ISLAMABAD - The federal cabinet on Thursday approved recommendations of the Fata reforms committee, which envisages ‘mainstreaming’ of the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas and doing away with the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR).

The process would eventually lead to Fata’s merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) in the next five years, with people of these areas likely to begin electing their representatives to KP Assembly from 2018 elections.

In the previous two meetings the federal cabinet did not take up the issue of the Fata future amid differences among coalition partners on the merger of the hilly tribal belt, situated in the northwest of the country along Afghanistan border, with the KP province.

Coalition partners, the Jamiat Ulema-e Islam-Fazl and the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, had opposed the package offered by the government and threatened to protest if it was adopted.

Prime Minister Sharif believed there had been enough discussions on the topic with the stakeholders and it was about time to merge the area with KP, though he was also not ready to lose the two key allies.

An official statement issued here after the cabinet meeting – chaired by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif – said the premier and his team approved ‘in principle’ the recommendations of the Fata Reforms Committee. The statement said KP Governor Iqbal Zafar Jhagra was also in attendance.

Addressing the meeting, Prime Minister Sharif said that equal opportunities should be provided to everyone for development and therefore stressed the need for focusing on the development of under-developed areas for improving the living standards of the people.

He said that due share will be given from the national resources to the people of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan and Fata. The PM said that it was obligatory for the federal and provincial governments to also work for the welfare of the people of these regions.

The Premier said the spirit of being Pakistani should be promoted for the national cohesion. He added: “We should work for the development of every part of the country without any discrimination.”

He said tribal people were patriotic and they loved Pakistan. He said time had come that the tribal people will be brought into the mainstream to end their sense of deprivation.

Speaking at a news conference after the cabinet meeting, Adviser to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz, who headed the Fata Reforms Committee, said constitutional amendments would be introduced to ensure Fata people’s participation in the 2018 polls and allow them to elect their representatives to the KP assembly.

Federal Minister Abdul Qadir Baloch, Law Minister Zahid Hamid, KP Governor Iqbal Zafar Jhagra, State Minister for Information Marriyum Aurangzeb and Advisor to PM Amir Muqam also attended the media briefing.

Aziz said the implementation of the recommendations would be gradual. He said that FCR laws would be replaced with a new Rewaj (custom) system.

The quota of Fata students in educational and health institutions in other provinces would be doubled and retained for 10 years after integration with KP, he said.

He said under the committee’s recommendations repatriation of all the temporarily displaced persons would be completed by April 30.

“The reconstruction activities would be completed by 2018. The government aims to bring the people back to [normal] life,” he said.

Aziz said a high-level committee of experts, headed by KP governor will finalise a 10-year socio-economic development plan for Fata by April 30.

He said that the National Finance Commission Award would be asked to allocate 3 percent of the gross federal divisible pool on an annual basis for the implementation of the Fata Development Plan.

“The amount would be in addition to existing annual Public Sector Development Programme of Rs21 billion,” he said. The adviser said that 30 percent allocations under Fata Development Plan would go to local bodies.

He said Fata Development Authority would be reorganised under a Chief Operating Officer in BS-22 to supervise and coordinate reconstruction phase.

A Governor’s Advisory Council consisting of senators and members of the National Assembly from Fata would be formed to assist the governor in carrying out development and administrative functions, he said.

Permits of Rahdari (transit duty) for export and import in Fata would be abolished to eliminate large-scale corruption and bring down prices of essential items.

Aziz said the Auditor General of Pakistan would ensure that development funds and other expenditure of local bodies in Fata were properly audited to ensure efficient utilisation.

He said that the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and Peshawar High Court would be extended to Fata through an act of Parliament.

Aziz said that the State Bank of Pakistan would encourage the establishment of more branches of banks in Fata. He said proper coverage of Benazir Income Support Program, Baitul Mal and micro financing would be ensured in Fata. Land settlement in Fata would be planned and undertaken in consultation with stakeholders, he added.

Minister for States and Frontier Regions Qadir Baloch said Fata people were being given their due rights after 67 years of independence.

“Fata people would have their say in the advisory committee. We want to give their rights and allow them to shape their future,” he said.

He said Fata would be completely merged in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa after five years but the federal government will continue to provide funding for Fata Development Plan for ten years. He said around one billion rupees would be spent for development of Fata.

The minister said Fata would not be allowed to be made the controversial and black law of FCR would be abolished. He said additional posts of levies would be established in Fata.

Speaking on the occasion Governor Iqbal Zafar Jhagra said 85 percent of Internally Displaced Persons had returned to their homes and the whole process would be completed by June.

“The approval of the Fata reforms is a historic decision. This will change the fate of people of Fata. They will get their rights as first-class citizens,” he said.

Jhagra said the people of Fata were patriots who have been contributing to the progress and prosperity of the country. “The mainstreaming of the Fata will remove the sense of deprivation,” he contended.

Zahid Hamid, Marriyum Aurangzeb and Amir Mukam also termed the cabinet decision a historic step that would pave the way for prosperity for the people living in the tribal belt.