Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Provincial Assembly votes to merge with Pakistani Federally Administered Tribal Areas

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

On Sunday, the assembly of Pakistan's north-west province Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) passed a bill to merge the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) with the province. The bill was passed with 92–7 votes, achieving more than the mandatory two-thirds majority.

Location of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province (May 30, 2018).
Image: TUBS. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The "Federally Administered Tribal Areas Reforms Bill, 2018", which seeks to end the colonial-era rules which are applicable to the five million people living in FATA, was approved by the federal lower house, the National Assembly, on Thursday, and by the upper house — the Senate — on Friday. In the Provincial Assembly, Imtiaz Shahid Qureshi, who serves as Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister, tabled the bill. Out of 124 total votes, the bill required at least 83 votes for a two-thirds majority. Only seven members of the opposition Jamiat Ulema-e Islam (F) (JUI-F) voted against the bill.

Since Pakistani independence from British rule in 1947, the Pakistani President has appointed "Political Agents" to govern FATA, who exercise near-complete autonomous control over the areas. These agents are responsible for providing government and judicial services under Article 247 of the Pakistani Constitution. Before January 12, when a bill extended the writ of both the Pakistani Supreme Court and Peshawar High Court to FATA, the tribal areas were outside the jurisdiction of the Pakistani courts. Instead, the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) were the applicable law of FATA. Per the regulations dating back to the colonial era, collective punishment of a tribe could be declared and FATA citizens do not enjoy all the rights under the Constitution of Pakistan that other Pakistanis are entitled to.

KP Chief Minister Pervez Khattak said, "Under the FCR, the tribal people had suffered a lot, now, they would have the same rights that are being enjoyed by the people of the other parts of the country."

This bill, which now requires the approval of the Pakistani President, is expected to abolish Article 247 of the Pakistani Constitution which lays down directions for administering the federally and the provincially administered tribal areas of the country. If removed, Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA) citizens would lose certain privileges and incentives. Members of KP Provincial Assembly from the Malakand division (the PATA) including Inayatullah Khan, Sardar Babak, Dr Haider Ali, and Muhammad Ali Shah expressed their dissatisfaction with the purging of incentives for PATA. Those assembly members also asked for exemption of taxes for PATA citizens. Chief Minister Pervez Khattak said he would raise the concerns with the Federal Government, requesting a ten-year tax exemption for PATA citizens.

About a hundred protesters protested in the morning in front of the Assembly building. Police officer Kamal Hussein said six police officials were injured in the clash as JUI-F members and supporters threw stones towards the policeman. Hussein added they used tear gas to disperse the crowd. A dozen JUI-F members were arrested in the clash. Some protestors were saying, "We will not let the FATA merger bill be approved". JUI-F's Maulana Lutfur Rehman said the tribal people should be given the chance to decide about the merger. According to the police report, the protestors also threatened to lock the gates of the Assembly building to prevent the assembly scheduled for 2 PM, local time. Lawmaker Shaukat Yousafzai condemned the protests.

Chief Minister Khattak said he "wondered why PkhMAP [Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party] chairman Mahmood Khan Achakzai, whose party is just limited to certain districts of Balochistan, is opposing the merger of FATA into KP". The provincial assembly voted for the bill before the assembly was scheduled to dissolve on May 29 at 12 AM, local time, with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf administration reaching completion of its five-year term.

Per the Bill, the five million citizens of FATA, which consists of seven main tribal agencies and six smaller Frontier Regions, will gain the right to vote for representatives in the KP Provincial Assembly and the National Assembly.

The bill, which is expected to be the 31st amendment to the Pakistani Constitution, now requires the President's signature to pass. It was first cleared by the Provincial Assembly due to article 239 (4) of the Pakistani Constitution, which states that any bill which may lead to a constitutional amendment and alter provincial boundaries requires at least a two-thirds majority from the affected provincial assembly before it is presented to the President.

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