Abbasi assures phased merger of FATA with K-P

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on Wednesday reiterated that the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) would be merged with Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa as per the wishes of the tribal people, but said the process would be pursued phase-wise for the sake of smooth resolution of ‘issues and problems’ related to the merger process.

The PM was in a meeting with PML-N lawmakers and party office-bearers from tribal agencies and Frontier Regions at the PM Office on Wednesday.

“For the first time ever in the history of Pakistan, the government has not only made a sincere effort to solve the problems of the people of Fata, but has also started practical work. Fata reforms have started and they would be completed in accordance with the aspirations of the Fata public,” said a statement from the PM Office after the meeting.

Recently, the PML-N managed to get a related bill passed by the National Assembly to allow the extension of the superior judiciary’s jurisdiction to Fata. The bill now requires the Senate’s nod and then the subsequent, yet ceremonial, assent from the president of Pakistan in order for it to become law.

The passage of the bill by the lower house has been dubbed as a landmark development by the government circles but it has apparently received little attention in the national media at a time when unfolding political developments are making headlines on a daily basis.

Political sources said that the prime minister was not happy with the fact that the recent legislation on Fata by the National Assembly went largely unnoticed in public and political circles, given that the federal government previously remained under fire from political parties, the opposition forces in particular, for its failure to move the related bill in the National Assembly earlier.

A few days back, opposition parties boycotted the assembly sessions in protest over the government’s backtracking from tabling the Fata reforms bill due to alleged pressure from its allies – Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl and Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party.

The ruling lot held a series of consultative sessions and Abbasi chaired multiple meetings with the top security brass, government functionaries and other politicians in a bid to forge a consensus on the Fata reforms legislation.

However, JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman and PkMAP chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai refused to budge from their stance before the government decided to go ahead with the bill, citing overwhelming public sentiment in favour of the reforms.

The federal cabinet then approved setting up of the National Implementation Committee on Fata reforms to oversee the reforms implementation – including the related legislation. The panel comprises top civilian and military officials with prime minister as its head.

Sources said the federal government would soon formalise a plan to mobilise public support in Fata in favour of the PML-N in a bid to take credit for ending the draconian Frontier Crimes Regulation ahead of the general elections.

PM Abbasi is expected to visit parts of Fata soon where he is likely to hold public gatherings and meet political elders, officials said.

Reportedly, Abbasi and his government eye at countering the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s vote bank in Fata and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa in the general elections mainly on the issue of the Fata reforms as Imran Khan’s party is a strong advocate of merging Fata with K-P.

“At a time when challenges are multifaceted – the Balochistan Assembly debacle, rising political opposition in Punjab, etc – Fata’s political front can serve as a much-needed breakthrough for us,” commented a PML-N senator, requesting anonymity.

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