Cabinet endorses KP-FATA merger

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–PM urges efforts for development, mainstreaming of FATA, AJK, GB

–Nawaz announces more funds for people of underdeveloped areas

–Sartaj says constitutional revision to enable tribal people to vote in 2018

 

The federal cabinet on Thursday finally approved – in principle – the recommendations of the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) Reforms Committee for mainstreaming of the tribal areas, including the merger of the region with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province and repeal of the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR).

In its last meeting, the cabinet had decided to drop the FATA reforms due to strong opposition from two allies – Mahmood Khan Achakzai and Fazlur Rehman of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-F – who wanted certain changes in the draft document. However, the decision had triggered a strong reaction from various political parties having influence in the tribal regions.

Chairing the cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif expressed his government’s commitment to the delivery of rights to the peoples of the tribal region, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu Kashmir (AJK). “Time has come that the tribal people will be brought into [the] mainstream to end their sense of deprivation,” he was quoted as saying.

Under pressure from various quarters for approval of the FATA reforms, it seems that the prime minister had decided to allow the merger of the tribal region with the Pakhtunkhwa. The decision also hints a new track adopted by the prime minister who these days is under public pressure, perhaps due to the Panama case decision pending with the Supreme Court, and is taking popular decisions.

The prime minister also hinted at further deliberations with Achakzai and Fazlur Rehman, saying that there was a need for further deliberations with the stakeholders in this regard. He also stressed the need to focus on the development of under-developed areas to improve the living standards of the people. Prime Minister Nawaz said it was the responsibility of the federal and provincial governments to come forward for the development and mainstreaming of FATA, Azad Jammu Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan.

“Pakistan belongs to every Pakistani and all areas of the country should have equal rights and access to national resources,” he said, adding that people living in far-flung areas of Azad Jammu Kashmir, Gilgit Baltistan and FATA must be enabled to get access to services and facilities available to the residents of Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar, Quetta.

The prime minister also hit out at his critics, saying that those unwilling to extend the required cooperation and assistance for mainstreaming of the tribal areas, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu Kashmir were actually promoting provincialism. He also lauded the patriotism of the tribal people and said that their history was filled with examples of love with Pakistan.

“They gave immense sacrifices for the defence and sovereignty of Pakistan. Now, time has come to include them in national mainstream and address their deprivation,” he said. He also stressed the need to promote the spirit of nationalism for the country’s solidarity and include all parts to benefit from the fruits of progress. He said that the people of underdeveloped areas would be provided more funds from revenue collection.

“It is our responsibility to focus more on under-developed areas and provide opportunities to the locals to progress in different fields of life,” he said. The cabinet meeting was briefed by Secretary, the ministry of States & Frontier Regions (SAFRON), Arbab Shahzad, on recommendations of FATA Reforms Committee.

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Briefing journalists on the recommendations approved in the cabinet meeting, Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz said that the provisions would be made through a constitutional amendment to enable the people of FATA to elect their representatives to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly in the 2018 elections. He said that the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) would also be repealed and replaced by the new Riwaj Regulation for Tribal Areas.

The proposal aims at repealing the black law of collective responsibility, thereby making an individual responsible only for his own acts. Sartaj said that the National Finance Commission would be requested to consider allocating three percent of the gross federal divisible pool on an annual basis for the implementation of the FATA Development Plan.

This would be in addition to the existing allotment of Rs21 billion from the annual Public Sector Development Programme. The recommendations also include the target date for repatriation of all displaced persons, while reconstruction activities in areas affected by military operations would also be completed by 2018. The set of reforms were recommended by a six-member committee headed by Adviser Sartaj.

The recommendations include the reconstruction in the tribal areas would be completed by 2018. It also include institution of benches of the Supreme Court and the high court in FATA to help extend the country’s laws to the tribal regions. The recommendations also include a gradual increase in development funds from Rs 200 million to one billion rupees in five years and the provision of funds for FATA has been made a responsibility of the Auditor-General of Pakistan (AGP).