ISLAMABAD: The Fata merger bill sailed through the Senate on Friday amid strong opposition from the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) and a seemingly blunt admission by a veteran Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) lawmaker that parliament was not acting on its own. The bill moved by Law Minister Mahmood Bashir Virk after suspension of rules was passed with a majority of 71 against five votes.

PkMAP parliamentary leader Usman Kakar termed it a black day for the 15 million people of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and said the government and the opposition had joined hands to bring an ‘unconstitutional amendment’ in violation of the spirit of Article 247 of the Constitution.

He alleged that those who managed to get the bill passed from the outgoing assembly had a purpose behind the haste, and warned that there would be no elections if the bill was allowed to turn into an act of parliament. “Don’t vote for the bill. It’s a recipe for disaster,” he warned the lawmakers, adding that it was being done at the establishment’s insistence.

The PkMAP senator claimed that the National Security Committee (NSC) had issued a directive for parliament to expedite the passage of the Fata merger bill.

He said the minister for states and frontier regions was on record to have admitted that during his visits to different tribal agencies he found that the people of Fata were not ready for merger.

Raza Rabbani slams teaming up of former spy chiefs of Pakistan and India to write a book

Former Senate chairman Mian Raza Rabbani said the establishment had a history of having a direct or indirect role in Fata. He disclosed that then president Asif Ali Zardari was to announce the Fata reforms on Aug 14, 2009, but was stopped by “invisible forces”.

He said the issue of Fata merger came under discussion at the corps commanders’ conference on April 11, and just after two days, on April 13, the Senate committee of the whole met, prepared a report and cleared the proposed bill. Parliament was not acting on its own, he regretted.

Mr Rabbani also referred to an NSC meeting held on May 23 to give a go-ahead to the Fata merger and wondered as to what necessitated a prodding from the outside. He said parliament merely “acted as a puppet”.

Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haidri of the JUI-F regretted that logic and ground facts had not been taken into account and the opinion of the people of Fata was not sought before taking a major step towards changing its status. He said Fata was being forcibly merged with KP and asked what was the harm in carving out a separate province for the tribal people.

Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement said the bill was in violation of Article 274 (6) of the Constitution that would now stand abolished, but added that it was his party’s decision to support the bill. He rejected a perception that Fata would turn into a “paradise” by this legislation.

Raza Rabbani also raised the issue of teaming up of former chiefs of intelligence agencies of Pakistan and India to write a book and asked if former ISI chief retired Lt Gen Asad Durrani had sought permission from the government or the military before co-authoring the book — Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace — with his Indian counterpart [former RAW chief A.S. Dulat].

The PPP senator said that it was shocking that on the one hand relations between Pakistan and India were at an all-time low and, on the other, former spy chiefs of both countries were teaming up to write a book, adding that had a civilian or a politician co-authored a book with his Indian counterpart, he would have been labelled a traitor.

Law Minister Mahmood Basheer Virk, when asked to respond, expressed his ignorance and said the defence minister would be in a better position to brief the house on whether or not Gen Durrani had sought permission from the government.

Published in Dawn, May 26th, 2018