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ISLAMABAD: Successive governments ignored Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and even in the recent moves only the names of political agents and agencies were changed to deputy commissioners and districts, respectively.

However, time has come to allocate three per cent (Rs100bn) of the National Finance Commission (NFC) award to Fata for the next 10 years and it should also be made clear who would spend the amount.

This was stated by speakers at a roundtable on ‘Integration of Fata into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP): the challenges ahead’ organised by Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) on Thursday.

Former PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar said the KP assembly should have full powers to amend the laws regarding administration of Fata.

“Merger is a process. A complete merger implies extending all laws, judicial offices, jurisdiction of the high court, local governments, levies and police to the area. Under clause 52 (2) of the KP-Fata merger bill, the provincial assembly will not be able to make any changes in Fata for the next two decades until the powers that be concluded that merger had been completed,” he said.

Instead, the clause should read: “It shall continue to remain in force until altered, repealed or amended by an Act of the provincial assembly of KP.”

He said the hurried and thoughtless manner in which the 25th Amendment was pushed through in the wake of a protest movement launched by Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) also raised questions.

Mr Babar said on May 18, the National Security Committee, not the cabinet, first decided to merge Fata with the province. On May 22, the cabinet at a meeting endorsed it and also said a constitutional amendment bill was being prepared.

“The next morning, on May 23, a summary was moved to Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan stating a constitutional amendment has been finalised. On May 24, the amendment bill was tabled in the National Assembly and also passed. Less than a week later, the term of the National Assembly expired. On May 25, the Senate also passed the bill,” he said.

“As it involved change in the boundaries of KP, it was mandatory that the provincial assembly also passed the bill. So on May 27, the KP assembly also passed it. Finally, the president assented to it on May 31 as his last act before he was divested of powers to issue regulations for Fata. This indecent haste raises some questions which become obvious by seeing what is happening now to the merger process,” he said.

Mr Babar also called for a full disclosure about the inmates of internment centres and the status of cases against them.

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Senator Nauman Wazir said due attention was never given to Fata and parliament did not bother to address its issues.

“There is 90pc unemployment in Fata and the Fata Secretariat remained a major source of corruption. However, people of Fata are excellent businessmen and they introduced alternative dispute resolution system which is being discussed across the globe. I suggest that releasing finances for Fata should be the top priority,” he said.

Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) Senator Attaur Rehman said there was still time to include the people of Fata in the decision making process. Former Awami National Party Senator Afrasiab Khattak said the British used Fata as an additional buffer zone, after Afghanistan, between the subcontinent and the former USSR.

“As it was a strategic area, importance was never given to the people of Fata. However, finally it was decided to merge Fata with KP to counter the PTM. Unfortunately, courts could not be established in Fata as yet may be because the chief justice of Pakistan is busy in other important jobs,” he said.

Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal MNA Munir Khan Orakzai said his party opposed the process of merger because it was being done without involving the people of Fata.

Anchorperson Saleem Safi said there was no system in Fata. He said elections should also have been held in Fata in July 2018.

Journalist Hassan Khan said women suffered a lot in Fata where they had no right to choose their own way of life.

Dr Ashraf Ali from the United Nations Development Programme said there was an increased sense of desperation among the people of Fata which should be addressed.

Published in Dawn, October 12th, 2018