Govt’s indecision over fate of SAFRON ministry raises eyebrows


ISLAMABAD: The Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) was once amongst the most attractive ministries in the country for public officials; however, after the merger of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) with Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP), it is now in the list of most redundant ministries.

Well-placed sources told Pakistan Today that the ministry of SAFRON lost its importance after the twenty-fifth Constitutional Amendment, 2018 because all important subjects being dealt by the ministry have been devolved to the KP government, which is why no parliamentarian is even ready to take its charge.

They said that the incumbent government’s announcement to dissolve the ministry further aggravated the situation as the officials hardly have any official business to conduct within the ministry – a major source of concern for the government.

Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q) MNA Chaudhry Tariq Bashir Cheema was appointed as the federal minister for SAFRON; however, he refused to take charge of the ministry because it has no power and privileges. Hence, Prime Minister Imran Khan had to re-designate him as the Federal Minister for Housing and Works.

The sources said that later, the name of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI’s) Murad Saeed surfaced for the portfolio; however, they added that he also refused to take charge of the ministry on the same grounds and eventually was made the Minister of State for Communications.

Talking to the media in Peshawar last month, Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry said, “After the merger of FATA, the provincial government will look over the affairs of the tribal areas, which is why we have decided to dissolve the Ministry of SAFRON.”

He said, “The Ministry of Interior overlooks the issues of refugees which is why four Afghan commissioners and the chief commissioner for Afghan refugees reporting to the Ministry of SAFRON will now be under the interior ministry.”

Sources said that the situation of the ministry could be judged from the fact that its website still carried the pictures of the former minister Lt Gen (r) Abdul Qadir Baloch, adding that the ministerial affairs have been left to with the additional secretary (In-charge) Muhammad Aslam, as the government has yet to appoint a minister, state minister, or a parliamentary secretary.

“The government could not take a decision about the dissolution of the SAFRON ministry since it has direct associations with Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah,” a senior official said.

A message carried on the official website of the ministry reads, “The Quaid-i-Azam has instructed that the creation of a new Ministry which is to work directly under him should be announced to the press tonight, and also gazetted immediately.”

The message further reads, “The Quaid-i-Azam has decided that the new Ministry will be called “The Ministry of States and Frontier Regions.”

“The Quaid-i-Azam has further directed that unless there is any serious legal or other objection, it must be stated in the Press Note that the new ministry will function under the direct control, guidance and direction of Quaid-i-Azam and Governor-General of Pakistan and this portfolio will be his in his special care”, the message reads.

The official said that the minister is just left with giving stipends to the heirs of 14 states; however, he added that the government’s indecision to take any final steps indicated that the ministry might be given some other subjects to keep intact the minister and to ease the burden unto other ministries.

The official further said that tasks such as the FATA students scholarship and Khasadar Force and Levies’ personnel issues are still with the SAFRON ministry; however all these would eventually be transferred to the KP government because the premier has already directed the authorities concerned to expedite the reforms package for FATA and its merger with the KP province in a high-level meeting in Peshawar.

In this regard, PM Imran Khan recently met with FATA parliamentarians and assured them of a timely merger of FATA with KP, and assured them that all of their concerns would be heard.