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NA unites for Fata

Updated May 15, 2019

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IT has been a long time coming, but the National Assembly finally put pen to paper on Monday and unanimously passed the 26th Constitutional Amendment Bill, 2019, that would allow the people of erstwhile Fata the representation they deserve in the assemblies. Passed by all members present in the house, the bill has increased tribal districts seats in the KP Assembly to 24 from the recommended 16, in addition to 12 National Assembly seats.

The development is a step in the right direction, and a continuation of the move towards a unified system of governance and justice as well as the allocation of equitable resources to a part of the country which has been ‘otherised’ and treated unfairly for decades.

With likely approval from the Senate and with an election on the cards, prospective voters in the tribal districts would, for the first time, elect a number of representatives to the provincial assembly proportionate to the region’s population grouping.

That lawmakers on both sides of the aisle set aside their differences and voted in the affirmative to pass the bill was a rare feat — given the rambunctious nature of regular Assembly proceedings and the bitter rivalry between the government and the opposition. In fact, it was a truly welcome show of solidarity on an occasion which demanded that grudges be set aside in order to reflect on the right of the people of the tribal districts to have a louder voice in parliament.

The bill was the first-ever private member’s amendment bill passed by the lower house, as previous amendments had been made through the treasury benches’ bills. It is also the first constitutional amendment passed since the PTI came into power nine months ago. Moved by independent lawmaker Mohsin Dawar, supported by the opposition, and approved by the treasury benches without criticism, the bill and its passage prove that if the government and opposition benches want, they can work together. Without a single vote cast against the amendment, its passage is an outstanding victory for the National Assembly.

In this spirit, the Assembly can turn its focus to other issues which have been pending due to political differences — such as the creation of the South Punjab province. Currently, three bills on the subject are lying before committees to be debated and concluded. The arguments for the need for a new province are numerous, and include the point that it would allow for the independent and equitable distribution of funds from the centre. Reservations between the government and opposition on this issue must be resolved with the same pragmatism that lawmakers have displayed this week. Surely, it is possible for better sense to prevail especially when this demand, too, is based on the right of the people — in this case the people of south Punjab — to have fair political representation.

Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2019