Islamabad 26 Dec 2017 (Dawn News)
The high-powered National Implementation Committee (NIC) on Fata Reforms has endorsed the merger of tribal regions with northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhawa and agreed that Islamabad would make a policy statement in this regard, two senior figures involved in the deliberations confirmed to Dawn.
The NIC, which met last week and was chaired by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, also decided and agreed to let Fata elect 23 members to the KP Assembly in the general elections scheduled to be held in July 2018.
Besides Mr Abbasi the meeting was attended by Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, federal Minister for States & Frontier Regions retired Lt Gen Abdul Qadir Baloch, KP Governor Iqbal Zafar Jhagra, Chief Minister Pervez Khattak, chairman of the Cabinet Committee on Fata Reforms Sartaj Aziz and the federal law secretary, who deputised for special assistant to the prime minister on law, Barrister Zafarullah Khan.
The meeting which took the landmark decisions on Dec 18, but did not make them public, also decided to do away with the controversial sections of the Frontier Crimes Regulations and allow the colonial-era regulation to continue as a supplementary dispute and conflict resolution mechanism with a sunset clause to repeal it in its entirety once a proper judicial system was in place in the tribal region.
Significantly enough, neither was the meeting publicised nor any statement issued at the end of it. However, three days later, on Dec 21, Prime Minister Abbasi, in an apparent follow-up to the meeting, met former prime minister Nawaz Sharif at his Jati Umra residence in Lahore.
PM Abbasi and Gen Bajwa had met the JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman in the prime minister’s chambers at the Parliament House to discuss Fata reforms and attempt to persuade him to drop his opposition to the proposed merger plan.
No statement was issued from the Prime Minister House but the JUI-F leader would say only that consultations would continue over the matter.
His party and Mehmood Khan Achakzai’s Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party are the only two political parties opposed to Fata’s proposed merger with KP.
Both are political allies of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, but it is only the JUI-F leader whose opposition to the merger plan is weighing heavy on the mind of former prime minister Sharif.
Media reports only said the two leaders agreed to address the reservations of the JUI-F chief on the Fata Reforms Bill.
Those Dawn has spoken with say Mr Abbasi was supposed to make a public policy statement regarding Fata’s merger with KP to remove any ambiguity in terms of mainstreaming of the tribal region but that the announcement is being withheld to enable the ruling political leadership to persuade the JUI-F chief to drop his opposition.
Efforts by PM Abbasi and Gen Bajwa to bring Maulana Fazl on board have not made any headway.
Those familiar with the deliberations say that any development on the merger plan and giving Fata representation in the KP Assembly in 2018 is directly linked with getting the JUI-F chief to agree to the Fata Reforms Bill.
The bill seeks to extend the jurisdiction of the Peshawar High Court (PHC) and the Supreme Court of Pakistan to the tribal regions. “This is directly linked with the other two issues”, one senior figure said.
Ruling party figures remain optimistic that the wily politician from Dera Ismail Khan can be persuaded to support the merger plan. “He has toned down his rhetoric”, said the other figure.
However, Maulana Rehman has let it be known that he would never agree to the extension of the PHC to Fata, which by its very implication would mean Fata’s merger with KP.
“How can the jurisdiction of the provincial high court be extended to federal areas?” he told reporters after his meeting with the civil-military leadership last week.
Unity of command
Another key decision was to combine the office of the Fata’s additional chief secretary with the proposed chief operating officer, Fata, to allow for unity of command.
But while the JUI-I chief continues to stick to his opposition and a clueless federal government remains reluctant to follow-through on its decision to make a policy statement, the government in KP and the 11th Corps in Peshawar has nearly finalised an implementation plan.
Dawn has a copy of the 99-page draft plan but a security official in Peshawar said its final version was ready and would be shared with the GHQ in the next few days after necessary tweaking.
The plan that has been firmed up through due consultation between the KP government and the 11 Corps, being the major stakeholders in the light of the cabinet decisions on Fata reforms, provides for the full embrace of Fata with KP by addressing the many legislative and constitutional issues involving the merger and the judicial, administrative, security and development systems required to be put in place with timeline and the resources needed to implement the full spectrum of the reform package.
“Let there be no ambiguity of the direction that Fata is going to go into”, the security official said in a background interview. “The direction should be clear and it should take us toward merger.”
“There must not be any confusion”, he said. “This nation and its armed forces have paid unparalleled and unprecedented sacrifices for Fata and any delay could pose risks to the gains we have achieved.”
“It would be naïve to think that only the passage of a reform bill would bring about a change in Fata. It needs a clear plan with bench marks and timeframe with matching investment to improve the socio-economic condition of its people”, the official said.
However, there has been no forward movement on getting the resources to finance the reform plan.
An NIC meeting chaired by PM Abbasi in October had directed the finance minister “to seek, as a matter of priority, endorsement of the National Finance Commission to the proposal to allocate a share from the divisible pool for Fata the next 10 years.”
But despite the fact that ruling parties in all the four provinces — the PML-N, the PPP and the PTI, besides the federal government — which have publicly endorsed the reform plan, there has been no progress on bringing about a consensus on allocation of three percent of the National Finance Commission Award to fund it.
“Any delay in implementing the plan for the sake of political expediency would be a disservice to the people of Fata in particular and Pakistan in general”, the official said.