Senate on Friday finally gave its nod to a bill seeking the extension of the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and Peshawar High Court (PHC) to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
The Supreme Court and High Court (Extension of Jurisdiction to Fata) Bill 2017 had been lying with the upper house since it was passed by the National Assembly in January. It is one of a handful of reforms paving the way for an eventual merger of the tribal areas with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
A committee comprising the entire upper house deliberated on the matter on Friday, with the federal government opposing any further amendments to it since that would have meant the bill would have to be taken back to the lower house for approval, which would have caused further delays.
Speaking on the occasion, Minister for States and Frontier Regions Abdul Qadir Baloch said: “All rulers, including me, are indebted to the people of tribal people. No efforts were made in the past to give full rights to the people of Fata.”
He also criticised the current legal system in place, whereby the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) , according to which jirgas accord punishments in civil and criminal cases on the basis of their own traditions and beliefs while the state assumes a limited role, regulates life in the region.
He assured the house that the government was serious in its commitment to ensure the merger of Fata with KP.
The bill saw opposition from the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) — both key political players in Fata and allies of the PML-N led government. “The decision to approve the bill is against the people of Fata,” JUI-F Senator Maulana Attaur Rehman said. He further said that the bill being supported by both the government and the opposition raises questions about it being brought on “someone else’s” behest. The Fata reforms, which include its merger with KP as well as the extension of courts’ jurisdiction, are a part of one of the points listed in the National Action Plan on terrorism.
The move to extend jurisdiction was previously rejected by the opposition as it was perceived to be a delaying tactic used by the government to avoid the Fata merger in a bid to appease its coalition partners, the JUI-F and PkMAP, who opposed it.