News Analysis |
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) assembly on Sunday, passed the much awaited KP-FATA merger bill with a two-third majority, paving way for the merger of FATA with KP. The National Assembly (NA) and Senate had already passed the bill titled “Thirty-First Amendment Act, 2018”
In the 124-member house, 92 provincial lawmakers voted in favor of the bill while seven in opposition. It was a pre-requisite for the proposed merger to pass from the KP assembly with a two-thirds majority. The landmark session was presided by the KP assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser, just a day before the assembly’s dissolution on the completion of its five-year term.
Amid the protests of the JUI-F and disgruntled PTI’s lawmakers [who were accused of selling the votes in Senate elections], KP law minister Imtiaz Shahid presented the FATA-KP merger bill in the assembly. Slogans were raised against the merger. JUI-F leader has been opposing the KP-FATA merger from day one. He demanded that referendum should be conducted in the FATA to know exactly what do the indigenous people of FATA want.
Fata’s merger with KP can bring prosperity and economic development in one of the most impoverished and neglected regions of the country. Though mainstreaming FATA has been on the agenda for decades, but none of the governments had ever shown seriousness to alleviate this land out of poverty.
During the session, Chief Minister KP, Pervez Khattak addressed the KP assembly and invited those opposing the merger to show unity. He also announced that the local bodies’ elections will be held in FATA later in the year, while elections will be conducted in 2019. CM KP also made it clear that Shariah Nizam-e-Adl Regulation (SNAR) will be continued.
KP assembly also approved a resolution to exempt Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA) from taxes for a time period of 10-years. The PATA lawmakers have shown the serious concerns over the addition of Chitral Dir, Swat, Kohistan’s tribal areas, Malakand Protected Area and other tribal areas with KP. PATA had been partially merged in KP in 1969 but was not fully integrated.
Dr. Haider Ali presented the resolution which was signed by the all the legislators except for the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F). Moreover, the resolution also demanded a development package of Rs100 billion for the PATA along with the subsidy on electricity. On demand of PATA legislators, KP Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser demanded the National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq, to declare PATA tax-free zones for at least 10 years.
KP government believes that, both FATA and PATA were affected by insurgency and subsequent military operations led to internal displacement of people and are yet to overcome their woes. Moreover, as both the areas were exempted from tax for a long time, the government should continue the exemption until, the situation does not become normal in the troubled region.
In a historic bill finally, the colonial era division between KP and FATA was abolished. Although, the upper and lower chambers of the Parliament had already passed the bill. But, according to the Article 239(4) of the Constitution, “a bill to amend the Constitution which would have the effect of altering the limits of a Province shall not be presented to the President for assent unless it has been passed by the Provincial Assembly of that Province by the votes of not less than two-thirds of its total membership.” After 2/3 majority approval from KP assembly’s, President of Pakistan will sign the bill to make it effective.
Slogans were raised against the merger. JUI-F leader has been opposing the KP-FATA merger from day one. He demanded that referendum should be conducted in the FATA to know exactly that what does the indigenous people of FATA want.
Protests Outside the Assembly
Before the landmark approval in the KP assembly, opposing parties created a ruckus outside the premises of the KP assembly. Protestors from JUI-F clashed with police outside the KP assembly. Since early morning, protestors had started gathering outside the assembly and threatened to put padlocks on the assembly gates so that no one could enter the assembly premises.
They pelted the stones at the KP police officers. Police used the shelled tear-gas and used water cannons to disperse the protesters. It managed to clear the entrance of the assembly, nevertheless, protests continued outside. Despite the efforts of the police and local administration, protestors continued their protest and even pelted stones on media vehicles. Police detained 20-people and five suffered from minor injuries.
Opposition to Merger
Government is expecting many hurdles in its quest to materialize the dream merger. After PML-N government’s decision to mainstream FATA, its coalition partners proved a major obstacle in the merger. Other than the internal elements, Afghanistan has been the major opponent.
Dr. Haider Ali presented the resolution which was signed by the all the legislators except for the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F). Moreover, the resolution also demanded a development package of Rs100 billion for the PATA along with the subsidy on electricity.
Some politicians having strong connections with Afghanistan’s urged the section of the local population to strongly oppose the move and demand a referendum on this, which Pakistani government had denied. After the development, Afghanistan announced rejection of the merger of FATA with KP, along with JUI-F and PkMAP.
In addition, the Fata Grand Alliance (FGA) has also threatened to launch a campaign to halt the merger citing the constitutional amendment as ‘forced and unjustifiable’.
Fata’s merger with KP can bring prosperity and economic development in one of the most impoverished and neglected regions of the country. Though mainstreaming FATA has been on the agenda for decades, but none of the governments had ever shown seriousness to alleviate this land out of poverty. Even the National Action Plan failed to introduce the much-needed reforms in FATA to mainstream it.
Though, the government has announced the Rs100 billion for the provision of basic facilities, but, serious constitutional and political challenges remain ahead and it will take time to overcome administrative and legal differences.