Maulana Fazlur Rehman
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Maulana Fazlur Rehman — who is widely blamed for stalling measures aimed at mainstreaming the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) — told the National Assembly on Wednesday that the government could not decide to merge the tribal areas with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa without first holding a referendum to ascertain the will of people.

He said his party’s stance had been the same since 2012 when the KP assembly passed a resolution seeking a merger with FATA, which caused some consternation. He recalled that in the wake of the resolution, a Jirga was convened in Peshawar in July 2012, where it was agreed that there were a few options; the tribal areas could either be merged with KP, given the status of a province, or that existing rules should be amended to get rid of the draconian laws that prevail there.

The FATA-KPK merger seems to be engulfed in political wrangling between the PTI led KPK government and its staunchest opponents in the Pushtun belt, the JUI & PKMAP

He insisted that all three options had merit, adding that his party could not take a unilateral decision to back or oppose any of these options, especially at a time when military operations had uprooted a large chunk of the population.

Read more: Will FATA finally merge in KPK?

The JUI chief’s demands seem to be in line with a December 2016 declaration of a FATA grand alliance consisting of at least 200 elders from all seven agencies and Frontier Regions. The Grand Alliance insisted on holding a referendum on the fate of tribal areas, maintaining that they would oppose the merger of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. They also stated to “never compromise on the Jirga system”

It was in March 2017, when the federal cabinet finally accepted the reforms for the FATA region. According to the reforms, the much-reviled Frontier Crime Regulation (1901) is to be repealed and replaced with a new Riwaj Regulation for Tribal Areas, which will be submitted to the President for approval under Article 247 of the Constitution.

The reforms plan recommends electing parliamentarians from FATA to the KP assembly during the 2018 election, thus, enacting the merger with KP in the duration of a year

The Riwaj Act will do away with the collective punishments of the FCR and make an individual responsible for his acts. The act will extend the jurisdiction of the high court and Supreme Court of Pakistan to FATA, by amending the Article 247.

The report also posits that the people of FATA will strongly oppose the removal of the Jirga system that could destabilize the system. The act allows the Jirga system to be retained with a council of elders appointed by the court that will decide the criminal and civil cases under the light of Riwaj.

Read more: FATA reforms delay leading to political acrimony

The reforms plan recommends electing parliamentarians from FATA to the KP assembly during the 2018 election, thus, enacting the merger with KP in the duration of a year. Additionally, it calls for mainstreaming the region “after five years” but does not shift control to the KPK government for the time.

The JUI chief’s demands seem to be in line with a December 2016 declaration of a FATA grand alliance consisting of at least 200 elders from all seven agencies and Frontier Regions

Additional benefits of the FATA-KPK merger are the economic and social uplift of the area which has long been marginalized. Additionally, the specter of terrorism which has caught FATA by the throat since the American invasion of Afghanistan can be properly addressed.

The abolition of the FCR and merger of FATA with KPK seems to be the most popular option for FATA’s future. According to a study published by FATA Research Centre titled “Governance Reforms in FATA: People’s Perspective”, 68% population of FATA is for the abolition of FCR, and 74% endorsed the option of the merger with KPK.

Read more: Questioning the merger of FATA with KPK

However, the FATA-KPK merger seems to be engulfed in political wrangling between the PTI led KPK government and its staunchest opponents in the Pushtun belt, the JUI & PKMAP. Observers assert that both JUI and PKMAP fear of losing of electoral power if FATA combines with KPK as well as the credit of the merger going to their nemesis the PTI.