ISLAMABAD -  Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl’s demand for a referendum to decide the fate of the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas reforms is aimed at buying time and delaying the matter till the next general elections.

JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman reiterated the demand of granting special status to the Fata areas and proposed holding of the referendum for the purpose so that the people of these areas could give their opinion on Fata’s merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The JUI-F and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, both in coalition government with Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz at the Centre, are against the Fata reforms and merger of these areas with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

PkMAP chief Mahmood Khan Achakzai is quite clear in his demand of a separate province for the people living in the seven agencies and six frontier regions comprising Fata, while the JUI-F chief has been a bit cautious and has suggested holding of the referendum to know the wish of the people about the fate and future of the area.

Interestingly, almost a majority of the Fata parliamentarians in both the houses of the parliament are in favour of Fata’s merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and have demanded the government go for implementing the Fata reforms without any further delay.

The ruling PML-N has made several attempts to convince both its coalition partners over the Fata reforms, but Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Mahmood Khan Achakzai have not so far changed their stance.

Over a couple of weeks, the government made serious attempts to convince JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman on the issue and, besides a couple of meetings Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and ministers held with him to convince him, a meeting of Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa with him was also arranged at the time of his address to the Senate Whole Committee, but to no avail.

Later, on his demand, the prime minister also held a meeting with the Supreme Council of the Fata Grand Jirga and tried to convince them on the Fata reforms and its merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The sources aware of the developments taking place on this front informed The Nation that all what the JUI-F leadership wanted is to get the matter deferred till the general elections due in second half of next year, and that is why Maulana Fazl had put the condition of holding of a referendum.

In the absence of proper infrastructure and facilities, holding of the referendum in these areas would not be an easy task; especially the harsh winter would also hamper the way of any such activity as some areas of the Fata cannot be accessed before April due to a heavy snow.

Political analysts said the idea of holding the referendum in these areas would be no solution as a majority of the Fata residents have already left their homes due to the military operation and most of them have not repatriated as yet.

So the results of the referendum to be held in the given circumstances cannot be a true reflection of the sentiments of the people of the region.

The analysts opined the geographic placement of the seven agencies and six FR regions comprising Fata cannot permit its conversion into a separate province.

These analysts said the debate of a separate province would open a Pandora’s box and the movements seeking separate provinces elsewhere would gain momentum.

The PkMAP would definitely exploit the situation as the move would provide to it a ground for getting a separate province in Balochistan on the areas mainly inhabited by Pashtuns.

Similarly, the movement for South Punjab long demanding a status of a separate province, Hazara province and the bifurcation of Sindh into two provinces would also get impetus from the move.

The Fata parliamentarians termed all those creating hurdles in the way of Fata’s merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa part of the conspiracy to keep the people of those areas backward and under the draconian laws of the British era.

Fata MNA Shah Jee Gul Afridi said those opposing Fata’s merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are playing in the hands of those who do not want to see those areas come at par with the rest of the country.

Another MNA from Fata, Shahabuddin, termed it a golden opportunity to redress the grievances of the people of those areas by merging them with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. bHe termed the politics of the Fata Supreme Council a conspiracy against the people of those areas and said pressure groups and gangs had already inflicted serious damage to the unity of the nation.

The lawmaker said all what people of Fata want are equal rights and treatment at par with the people living in the rest of the country.