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PTI govt, opposition in rare unison over Fata bill

Updated May 11, 2019

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Consensus developed for passage of 26th constitution amendment bill on May 13.
Consensus developed for passage of 26th constitution amendment bill on May 13.

ISLAMABAD: The government and the opposition on Friday reached a consensus for the passage of 26th Constitutional Amendment Bill seeking an increase in the number of seats for the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) in the National Assembly and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly.

Members on treasury and opposition benches agreed to pass the bill with a two-thirds majority in the NA session which will also be attended by Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Despite exchange of some harsh words, treasury and opposition members supported the bill during a debate asking each other to show unity to resolve this and other important issues.

Consensus developed for passage of 26th constitution amendment bill on 13th

Introduced by lawmaker Mohsin Dawar from erstwhile Fata on Thursday, the bill was not passed the same day when the opposition refused to vote without having a thorough debate on it.

On Friday, Defence Minister Pervez Khattak’s remarks sparked a controversy when he called NA Speaker Asad Qaisar “our speaker” and said “when you [the opposition] will create a hue and cry on the speaker’s dais, members of treasury benches could come to the rescue of the speaker and that may cause a physical clash”. However, the speaker later expunged the words “our speaker” on the concerns shown by Pakistan Peoples Party leader and ex-prime minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf and said: “I am speaker of the house and do not belong to only those on treasury benches.”

Extending olive branch to the opposition, Mr Khattak in his initial part of speech said the opposition gave a “good” response to the constitutional amendment bill. “Let us sit together to work jointly for better future of people of Pakistan,” he said.

The minister said the government wanted to end a sense of deprivation prevailing among the people of erstwhile Fata by providing them basic facilities of health, education, banks and courts.

He said some Rs100 billion would be spent on erstwhile Fata each year for 10 years. “Of Rs100 billion, a sum of Rs30 billion will be given to the elected representatives under local government system so that they could spend funds at village level,” he added.

The defence minister said people of the erstwhile Fata who had protected the country’s borders in the past would be able to take part in Pakistan’s growth as well after Fata’s merger.

Mr Khattak said Fata had 12 seats in the National Assembly and 16 in the provincial assembly of KP before the merger. “The NA seats for Fata members will remain same (12) and in provincial they will be increased from 16 to 24 under the bill,” he added.

He expressed the hope that treasury and opposition members would pass the bill with a two-thirds majority on Monday, giving a clear message to the people of tribal districts that nobody would be allowed to deprive them of their due rights.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) also recently issued a schedule for polling in Fata on KP Assembly seats on July 2. By the end of May, the ECP will issue election symbols to candidates.

Earlier, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Khawaja Asif in an emotional speech suggested to the house to resolve some other important issues as well besides Fata reforms through consensus.

About the problems being faced by people of the tribal areas, he said the people of Fata had suffered the impact of being on the frontlines of the 18-year-long Afghan war against terrorism. “After 2000, the Afghan war was not Pakistan’s war and even after 18 years of war in Afghanistan, the US has not been able to win it,” he added.

Mr Asif indirectly criticised former president Gen Pervez Musharraf’s policies and said: “An individual sold country’s freedom for the sake of his own rule.”

The former defence minister said the people of Fata were fighting terrorism on the one hand and were hit by drone strikes on the other. Even their weddings and funerals were hit, he said.

He said the people of erstwhile Fata be granted special privileges till the completion of work on the 10-year development plan in their areas. He said the country owed a lot to the people of Fata and they must be provided the same rights and facilities which were enjoyed by the people in other parts of the country.

Criticising the US drone attacks in tribal areas in the past, Mr Asif said: “This house will have to make sure that we are not the tools of some super power.”

Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri said the bill had been finalised after consultation with all political parties in parliament.

He said the number of seats of Fata members in KP assembly would be increased from 16 to 24 according to the bill. He thanked the leadership of the Pakistan Peoples Party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and other opposition parties for supporting the bill. “We are all on the same page,” he claimed.

Minister for States and Frontier Regions (Safron) Shehryar Afridi said the maturity exhibited by the opposition and treasury benchers on the bill would be remembered for a long time. He expressed the hope that no federating unit would oppose any facility being extended to the people of erstwhile Fata.

Ghaus Bakhsh Meher demanded that the number of seats of public representatives promised under the bill in National Assembly and provincial assembly of the KP should be increased after census in the tribal areas.

MNAs of the tribal districts hailed the opposition and treasury lawmakers for their support and expressed confidence that the problems and hardships being faced by the people of tribal districts would be addressed on a priority basis.

Legislator Ali Wazir said security operations conducted in Fata and from Afghanistan had adversely hit the people of erstwhile Fata. “People of Fata have been suffering from wars since colonial rule till today,” he added.

Another lawmaker Sajid Mohmand expressed the hope that like the opposition-government agreement on the passage of the bill, the opposition would not oppose provision of funds to erstwhile Fata under National Finance Commission (NFC) award.

MNA Jamal Din said tribal areas required development and infrastructure facility from zero, as there were no houses, schools, hospitals and roads in the war-torn region. Census could not take place in Fata as many area people fled to safe places due to the war.

The House was adjourned to meet again on Monday.

Published in Dawn, May 11th, 2019