PML-N ally Fazl opposes Fata reforms in NA ISLAMABAD: Cracks emerged within the ruling coalition on Monday when Maulana Fazlur Rehman, one of the main allies of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), opposed the Fata reforms package in the National Assembly.
The assembly session, which was called specifically to take up the draft laws aimed at mainstreaming the tribal areas, also witnessed unsavoury exchanges between the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief and Fata lawmakers.
This prompted Shah Mehmood Qureshi of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) to observe that while the opposition was on board over the reforms package, it appeared as if the government had been unable to win over its own coalition partner.
“Either the government should withdraw the bills or Maulana Sahib’s party should announce quitting the government,” Mr Qureshi said, adding that it appeared that the government had presented the bills without any homework. He said it was for the sake of reforms in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas that his party had decided not to speak on other important issues like ‘news leak and Panama Papers leaks’.
Tribal lawmakers say not passing reforms would be ‘criminal act’
Earlier, Minister for States and Frontier Regions (Safron) Abdul Qadir Baloch introduced two bills — a constitution amendment and the Rewaj Act.
Another important bill seeking to grant extension of the Supreme Court and the Peshawar High Court to Fata was also on the agenda, but was not moved by the minister, without any explanation.
The 30th amendment bill suggests adding 23 seats for Fata in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly, raising the total number of the legislature’s members to 147 from the existing 124. Of Fata’s seats, 18 will be general, four reserved for women and one for religious minorities.
The bills were referred to the Safron standing committee after the speaker ruled that all the Fata legislators could participate in the proceedings and all the parties could nominate one additional member each to the panel, if they wanted.
The JUI-F leader made no secret of his opposition to the proposed laws and, soon after they were introduced, launched a tirade against the ruling party on the floor of the house. He claimed that the government had violated its agreement with his party and none of the agreed points had been incorporated into the legislation presented.
“We won’t let you do business over the people of Fata,” he said, referring to the PML-N.
This did not go down well with members of the PML-N and Fata lawmakers, who began to jeer the JUI-F chief with references to the “diesel trade”. In return, the Maulana also passed some personal remarks against the Fata members, saying that he “knows where they have come from”.
Maulana Fazl launched a long-winded critique of the government and the proposed laws and demanded that the issue be settled through a referendum.
Returning to the house after Maghreb prayers, the JUI-F chief took the floor again to give a detailed account of his talks with the government on the issue, which he claimed had begun after the lone minister from his party, Akram Durrani, opposed the Fata reforms package in the federal cabinet.
Maulana Fazl said his party had arranged a grand jirga of tribal elders in Islamabad during the last government’s time and representatives of all the mainstream parties, including the PML-N and the PPP, had participated in it. He said only the said jirga had the authority to take decisions about the future of Fata in accordance with the declaration issued at the end of the meeting.
He was of the view that the merger of Fata with KP could create more border issues with Afghanistan.
The JUI-F chief also appeared repentant about his harsh reaction earlier and apologised for his unsavoury remarks.
The only support for the JUI-F’s stance, surprisingly, came from the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), which endorsed the demand for a referendum.
MQM MNA Waseem Hussain even called for the creation of 20 provinces in the country and demanded that a commission be set up for the purpose.
But Leader of the Opposition Syed Khurshid Shah alleged that the government was intentionally creating such a situation since it was not interested in carrying out the Fata reforms. “They are not serious and the JUI-F knows it,” he said. He alleged that the government was playing with the sentiments of Fata’s people.
In a passionate speech, Fata MNA Shahjee Gul Afridi claimed that certain people still wanted to keep the people of the tribal areas as “slaves” and to establish their own kingdom. He indirectly attacked the JUI-F, asking: “Where were you when the people of Fata needed you?” Now, he said, these people wanted to do “political point scoring”.
Mr Afridi said not enacting the Fata reforms would be “a criminal act”.
PML-N’s MNA from Fata Shahabuddin Khan also lashed out at his party’s coalition partner, alleging that the JUI- F wanted to make the tribal region “a state within the state”. He rejected the examples of East Timor and Ireland, given by the JUI-F chief, saying the people of those territories wanted to secede from their states and arguing that the Fata issue was different.
Winding up the discussion, the Safron minister assured the JUI-F chief that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the government were committed to honouring their agreement with his party.
“There can be further debate on the status of Fata, but at least allow us to take some steps to improve the conditions in Fata and give the people their fundamental rights,” he said. The minister said that the jirga formed by a political party could not be given the power of taking such important decisions, as any other party could come out with such an arrangement of its own in future.