The Senate on Friday gave its assent to a bill seeking the extension of the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and Peshawar High Court (PHC) to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).
The Supreme Court and High Court (Extension of Jurisdiction to Fata) Bill 2017 had been lying with the upper house since it was passed by the National Assembly in January. It is one of a handful of reforms paving the way for an eventual merger of the tribal areas with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
A committee comprising the entire upper house deliberated on the matter today, with the federal government opposing any further amendments to it since that would have meant the bill would have to be taken back to the NA for approval, which would have caused further delays.
Speaking on the occasion, Minister for States and Frontier Regions (Safron) Abdul Qadir Baloch said: “All rulers, including me, are indebted to the people of Fata. No efforts were made in the past to give full rights to the people of Fata.”
He also criticised the current legal system in place, whereby the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) — according to which jirgas accord punishments in civil and criminal cases on the basis of their own traditions and beliefs while the state assumes a limited role — regulates life in the region.
He assured the house that the government was serious in its commitment to ensure the merger of Fata with KP.
The bill saw opposition from the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) — both key political players in Fata and allies of the PML-N led government.
“The decision to approve the bill is against the people of Fata,” JUI-F Senator Maulana Attaur Rehman — whose party wants Fata to be made a separate province — said. “The parliament is losing its dignity,” he complained.
He further said that the bill being supported by both the government and the opposition raises questions about it being brought on “someone else’s” behest.
Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa had on Wednesday stressed that it is imperative that the region is “mainstreamed” and merged with KP according to the wishes of its people.
Debate around the merger of Fata has accelerated with the recent Pakhtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) protests demanding the restoration of routine life in Fata — even though the movement does not have an official stance on whether Fata should be merged with KP or carved into a separate province.
The Fata reforms, which include its merger with KP as well as the extension of courts’ jurisdiction, are a part of one of the points listed in the the National Action Plan (NAP) to counter terrorism in the country.
The move to extend jurisdiction was previously rejected by the opposition as it was perceived to be a delaying tactic used by the government to avoid the Fata merger in a bid to appease its coalition partners, the JUI-F and PkMAP, who opposed it.
The federal cabinet had approved the extension of the SC and Islamabad High Court (IHC) to Fata in September last year, but the NA Standing Committee on Law and Justice later changed it to PHC from IHC as MNAs from Fata said it would be extremely cumbersome for residents of Fata to travel to the federal capital for justice.