ISLAMABAD - To break the impasse on implementing FATA reforms and its mainstreaming, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has called a meeting of parliamentary parties’ heads for today (Monday) to thrash out a possible way forward.

There is a clear disagreement among political parties on the FATA reforms issue, one group demanding its immediate merger with the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province and the other opposing the merger and demanding that either it should be given an independent status on the pattern of Gilgit-Baltistan or go for a referendum in FATA to decide the fate and future of the people living in these areas.

The government has recently extended the jurisdiction of the Peshawar High Court and the Supreme Court to these areas and also abolished the draconian Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), introduced by the British rulers for arm-twisting of the tribal people.

Those in favour of the merger of these areas with the KP province were not satisfied with these measures and demand of the federal government to bring these areas in the mainstream and it would only be possible when it would be merged with the province.

Qaumi Watan Party chief Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao, who is an ardent supporter of FATA merger with KP, said that they would push the government to take practical steps for mainstreaming of these areas and it would only be possible when these areas were merged with the province.

He said that these areas must be given representation in the provincial assembly in the upcoming general election and they would not accept a proposal for holding provincial assembly elections in these areas in April next year.

Sherpao said that even the elections would be delayed for a few months for conducting delimitation of provincial assembly constituencies in these areas it should be done as the complication of holding provincial assembly elections next year would have its own negative imperils.

He said that the sitting government in the province would have great influence in these areas and the elections on provincial assembly seats held under sitting provincial government would greatly swing in its favour, which would not be acceptable to other stakeholders.

He said that the government should have expedited the process of FATA mainstreaming after the presentation of a special committee led by Sartaj Aziz, which had recommended its merger with KP, but the PML-N due to political considerations has delayed it.

He said that for giving representation to the FATA people in the provincial assembly, they were prepared to even accept a delay in the general election for a few months.

The other parties in favour of FATA merger with KP included Awami National Party, FATA parliamentarians, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, the Jamaat-i-Islami and some other independent FATA groups.

While the Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl and the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party vehemently oppose its merger and want a separate status for FATA. As both these parties were in coalition with ruling PML-N in the federal government, they had successfully stymied a decision regarding its merger with the KP province.

Sources in the PML-N said that the government was in favour of its merger but owing to pressure from the JUI-F and the PkhMAP, it had deferred the process till the upcoming general election.

Now a proposal is on the table regarding FATA mainstreaming including holding local bodies elections in these areas in October this year while elections for provincial assembly seats would be held in April next year.

Under the proposed plan there would be 24 provincial assembly constituencies in the whole of FATA for which the delimitation process would be initiated in due course. Right now, there are some 12 National Assembly seats from FATA and under the plan, under each National Assembly seat, there would be two provincial assembly seats on the pattern in rest of the country.