ISLAMABAD - A multi-party conference called by Awami National Party on the issue of Federally Administered Tribal Areas’ future Thursday failed to agree on the tribal belt’s merger into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province as two key participants opposed the proposal.

Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl Chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party Chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai rejected the idea of merging Fata into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Others including the Pakistan People’s Party and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement pressed for an early merger.

According to the joint declaration issued after the conference, the majority supported the merger but the JUI-F and PkMAP disapproved the proposal. The conference called for establishing formal judicial system under the jurisdiction of the Peshawar High Court in Fata after abolishing the Frontier Crimes Regulations.

The participants also urged the government to pave way for representation of tribal areas in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly before the general elections, ensuring a conducive environment for the people of Fata to participate in the polls.

They demanded provision of all legal, constitutional and basic human rights to the people of tribal areas. “In addition, a 10-year development project should be announced for the region and its people be given a formal representation in the provincial assembly,” the statement said. Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Achakzai did not sign the joint declaration.

Earlier, addressing the conference PPP leader Senator Farhatullah Babar said that Pakistan should stop treating Afghanistan as its fifth province as it was a sovereign country. He said peace in Pakistan was also linked to peace in Afghanistan. The conference was organised by the Awami National Party.

Senator Babar said the guidelines formulated by the Senate had proposed an agreed mechanism for verification of cross border allegations.  “It must be heeded that the policy towards Afghanistan must be revisited to drive away the elephant from the room,” he said.

The PPP leader said peace and development in tribal areas will remain elusive until the black elephant in the black hole of Fata is identified and reined in.

“We must condemn and denounce Trump for blaming Pakistan for US failures in Afghanistan but it should not prevent us from looking inwardly also to chase away the elephant,” he added.

He wondered why the previous decision to extend the jurisdiction of the Peshawar High Court had been changed and instead the jurisdiction of Islamabad High Court extended. “It seems that policymakers are not bothered about difficulties being faced by litigants of Fata in travelling from far off places to IHC,” he said.

The provincial Assembly of Khyber Pakhtunkhaw, he said had passed unanimous resolutions demanding extension of jurisdiction of PHC to tribal areas and the PHC in a 2014 verdict asked the federal government to make legislation.

“Why this change he asked and said that it reflected Islamabad’s mindset to foist itself on people of Fata even if symbolically. This mindset derived sadistic pleasure in flaunting Islamabad in relation to any move in tribal areas,” he said.

Babar added: “It reflects a hidden desire to continue remote control of tribal from the Aiwan-e-Sadar (the President’s House). Fata is remote controlled- in times of peace from presidency and in times of war by drones remote operated from Virginia in the US.”

About the merger, he said that keeping in view the administrative, social, cultural, linguistic, political and geographical conditions and that all roads from Fata led into the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and its merger in the province was most logical.

He said that those political parties which fear that merger will change the drivers of political discourse in Fata and the mosque and the pulpit will no longer dominate the political discourse, were opposed to merger.

About the Chief Operating Officer, he said there is a need for clarity on the newly-created post of COO. “Who will be the COO and who will appoint him.  If a serving General is appointed it will effectively shift the locus of power from Islamabad to Rawalpindi and further militarise instead of mainstream and civilianise tribal areas,” he maintained.

The civilian President and the civilian governor of the province will be made redundant, he added. “The veil of secrecy will thicken and the black hole of tribal areas will become darker. Questions about militants hiding will be raised even more vehemently and no satisfactory answers forthcoming Pakistan will face increasing criticism and isolation,” he said.

He deplored that PkMAP Chief Mahmood Khan Achakzai referred to independence of India Act, a 1923 tribal jirga (assembly) and Lord Curzon and Cunningham but ignored to mention that tribal people had themselves joined Pakistan.

The lawmaker said Article 1 of the constitution clearly stated that Fata was part of Pakistan. “Achakzai’s remarks will make headlines but are far from reality,” he said.