The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) is to be merged with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province in less than five years, Minister for States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) Abdul Qadir Baloch said during a briefing to the Senate Whole Committee over Fata reforms on Tuesday.
Baloch, in today’s session chaired by Senator Raza Rabbani, said that there would be a step-by-step imposition of state laws in the tribal region.
He opposed the proposition that the jurisdiction of the Peshawar High Court be extended to Fata, saying that the decision would be seen as the beginning of the merger process.
“Fata’s population has opposed the merger with KP,” he told the Senate. “They say that the decision will be taken once they [the displaced persons]are resettled in their homes.”
The SAFRON minister said that in order to bring Fata into the mainstream, it is vital to establish and maintain peace in the area, and therefore, he said, army troops will remain in the region for the time being.
“The army has complete administrative control over Fata and even the political agent cannot operate without the armed forces,” he said.
Baloch assured the Senate that troops will be recalled from the region, but it would be a gradual process.
Commenting on the presence of the armed forces in the region, Rabbani said that while no one has any doubts about the army’s efforts to eliminate terrorism, when it comes to governance and implementation of Constitution, the role of the forces is to guard the borders. He also pointed out that the military has interfered with civilian governments in the past.
Baloch further said that the appointment of a chief operating officer (COO) of grade 20 who will be answerable to the governor of KP has been approved.
PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar, however, treated the announcement of a COO appointment with scepticism.
“A civilian COO will be appointed for some time but will be replaced by a military officer later,” he said. “Fata should not be militarised further,” he insisted and added that the post of COO be removed, despite Baloch’s assurances that no military officer was under consideration for the post.
Babar feared that due to military control in the tribal region, development projects worth billions of rupees may be awarded to Frontier Works Organisation and the National Logistics Cell instead of civilian companies. Baloch however, said that this would not be the case.
The suggestion to include Fata MPs in the KP Assembly in 2018 was retracted as the government said that tribal ministers will be included in the KP Assembly once the region is merged with the province.
Rewaj Bill withdrawn over opposition’s concerns
Baloch also told the Senate that the government had decided to retract the controversial Rewaj Bill 2017 for Fata, citing reservations of opposition parties.
The Rewaj Bill was introduced in May and aimed to repeal the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) law that was imposed in Fata during the British colonial era.
Though the government has not released details of the controversial bill, despite repeated demands from Fata and KP ministers, the Federal Minister for Law and Justice Zahid Hamid had said in a separate statement that the Rewaj Bill 2017 was finalised in line with the wishes of the people of Fata, to accord complete protection to their customs and introduce the country’s legal code.
However, the bill has been opposed by the representatives of the tribal area in the assembly as well as the opposition time and again.
The Senate Whole Committee will prepare further recommendations regarding Fata reforms which will then be debated upon in the Parliament.