National Assembly passes KP-FATA merger bill

ISLAMABAD: A constitutional amendment bill for the merger of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province was on Thursday passed in the National Assembly.

The Constitution (Thirty-First Amendment) Bill 2018 was presented by Law Minister Chaudhary Mahmood Bashir Virk. The were 229 votes in favour of the constitution amendment while only one against it.  A session of the Senate has been summoned on Thursday and the bill would be placed before the Upper House on Friday.

According to the constitution amendment, FATA will be granted sixteen general seats, four seats for women and one seat for non-Muslims in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly. The elections shall be held within one year after the general elections.

The amendment reduces the number of seats in the National Assembly from 342 to 336. The members of the National Assembly from FATA to be elected in 2018 election shall continue till dissolution of the Lower House.

Furthermore, the number of seats of Senate has been reduced to 96 from 104. The existing members of the Senate from FATA shall continue till expiry of their respective terms of office.

Support and opposition to the Bill

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan was present in the National Assembly on the historic occasion, just eight days before it completes its tenure.

Addressing after the bill was passed, he congratulated the parliament on coming together despite differences between the ruling and the opposition parties. He said the the tribal people want immediate justice just like the system in KP, and the demand for a separate province was  unreasonable.

However, he deviated from the topic at hand, saying that his party had staged the 2014 sit-in order to demand an investigation into allegations of rigging.

The Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazal (JUIF) and Pakhtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) as expected opposed the bill and staged a walkout.  However, the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) expressed support despite reservations.

Bill will have far-reaching effects

Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbassi said that the constitutional amendment on FATA is a joint bill of the government and opposition. Taking the floor in National Assembly, he said it is aimed at changing 150-year-old system in the tribal areas.

Addressing after the bill was passed, PM Abbasi said that the House demonstrated national consensus on an important issue and expressed the confidence that other matters faced by the country will be addressed with the same spirit.

He said the passage of the historic amendment bill will have far reaching effects for the whole country. He thanked the opposition benches for extending support in the passage of the constitution amendment.

Before the bill was tabled, PTI leader Shah Mehmoood Qureshi said that it was a historic day and the merger of FATA with KP would be the completion of Pakistan. He said the JUI-F and PkMAP had wasted nearly two years by opposing the merger only for their vested interests.

The bill envisages amendment to Article 1 of the Constitution, which defines the country’s territory and mentions FATA as a separate entity along with other four provinces. It also amends Articles 51 and 106, which specify the number of seats allocated to each of the federating units in the national and provincial assemblies.

The bill would envisages to repeal Articles 246 and 247, which place the tribal areas under the command and control of the president.

Efforts leading to FATA-KP merger bill

Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on Wednesday chaired a meeting of the parliamentary party leaders  to discuss the landmark reforms bill.

The parliamentary party leaders, present in the meeting, approved the constitutional amendment bill. The government’s coalition partners JUI-F and PkMAP boycotted the meeting.

According to the draft of the bill, existing 12 seats of National Assembly and Senate seats will remain unchanged for next five years, while the election commission will hold provincial assembly elections in tribal areas within one year.

The jurisdiction of the provincial laws will be extended to the FATA region forthwith. The tribal region will receive 24 billion rupees funds under the NFC Award, apart of an additional 100 billion rupees’ special fund. The special fund will be enhanced to 1000 billion within ten years, which will not be used for other areas.

Recently, the federal cabinet approved the merger of FATA with KP.  A National Security Committee meeting chaired by the premier endorsed provision of additional development funds for FATA region during the next ten years with the stipulation that these funds would not be re-appropriated to any other area of KP.

The PM apprised the participants that his consultations with leaders of other political parties in Parliament on the merger of FATA with KP reflected a broad consensus.

The National Assembly had passed a bill in January extending the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and the Peshawar High Court to FATA, as a first major step towards mainstreaming the tribal region and its eventual merger with KP.

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