ISLAMABAD: In a historic move, the National Assembly on Thursday approved the 31st Amendment Bill 2017, paving way for the merger of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) with the province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P).
A total of 229 parliamentarians voted for the bill while one opposed it.
After months of delays, the ruling party had tabled the reforms bill for the tribal areas in the Parliament to fulfil its promise to “take Fata reforms to its logical conclusion during the current tenure of assemblies.” The bill was presented by Law Minister Chaudhry Mahmood Bashir Virk. 229 members of the parliament had supported the resolution to table Fata reforms bill while 11 opposed it.
The 56th session of the Parliament was attended by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan – who, in a surprise move, also marked his attendance to vote for the merger of Fata with K-P.
Where the government lacked attendance, the opposition was in full strength. Despite JUI-F MNA Maulna Jamaluddin pointing out quorum, the house remained in order. Leader of the Opposition Khurshid Shah told Speaker Ayaz Sadiq that history will remember that for the first time opposition maintained the order of the house.
Earlier in the session, Shah highlighted that the government’s seriousness was depicted by the absence of the majority of its parliamentarians. He asked for the bill to be tabled if the numbers were complete. “The bill could have been passed if the cabinet members had shown,” noted Shah.
In response, PM Abbasi maintained that the house will wait until the required number of lawmakers showed up. Taking the floor, the premier said the constitutional amendment pertaining to Fata was a joint bill crafted by the government and opposition. “It [bill] is aimed at changing a 150-year-old system in the tribal areas.”
Meanwhile, Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Sheikh Aftab Ahmed had informed the assembly that the absent lawmakers were being called to attend the session. At least 200 parliamentarians are currently present in the house while 228 is the required number.
The FATA reforms bill
The much-hyped bill includes the K-P, Fata merger within two years despite staunch opposition from two of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N)’s strongest allies – JUI-F and PkMAP.
The draft bill seeks to amend seven articles in the Constitution of Pakistan to allow implementation of proposed reforms. It seeks to omit paragraph C of sub-clause 2 of Article 1 under which Fata is placed as separate territory of the country like the four provinces. The omission will allow the tribal areas to merge with territory of K-P.
The bill proposes amending clause 1 of Article 51 by reducing the number of seats in the National Assembly from 342 to 326. It adds clause 3A after clause 3 to give legal cover to representatives who will be elected from Fata in the general polls 2018. They will continue as member of the National Assembly till expiry of their five-year-term and after the five years, this new clause will stand omitted.
It also seeks removal of the word “Federally Administered Tribal Areas,” from the clause 5, under which seats of the National Assembly are allocated on population bases, and from sub-clause 1 of Article 155 which deals with the complaints and interferences with water supplies.
The draft pursues changes in Article 59, which deals with Senate, by reducing the number of Senate members from 104 to 96. It omits the sub-clause (b) of clause 1 that allocated eight members to the tribal areas. It will also delete the sub-clause (b) of clause 3 of the same article which states that four senators elected from Fata shall retire after three years while another four after next three years.
Furthermore, it seeks omission of the word “Federally Administered Tribal Areas” from its sub-clauses (b) and (f) of Article 272 which defines the constitution of Senate.
It proposes omitting clause C of Article 246 which defines and names Fata and seeks addition of clause D which states that laws applicable in these areas will remain applicable until repealed or changed by competent authority.
Under Article 247, the competent authority will be the federal government until after the elections when the jurisdiction for altering and repealing the laws prevailing in these areas will be passed to the assembly.
The territory of Fata is defined in the Article 246 of the Constitution. The article says that ‘Federally Administered Tribal Areas’ includes tribal Areas, adjoining Peshawar district, Kohat, Bannu, Lakki Marwat, Dear Ismail Khan, Tank, and the following agencies; Bajaur, Orakzai, Mohmand, Khyber, Kurram, North Waziristan and South Waziristan.
Then there is revision in Article 106, which provides for the provincial assemblies. Currently, the K-P assembly comprises 99 general members, 22 women and three minority members. After Fata’s merger, this composition will change to 115 general seats; 26 reserved seats for women and four for minorities. Hence the total strength of the House will increase from 124 to 145.