ISLAMABAD  -  In a landmark development the National Assembly on Thursday passed a constitutional amendment, paving the way for the merger of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

The 14th National Assembly in its last days managed to get the “Constitutional (31st amendment) Bill, 2018” passed with 229 votes in favour and only a single vote against.

In a rare show of unity among major political parties, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) voted in favour of the bill.

However, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), both the coalition allies of the PML-N, left the House in protest after tearing up the copies of the bill. The only vote cast against the bill came from PTI dissident Dawar Kundi.

According to the constitutional amendment moved by Law Minister Chaudhry Mahmood Bashir Virk, Fata will be granted 16 general seats, four seats for women and one seat for non-Muslims in KP Assembly. Elections to these seats shall be held within one-year after the general election 2018.

Members of the National Assembly from Fata to be elected in 2018 elections shall continue till the dissolution of the assembly.

The number of seats of Senate has been reduced to 96 from 104. The existing members of the Senate from the Fata shall continue till the expiry of their respective terms of office.

The new legislation also envisages amendment in article 246 and repeal of article 247 which place the tribal areas under the command and control of the president.

In around four-hour-long proceedings, the House also witnessed a rumpus over different issues as MQM-P and PPP members exchanged hot words while a verbal brawl between some PML-N lawmakers and PTI was also seen during the session.

The House managed to secure one more vote than needed to get the Fata bill passed as a constitutional amendment needs at least 228 votes for approval.

PTI’s chief Imran Khan, who had been skipping several sessions in the past, showed up to vote for the Fata mainstreaming bill. He faced much criticism over his remarks against the Parliament.

Both main critiques of Fata-KP merger, JUI-F chief Maulana Fazalur Rahman and PkMAP top leader Mehmood Achakzai along with some other prominent members did not turn up on the crucial day.

Government ministers including Ahsan Iqbal, Barjees Tahir, Ameer Zaman, Akram Durrani and Murtaza Jatoi also did not show up for the historic legislation.

Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, after the passage of the Fata bill, said that it was just the beginning to bring Fata to the national mainstream.

“We have to win the trust and confidence of the tribal people by fulfilling the development needs,” he said claiming that his party was committed to the development of the area.

“There is a need to give the same kind of amenities to the people of Fata as are available to the people of other areas. There should be no discrimination on the matter of development.”

Abbasi said the legislation will have far-reaching effects for the whole country. “Efforts for Fata mainstreaming had been afoot for the last over four years and today we have successfully managed an important step,” he said.

He thanked the opposition benches for extending support for the passage of the constitutional amendment.

The prime minister, responding to the points raised by the PTI chief about rigging in 2013 elections and the Panamagate, said that “such issues should not have been raised on this historic day. The fate of political parties will be decided by the people in the elections to be held July this year”.

On the points raised by Opposition Leader Khurshid Shah regarding the water shortage in Sindh, he said water distribution among provinces was being carried out on the basis of 1991 water accord.

“Currently, 90 percent less water is available in Mangla and Tarbela and the water flow has reduced by 54 percent as compared to previous years due to less snowfall,” the premier informed the House.

“If a province, especially Sindh, has any reservation on the water allocation by Irsa, it can bring the issue to the Council of Common Interests,” he said.

Speaking in the House earlier, Imran Khan termed the constitutional amendment a big triumph of the entire Pakistan.

“A big anomaly has been removed with this legislation...This legislation will help end the old system in a part of our country,” he said, calling the bill an important step to address the grievances of the tribal people. Khan proposed that rehabilitation of the tribal people should be done through their local representatives.

The PTI chairman also unleashed criticism on former prime minister Nawaz Sharif for his comments on 2014 sit-in saying it was staged after their demand for an audit of four constituencies was not accepted.

Inviting rumpus and exchange of heated remarks between PTI and PML-N members, he also accused Sharif of money-laundering. “We are people representatives so why shouldn’t we pose questions against the prime minister, who has been involved in money-laundering,” he said.

PPP’s Naveed Qamar said that the constitutional amendment will be an important milestone in bringing the tribal areas at par with other areas of the country. He also expressed satisfaction that all parties were on the same page on the issue.

Sahabzada Tariqullah of Jamaat-e-Islami also welcomed the passage of the constitutional amendment and expressed the confidence that it will usher in a new prosperity in the tribal areas.

As these are the last days of the 14th National Assembly, the lawmakers with their leaders and colleagues, in the mid of proceedings, opted for a photo shoot.

Imran Khan with his party members got a photograph taken near the speaker’s podium. Prime Minister Abbasi, Khursheed Shah and PPP’s Naveed Qamar posed for a photograph near the seat of the prime minister. Three parliamentary leaders Shireen Mazari, Aijaz Jhakrani and Sheikh Aftab also had a photo shoot.

 

 

NA passes historic KP-Fata merger bill