Maulana Fazalur Rehman of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) has been against the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) merger from the start of the discussion, but Monday’s special session in the National Assembly to pass the reform bills showed just how alone he stands in his opposition to the plan.

This obstinate stand is complicated by the fact that his party is a government coalition partner; an unresolvable issue might lead to the dissolution of that partnership. This is perhaps why the reforms have been delayed as long as they have been despite bipartisan support, to try and accommodate the JUI-F chief. The time has come however, to put issues above politics. If the passage of such a crucial and popular reform package comes at the cost of a coalition partner – so be it. With the elections within touching distance, issues and legislation will resonate more with the public than faction-making.

The session also demonstrated how empty the JUI-F’s reasons for opposition to the move are. Maulana Fazlur Rehman declaimed that according to a Jirga hosted by his party the people of FATA are against the move – but he fails to see the ranks upon ranks of parliamentarians who have come with the blessing of their tribal constituents, or the more recent Jirgas which have supported the merger. It is telling that the most caustic rebuttals to Mr Rehman came from the lawmakers of FATA itself, who called the delay in the reform package “a criminal act” and whose remarks against the JUI-F chief sparked a brief spate of personal attacks. Maulana Fazlur Rehman is alone and against the tide of events – his opposition must not become a hurdle in the debate on the matter.

That is why the Parliament must reject the spurious calls for a referendum and proceed with the reform. The purpose of this special session was not to discuss if the reform package should be passed or not – there is ample support for it – but to debate the specifics of the bills and make sure that there is enough discussion on the controversial elements of the Riwaj Bill before it is put to vote.

Just because there is bipartisan support for reform does not mean there is support for everything in the package. The parliament has done well to set aside political point scoring to come together as a legislature, now it must do its duty with diligence.