KP Assembly okays FATA merger bill admidst JUI-F protest

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Decades-long exploitation of tribals under FCR law comes to an end; Pakistan terms Afghan claim as ‘interference’

Tariq Saeed

Peshawar

The Constitution (Thirty-First Amendment) Bill, 2018, sailed smoothly in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assembly Sunday when two third majority of the house endorsed the merger of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. This also brings an end to the draconian law called the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) a colonial law under which the poor tribal peoples were exploited for many decades.
However, it was not smooth sailing for the Law forcers who had made elaborate security arrangements outside the assembly building as they had to counter the hooliganism of the JUI activists who attempted to break into the building in order to prevent the bill from becoming a law. In fierce clashes with the Police around half a dozen people sustained wounds while over two dozen people were detained by the Police.
The FATA KP merger bill it may be recalled has already been okayed by the parliament, the National assembly the Senate by two third majority. In the final phase the session of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assembly that was held at 2pm with speaker Asad Qaisar in the chair, passed the KP-FATA merger bill with two-thirds majority that was the requirement for becoming the bill a law.
In total 92 lawmakers voted in favour of the bill while seven members belonging to the JUI of Maulana Fazal Ur Rehman voted against. Some 24 MPAs from Malakand Division have also expressed their reservations over the content of the bill. These Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA) lawmakers maintain that inclusion of PATA in FATA-KP merger was unjustifiable, and if the government wanted to change the status of PATA it should announce a monetary package for the area.
A resolution was also approved by the assembly to exempt Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA) from taxes for a time period of 10 years. The resolution demanded a development package of Rs 100 billion for the PATA, same as the FATA region. It also demanded subsidy on electricity. The concerns of PATA lawmakers have also been taken up in a letter that KP Assembly Speaker Asad Qaisar wrote to his National Assembly counterpart Ayaz Sadiq, demanding that PATA and FATA be declared as tax-free zones for at least 10 years.
After the passage of the bill, FATA will get 16 general seats, four seats for women and one seat for non-Muslims in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Assembly. Elections on these seats will be held within a year after the 2018 general elections.
The amendment bill reduces the number of seats in the National Assembly from 342 to 336. The bill also reduces the number of seats in the Senate from 104 to 96. The existing members of the Senate from FATA will continue to serve until expiry of their respective terms of office.
Earlier in the day ugly scenes were witnessed outside the KP assembly building where hundreds of activists of the Jamiat–e-Ulema-Islam (JUI-F) gathered and started chanting slogans against the bill.
The unruly protesters clashed with police outside the KP assembly as the law enforcers baton-charged them to stop them from entering the assembly building. The police also shelled tear-gas and used water cannons to disperse the protesters who pelted stones at the police officers. “The JUI-F lawmakers had reached the assembly building Sunday morning to besiege it in protest and prevent the passage of bill”. A senior officer told Observer.
In fact the road outside the assembly building literally turned into battleground as JUI-F workers tried to barged in to the assembly building and were also restraining-lawmakers from attending the session in a fail attempt to prevent the passage of the FATA KP merger bill. Six people have reportedly sustained minor injuries while around two dozen demonstrators were detained yet were later released.
Meanwhile, Islamabad on Sunday turned down Afghanistan’s rejection of the merger of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas with its Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province terming it “interference.”
“The decision by the parliament on FATA’s merger is in accordance with the will of the people,” a spokesman for Pakistan’s Foreign Office said, adding that Afghanistan not acting on the principles of non-interference is regretful.
Earlier this week, the National Assembly and Senate of Pakistan passed a constitutional amendment bill clearing the way for KP-FATA merger. In the final phase, a session of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly passed the KP-FATA merger bill with two-thirds majority earlier Sunday.

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