ISLAMABAD - The civil and military leadership has agreed to grant more administrative and financial autonomy to Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan while keeping AJK and GB councils as advisory bodies.

A decision to this effect was taken on Saturday at a meeting of the National Security Committee (NSC), the apex civil-military forum, after a detailed reflection on the reform proposals about AJK and GB in the light of the recommendations of a Sartaj Aziz-led committee.

In the NSC marathon session, which continued for over four hours, the civil and military leadership also put its weight behind the merger of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) into the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

The NSC also recommended granting a five-year tax levy to GB so as to create adequate incentives for the development of the region and bring it at par with other developed areas of the country.

At the outset of the NSC meeting, the second in a week, the participants expressed satisfaction on the principled stand taken by Pakistan on Kashmir and Palestine and its articulation at various world fora.

Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi gave a detailed overview of his participation in an extraordinary OIC meeting held in Turkey, where he forcefully advocated the country’s viewpoint on Palestine and Kashmir issues.

Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Sartaj Aziz and Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan briefed the NSC on the AJK and GB reforms proposals. The committee reviewed these proposals from the perspective of their conformity with the aspirations of the people of these areas.

Following detailed deliberations, a consensus was reached on the devolution of greater administrative authority and financial power to AJK and GB governments, retention of AJK and GB councils as advisory bodies and grant of a five-year tax holiday to GB to bring it at par with the other areas of the country.

The NSC also discussed the question of the merger of Fata into KP.

The prime minister apprised the participants that his consultations on the issue with the leaders of other political parties in the Parliament had reflected a broad consensus on the merger.

Weighing all the pros and cons, the NSC endorsed the merger as well as extension of administrative and judicial institutional structures and laws of KP to Fata.

The committee directed the ministries concerned to work out constitutional, legal and administrative modalities for the merger in consultation with all parties in the Parliament.

The committee also endorsed the provision of additional well-monitored development funds for the Fata region during the next 10 years, with the stipulation that these funds would not be re-appropriated to any other area of KP.

The interior ministry presented details of the measures it had formulated to liberalise the visa regime in particular for tourists and businesspersons. The committee instructed the ministry to further refine its proposals and submit them for consideration at the next meeting.

The ministry of foreign affairs briefed the committee on the regional and global security situation. The committee resolved that Pakistan will continue to play its role for peace and security in the region and beyond.

The meeting, held under the chair of PM Abbasi, was also attended by Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, Defence and Foreign Affairs Minister Khurram Dastgir, Finance Minister Miftah Ismail, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Gen Zubair Mahmood Hayat, Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Zafar Mahmood Abbasi, Chief of Air Staff Mujahid Anwar Khan, ISI Director General Lt-Gen Naveed Mukhtar and other senior civil and military officials.