ISLAMABAD - The members National Assembly and senators from Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) were sharply divided over the merger of the tribal areas into Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa as some of them wanted special status for these areas on the pattern of Gilgit-Baltistan.

Though the Parliamentary Committee on Fata Reforms led by Adviser to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz was still in the process of consultations and taking input from various stakeholders on various reforms options for Fata, which also included merger of Fata in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, had not reached any conclusion but so far the tilt was vividly in favour of the merger option.

KP Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak during his meeting with the Parliamentary Committee on Fata Reforms in the beginning of this month had rejected the proposal of phased merger of Fata in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa over the next five years time and asked the committee members to ensure the merger of these areas in the province by 2018, so that the people of these areas could avail the opportunity of becoming member of provincial legislature, which otherwise would be available to them in 2023.

He also stressed the need of extending the local bodies system to these areas under the 2011 local bodies law passed by the provincial government so that the people of these areas could become direct stakeholder in the governance at basic tier of the governance.

Some of the Fata members in Upper House of the Parliament like Senator Saleh Shah were opposed to the merger of the Fata areas into KP while Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (Fazl) Parliamentarians from Fata also wanted independent status of Fata on the pattern of Gilgit-Baltistan Council as according to these people the merger would further add to the problems of the people of these areas which were already under-developed and backward.

They further contend that the financial position of KP was already weak and the province could not bear the burden of the people residing in some seven agencies and FR areas comprising Fata and said that either a new province comprising these areas should be made or it should be given special status on the pattern of Gilgit-Baltistan.

The ruling Pakistan Muslim League –Nawaz was in favour of the merger of these areas into KP as historically and culturally these areas are more close to KP while the seven agencies and the FR areas are so mingled up with the districts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa that carving out a new province or granting Fata special status practically would not be possible.

The initial report of Parliamentary Committee on Fata Reforms was already tabled before both houses of the Parliament for debate on the direction of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif while the PM had also directed the committee members and his National Security Adviser Lt-Gen(r) Nasir Khan Janjua to hold talks with all stakeholders and then some final decision on the fate and future of the area should be made which must be reflective of the aspirations of the people living in these areas.

Meanwhile, the regional parties like Awami National Party and Qoumi Watan Party also wanted the merger of Fata in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and in this connection these parties had already given their input to the Fata reforms body and most of their recommendations were incorporated in the final draft recommendations presented before the Parliament for debate.

Both the houses of the Parliament would be having detailed debate on the matter in its upcoming sessions most likely in October and then some final decision on the fate and future of Fata would be made.

Spread over 27,220 square kilometer, the Fata comprises seven agencies—-Bajaur, Mohmand, Khyber, Kuram, Orakzai, South Waziristan and North Waziristan while six frontier regions including FR Bannu, FR Lakki Marwat, FR Tank, FR Peshawar, FR Kohat and FR DI Khan were also part of these federally administered tribal areas.

Earlier before compiling the recommendations for reformations in Fata areas the Parliamentary Committee on Fata Reforms had visited all the tribal agencies and held meetings with the elected representatives of those areas, including businessmen, tribal elders (Maliks), educated youth, religious leaders and members of the civil society, to ascertain their point of view. The committee also held meetings with the notables of all Frontier regions and other stakeholders as well.