The constitution amendment bill for the merger of Fata with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, formally known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas Reforms Bill, passed in the Senate on Friday by an overwhelming 71-5 vote.
The bill had already been passed by the lower house a day earlier after receiving support from both the treasury and opposition benches. Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan, who rarely attends NA sessions, also participated in the historic vote which was opposed by government allies Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) who chose to walk out.
The only votes against the bill, presented in the Senate today by Law Minister Chaudhry Bashir Virk, came from from PkMAP while JUI-F chose to walk out again.
Soon after the announcement of the results, Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani greeted the nation in general and Fata people in particular over passage of the historic bill.
Read: Integrating Fata
Before the bill was tabled, Leader of the Opposition Sherry Rehman acknowledged the democratic right of those opposing the bill.
She said Fata mainstreaming was the dream of PPP founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who had first formed a committee on the issue in 1970s. Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto had also moved the Supreme Court on the matter, she said.
Rehman also denied the impression that the bill was being passed at someone's behest.
She said that the people of Fata were demanding basic rights and that the responsibility of ensuring that now lies with the KP Assemly whose nod would be required before the bill is signed by the president into a law.
PkMAP Senator Usman Kakar said both yesterday and today were black days because the bill was passed by the lower and upper houses.
He regretted that in the past Fata was used as a base camp for the war in Afghanistan, adding that the people of Fata hated terrorism and the terrorists in the area had arrived from outside.
Before staging the walkout, JUI-F Senator Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri objected that the status of Fata was being changed without seeking consent of the people of Fata.
Haideri said that his party believed that Fata had a separate status and claimed that a decision was being imposed on its people.
Senator Raza Rabbani insisted that the initiative for the bill was not taken by the parliament on its own.
He said that when former president Asif Ali Zardari was about to announce Fata reforms, he was prevented from doing so by "certain forces" who did not want the merger back then.
"But when the intentions of some forces change, the parliament follows suit," Rabbani said.
He said the merger had not been possible despite several attempts by the parliament but it happened after a corps commanders conference and the National Security Council talked about it.
He said that it was unfortunate that the parliament was unable to act on Fata reforms from within and was told from outside to do so.
"Yet it is a positive move that should have happened earlier," he said.
Rabbani also opposed the rising calls for new provinces to be made on administrative grounds.
"We will not allow for administrative units to be created," Rabbani said, clarifying that provinces have their unique ethnicities, cultures, languages and histories. "A province cannot be made until these ingredients are present."
The bill had required 69 votes in the house of 104 to be passed by two-thirds majority.
The Federally Administered Tribal Areas represent the gateway to the plains of the subcontinent through seven passes: Bajaur, Dir, Khyber, Mohmand, Peiwar Kotal in Kurram Agency, the Bolan Pass and Gomal in South Waziristan.
The long-awaited mainstreaming of the tribal areas has been in the works for four years.
Another daunting task for the political leadership is to get the bill passed with a two-thirds vote in the KP Assembly before the expiry of its term on May 28, three days before the National Assembly’s dissolution.
As per Article 239(4) of the Constitution, the president cannot assent a constitutional amendment bill which affects geographical boundaries of a province without approval by the assembly of that province.
Article 239(4) of the Constitution reads, “A bill to amend the Constitution which would have the effect of altering the limits of a province shall not be presented to the president for assent unless it has been passed by the provincial assembly of that province by the votes of not less than two-thirds of its total membership.”
If the bill does not get through the KP Assembly, then the fate of Fata merger will be in the hands of new representatives to be elected in the coming general elections. Even after its passage from the National Assembly and the Senate, the president will have to wait to give his assent till the installation of the new assembly.