JI sets Dec 31 deadline for govt to merge FATA with KP

LAHORE, PUNJAB, PAKISTAN - 2014/11/21: Siraj-ul-Haq, head of Islamic Political Party Jamat-e-Islami, addressing the congregation during the JI party convention in Lahore. According to media reports, tens of thousands of JI workers and supporters from the country and abroad are attending the three-day convention of Jamat-e-Islami has that started November 21 to 23 at the foot of Minaar-e-Pakistan monument. (Photo by Rana Sajid Hussain/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

–JI chief Sirajul Haq says party will hold larger sit-in if govt fails to ensure merger by deadline

–NA Opp leader Khursheed Shah assures protesters of PPP’s support


ISLAMABAD: Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) chief Sirajul Haq has warned the government to ensure the merger of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) before December 31, saying his party will organise a much larger sit-in in Islamabad if their demand was not met by the deadline.

Addressing participants of the JI’s ‘long march’ at Faizabad Interchange on Tuesday, Siraj criticised the government for being “indifferent” to the problems faced by FATA residents.

“The political agent in tribal areas is more powerful than Mughal kings,” he said.

“If the laws in FATA are so good, they should be imposed across the country. Otherwise the laws of Pakistan should apply to FATA as well,” he said, adding that the people of Pakistan were unaware of the difficulties of FATA’s residents.

Earlier, the long march led by the JI protesting the government’s slow progress on a proposed merger between KP and FATA reached Islamabad on Tuesday morning.

The march, which was joined by thousands of JI supporters and FATA residents, set out from Peshawar’s Bab-i-Khyber on Dec 11 seeking to exert pressure on the federal government to revoke the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) and merge the tribal areas with KP before the next general election. These steps are part of the FATA reforms which have been discussed for years, but were formally enshrined in the National Action Plan (NAP) in December 2014 after the Army Public School attack.

Addressing the protesters, JI KP chief Mushtaq Ahmed Khan said that while people around the world were demanding secession of various states, the people of FATA were demanding a permanent inclusion in Pakistan.

He claimed that the 2017 census had understated the population in FATA and accused the government of promoting extremism in the area by preventing its merger with KP.

Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Khursheed Shah told the protesters that despite the political consensus against the FCR, the government was not making any efforts to revoke the draconian law. He said that the PPP fully supports the demand for FATA’s merger with KP.

“We will ensure the merger happens before 2018,” Shah said, adding that this was the last chance for the government to move for the merger. “The government is scared of the merger,” he claimed.

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif had, in 2014, termed the FATA reforms an integral part of NAP and said that they aimed at bringing tribal regions, that have been neglected for a long time, into the mainstream.

Under the FCR, tribal jirgas in FATA accord punishments in civil and criminal cases on the basis of their own traditions and beliefs while the state assumes a limited role. With the political agent as the judicial authority, criminal and civil cases are decided by him.

Minister of States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) Abdul Qadir Baloch had last week said that the government is planning to repeal the draconian FCR within a week’s time.

FATA Reforms Committee Chairman Sartaj Aziz had said that work is underway to bring FATA into the mainstream on the legal, administrative, economic and security fronts. Once these efforts are complete, the tribal areas will be merged with KP.

Neither Baloch nor Aziz, however, specified a date by which the KP-FATA merger would be complete.

The ‘Supreme Court and High Court (Extension of Jurisdiction to FATA) Bill 2017’, a piece of legislation seeking to extend the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and the Peshawar High Court to the tribal areas, was to be tabled in the National Assembly on Monday. However, it was taken off the agenda for the day at the last minute, causing an uproar among parliamentarians. A number of opposition members stood up and lodged a strong protest over the government’s move to withdraw the bill from the agenda.

The intensity of the protest increased when two federal ministers — Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Sheikh Aftab Ahmed and SAFRON Minister retired Lt Gen Abdul Qadir Baloch — failed to give a satisfactory reason for the government’s decision to put off the introduction of the bill.

Lawmakers, mostly from FATA and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), chan­ted anti-government slogans, tore up the copies of the agenda and gathered in front of the speaker’s dais before staging a walkout, led by Leader of the Opposition Syed Khursheed Shah.