PM rules out external pressure
Zahid Chaudhary/Sophia Siddiqui
The National Assembly on Thursday passed a constitutional amendment seeking the much-awaited merger of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) with a 229-1 vote in favour.
Lawmakers from the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazal (JUI-F) and the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) chose to walk out from the assembly ahead of the vote. Dawar Kundi from the PTI was the sole dissenting vote in the final count.
The 31st constitution amendment seeks an 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. The bill also amends Articles 51 and 59, which specify the number of seats allocated to each of the federating units in the national and provincial assemblies.
Once the bill is passed, the strength of the Senate will reduce from 104 to 96 members as Fata will no longer have separate representation. Likewise, the number of seats in the National Assembly will be cut to 336 from 342.
Meanwhile, the KP assembly will have 145 seats, including 115 general, 26 reserved for women and four for minorities. Fata will have 21 seats in the KP Assembly, including 16 general, four for women and one reserved for non-Muslims “provided that elections to the aforesaid seats shall be held within one year after the general elections 2018”, according to the bill.
As far as senators from Fata are concerned, the constitution amendment allows them to complete their stipulated terms.
The Upper House is expected to pass the constitution amendment today (Friday).
Recalling that the struggle had taken four years, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi thanked the opposition benches for voting in favour of the “historic” bill which he said will have far reaching effects for the whole country.
He said the House today 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.
The Prime Minister said that efforts for FATA reforms had been continued over the last four years. He said that committee under the supervision of Sartaj Aziz worked for two and a half years to formulate FATA reforms package.
He said the passage of the bill is just a beginning to bring FATA to the national mainstream. We have to win the trust and confidence of the tribal people by fulfilling the development needs there. He said the PML-N is committed for the fast track development of the area and this House will also have to express commitment towards this end. He said we have to give the same kind of amenities to the people of FATA which are available to the people of other regions. He said there should be no discrimination on the matter of development as tribal people are also equal citizens of the country.
Responding to the points raised by PTI Chairman Imran Khan regarding 2013 elections and the cases against the PML-N leadership, the Prime Minister said there was no need to raise these issues today when the House expressed its solidarity on a difficult issue. He said that sentiments of the members have been hurt by bringing controversial issues on the floor of the House.
The Prime Minister said that the fate of political parties will be decided by the people in the elections to be held July this year. He said that all the eventualities have been taken care of in the constitution amendment so that no attempt to delay the next elections succeeds. He said the government will stay intact till 31st May and then elections will be held in sixty days. This he said was our promise to the people and we still adhere to it.
Chairman PTI Imran Khan described the constitution amendment as a big triumph of entire Pakistan which will prove to be vital for overall peace and stability in the country. He said it is also a major step to address the genuine grievances of tribal people who have given immense sacrifices in the war on terror. He proposed that rehabilitation of the tribal people should be done through their local representatives.
Responding to the points of Sahabzada Tariqullah of Jamaat-e-Islamic the Prime minister assured that the tax exemptions to FATA and PATA will remain available.
On the points raised by Opposition Leader Khurshid Shah and others on the water shortages in Sindh, the Prime Minister said water distribution among provinces is done on the basis of Water Accord 1991. “Currently ninety percent less water is available in Mangla and Tarbela and water flow has reduced by fifty-four percent as compared to previous years due to less snowfall. He said if a province especially Sindh has any reservation on the water allocation by IRSA it can bring the issue to the Council of Common Interests. The Prime Minister made it clear that government has nothing to do with the water distribution as it has been done on the basis of vote by IRSA members.
Talking to reporters at a news conference , the prime minister said the merger of FATA with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had been part of the Pakistan Muslim League-N’s manifesto, but later the political parties termed it a good step and extended their support to the passage of the bill with clear two-third majority in the National Assembly.
He said the government had formed the FATA Reforms Committee led by Sartaj Aziz that followed the constitution of an implementation committee comprising the chief minister and governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, army chief and other stakeholders. After threadbare debate, all the stakeholders evolved consensus to replace centuries old tribal laws with the regular laws and merge the area with KP, he added.
He said the bill had also given a timeframe for the local government to be held this year. The provincial assembly election will be held within a year as delimitation and political system were yet to be established there.
The prime minister who was accompanied by cabinet members including Marriyum Aurangzeb, Lt. Gen (Retd) Abdul Qadir Baloch, former law minister Zahid Hamid and MNA from FATA Shah Jee Gul Afridi, said under the bill, 12 National Assembly seats had been maintained though the area was entitled to six seats as per recent national census. Eight seats of Senate have also been protected. All those eight Senate seats would stand abolished by 2024. He ruled out external pressure for the passage of the FATA, PATA related constitutional amendment bill in the National Assembly.