ISLAMABAD - The National Assembly on Friday unanimously passed a bill with majority vote to bring the federally administrated tribal areas (Fata) under the jurisdiction of the apex court and the Peshawar High Court. The government pledged to bring further reforms in these hilly areas in the northeast, along Afghan border, including their merger into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa at an “appropriate time”.

Both government and treasury members voted for the ‘The Supreme Court and High Court (Extension of Jurisdiction to Fata) Bill, 2017’, which is step towards bringing Fata into the national mainstream.

The bill however was strongly opposed by the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl, a politico-religious dwarf which has been resisting Fata reforms for their own political interest.

The statement of object and reasons of the bill, moved by Law and Justice Minister Bashir Virk, read: “The extension to these areas was made for safeguarding the rights of Fata areas and providing them the proper administration of justice in accordance with the constitution.

“In order to bring the people of Fata into the mainstream in accordance with their wishes and aspirations, it is necessary that the jurisdiction of Supreme Court and Peshawar High Court should be extended [to these areas].”

Lawmakers from treasury and opposition benches were seen congratulating each other and especially to the Fata members after the passage of the landmark bill.

JUI-F lawmaker Naeema Kishwar, before moving a list of amendments, made a failed attempt to disrupt the proceedings of the House by pointing out the quorum but the required strength was present in the House.

Kishwar said the words “Peshawar High Court” shall be substituted with the words “Islamabad High Court”.

“The bill was not mentioned in the ‘order of the day’, as it was included in the supplementary agenda. The government should have mentioned the bill in the agenda of the proceedings,” she objected.

The government had faced much criticism from the opposition for throwing out the ‘Fata reforms bill’ from the agenda in the previous sessions. The joint opposition had staged protests for nine consecutive days and refrained from taking part in the proceedings.

Two junior partners of the PML-N government — the JUI-F and the Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party — were not in favour of the Fata bill, and the heads of these parties, Fazlur Rahman and Mehmood Achakzai, had a number of times strongly opposed different clauses of the bill.

The government however reiterated its resolve on Friday to bring more reforms including the merger of the tribal areas with the KP, as per the recommendations of the Fata reforms committee.

Law Minister Bashir Virk and Safron Minister Qadir Baloch thanked the opposition for their cooperation for unanimously passing the bill. All the parliamentary parties, they said, stand united for the mainstreaming of tribal areas.

“The merger of Fata with KP will also be introduced at a proper time,” said Baloch, mentioning that the credit goes to the government for abolition the Frontier Crimes Regulation and extending the jurisdiction of superior courts to the tribal areas.

Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah termed the passage of the bill a step towards mainstreaming the tribal areas. “Another step regarding the merger of Fata with KP should also be taken,” Shah emphasised.

Fata member Shah G Gul Afridi, after the passage of the bill, said this step towards Fata reforms would bring positive change.

“It is the accomplishment of Pakistan... I believe it (legal reform) will help further strengthen Pakistan as it was in 1947,” he said.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf lawmaker Ali Muhammad Khan said that the step towards Fata reforms has won the hearts of the tribal people.

Jamaat-e-Islami leader Sahibzda Tariq Ullha also lauded the government for bringing and passing the bill. “It should have been passed much earlier though,” he said.