Pakistani President signs bill to merge Federally Administered Tribal Areas with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

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Saturday, June 2, 2018

On Thursday, Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain signed a bill to merge the country's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) with the neighbouring province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).

The "Federally Administered Tribal Areas Reforms Bill, 2018", seeking 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 May 24, the upper house — the Senate — on May 25 and the KP Provincial Assembly on May 27. The bill was presented to the president by Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani on Tuesday for the president's assent. President Hussain's approval for the 25th Constitutional Amendment will remove mention of "FATA" from the Constitution.

Since Pakistani independence from British rule in 1947, the Pakistani President had been appointing "Political Agents" to govern FATA, who exercised near-complete autonomous control over the areas. These agents were 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 Regulation (FCR) was the applicable law of FATA. Per this regulation, dating back to the colonial era, collective punishment of a tribe was possible, and FATA citizens did not enjoy all the rights under the Constitution of Pakistan that other Pakistanis were entitled to.

Along with the purging of "FATA" from the Pakistani constitution, the merger bill affects Article 1 of the constitution which defines Pakistan's territories. The bill includes changes in the legislative area. KP is to have 55 seats in the country's National Assembly, and the Senate size is to be decreased to 96 from 104 by 2024. The bill also adds 21 new seats — sixteen general ones, four exclusively for women and one for a non-Muslim candidate — for the FATA citizens in the KP Provincial Assembly; it previously had 124 seats.

The president is yet to sign the 31st Amendment of the Constitution resulting in the usurpation of Article 247 of the Pakistani Constitution which lays down directions for administering the federally and the provincially administered tribal areas of the country. KP is to receive a "FATA Interim Governance Regulation" once the president signs the 31st Amendment. However, the removal of Article 247 would lead to Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA) citizens losing certain privileges and incentives. Members of the 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. Outgoing Chief Minister of KP, Pervez Khattak said he would raise the concerns with the Federal Government, requesting a ten-year tax exemption for PATA citizens.

After approving the bill, the president said this move is to "open up an entire era of prosperity and development for its people and help them progress in all spheres of life". He added, saying, "The nation needs to work together to fully benefit from this historic opportunity."

The merger bill was proposed by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, and passed with 229–1, 71–5, and 92–7 in the National Assembly, Senate and the KP Provincial Assembly respectively. The Jamiat Ulema-e Islam (F) and Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party were the two parties to oppose the merger in both, provincial and national assemblies.