituencies comprising the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) would be held in October 2019.

Fata Reforms Bill to be tabled in National Assembly on Wednesday

“(In the meeting) there has been complete consensus on the merger,” the sources said, adding that elections for representation of the tribal region in KP Assembly would be held next year to give ample time to the Election Commission of Pakistan to carry out delimitation of constituencies in Fata.

The Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) did not attend the meeting and, according to the sources, the government has decided to present the Fata Reforms Bill in the National Assembly with or without the support of its two allies. “I don’t think the JUI-F and PkMAP will succeed in pushing the government against the merger any more,” one source said.

The sources said that the controversial Frontier Crimes Regulation would be abolished in one go though it would be allowed to remain enforced for a one year but without its most disputed sections that had long been deemed the laws violating basic human rights.

One source said that a meeting between Fata parliamentarians and senior government officials from KP and the tribal region had been convened on Monday to devise an interim judicial system for the tribal region.

The National Assembly had passed a bill on January 12 extending the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and the Peshawar High Court to Fata, as a first major step towards mainstreaming the tribal region and its eventual merger with KP.

The bill was passed comfortably as the only opposition to the bill came from JUI-F lawmakers. The JUI-F and the PkMAP, both allies of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, have been opposing Fata’s merger with KP and there is no indication that the two parties have abandoned their opposition to the government plan.

On the other hand, main opposition parties in the National Assembly — including the Pakistan Peoples Party, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, Jamaat-i-Islami, Awami National Party and Qaumi Watan Party — have been supporting the merger plan and calling for an early transition plan to mainstream Fata and merge it with KP.

Published in Dawn, May 20th, 2018