Fata awaits a new constitutional future

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Peshawar: Lawmakers from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) have submitted a draft constitutional amendment bill in the National Assembly Secretariat, seeking merger of FATA in the Provincially Administrated Tribal Areas (PATA) of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP).

This is the first time that any such initiative has been taken by the parliamentarian from FATA who for the most part in 67 years have remained oblivious to the situation in FATA.

On the other side of the aisle, are people, including the civil society, that do not want FATA to be merged with KP, and want it to be declared as Pakistan’s fifth province.

The bill has come about by the joint effort of the FATA Lawyers Forum (FLF) that has been persuading the FATA parliamentarian to table the bill since years.

Rahim Shah Afridi, a newly elected president of the FLF, and a lawyer of the High Court Peshawar told NewsLens Pakistan that lawyers’ community had been struggling for this cause for several years.

“Now that we have crossed the first hurdle, our next step would be to sensitize the people, living in FATA about the issue. Geographically, it is not feasible to separate FATA from KP, FATa being a long strip of mountains, lack the agricultural and industrial resources to feed it.

“The tribal people share cultural, religious and traditional values with the people of KP. Else, the constitutional requirements to form a separate province will once again push the idea of mainstreaming FATA back into times, because of lengthy procedure, “says Afridi

There are twenty lawmakers in parliament from FATA; twelve in the National Assembly and eight in Senate. Shahji Gul Afridi, a member of the National Assembly from Khyber Agency, believes that the time has arrived to give a constitutional structure to the tribal area. He believes, now when the region is being cleansed of terrorists and terror-related activities, the rehabilitation process should culminate into the mainstreaming of FFATA into other parts of the country.

The people of FATA, not a handful of political agents should rule their land.

FATA comprises of seven agencies namely, Bajaur, Mohmand, Khyber, Orakzai, Kurram, North and South Waziristan in a geographically descending order and six FR regions.

FATA is governed through the Frontier Crimes Regulation 1901. The Governor KP administers the region in his capacity as an agent to the President of Pakistan, under the overall supervision of the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions in Islamabad.

The bill has generated mix reaction among the people of FATA. Already a grand tribal alliance has been formed to oppose the bill.

Hameedullah Jan, a former senator and the founder of the alliance, told New Lens Pakistan that a handful of parliamentarians has no right to decide upon the fate of ten million people of FATA.

“The lawmakers should have consulted and taken into confidence the people of the region, especially its elders, as the culture dictates, before proposing constitutional amendment, which would open the way either to make FATA a part of KP or an independent province,” says Jan

Clause 7 of Article 247 of the Constitution is a major point of contention. The clause states neither the Supreme Court nor a high court has any jurisdiction over the tribal areas unless the Parliament provides it.

Dr Syed Alam Mehsud, who leads the Pakhtunkhwa Ulasi Tehreek, appreciates the bill as a great step, which should not be sabotaged. He says Fata badly needs constitutional cover to embark on the road to development.

“If the Kashmir issue should be resolved according to the wishes of the Kashmiris than the problems and issues of FATA should also be addressed according to the wishes of its people,” says Mehsud.

Kamran Afridi, a social activist from FATA is in favor of a consensual agreement before taking any step. If need be, a referendum could be called, he suggests

“The first step in this regard is creating awareness about the issue among the people of Fata and then any move towards merging Fata with KP should be initiated,” says Kamran.

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf led provincial government supports the proposed bill and wants the merger of Fata in KP.

Pervez Khattak, the Chief Minster KP said in a press briefing that the KP government would welcome the tribal people if they choose to join KP. However, he cautioned that this decision should not be imposed on the people of FATA against their will.

Imran Khan, the PTI chief, has welcomed the decision. He said in a press conference at Nowshehra that it was about time to end the legal system dating back to the colonial system.

Hadayatullah, a Senator from Bajaur Agency, told News Lens Pakistan that a handful of people who had stakes in keeping FATA a lawless region are opposed to giving constitutional cover to it.

“We want to initiate a discourse on this issue. If the central government is ready to amend Article 247 of the Constitution, then the jurisdiction of High Court and Supreme Court would be extended to FATA, and this will be the greatest achievement for the people of that regionF,” said the Senator

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