ISLAMABAD - The Senate Friday passed the 31st Constitutional Amendment Bill seeking the merger of Fata with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with a two-thirds majority vote of opposition and treasury benches amid some concerns from PkMAP and JUI-F, contending the landmark bill was not an initiative of the parliament, but that of the military establishment.

As major parliamentary parties, including Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Pakistan People’s Party and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, were on the same page on the constitutional amendment bill which got 71 votes from the 104-member house in favour and five in opposition. All five lawmakers of Pakhtunkhwa Mill Awami Party (PkMAP), a government ally, voted against the bill. JUI-F, a government ally, walked out of the house against the move without participating in the voting.

The PML-N had to struggle to get the two-thirds of votes as required for the passage of a constitutional amendment and had to bring its ailing senator, Dr Sadia Abbasi, to the house. So with these efforts, it slightly crossed the minimum figure by only two votes as at least 69 votes were required to pass the bill.

The constitutional amendment bill which will now be numbered as 25th Constitutional Amendment needs approval of the Khyber Pakhtunkwa Assembly with the two-thirds majority of votes to become part of the Constitution. The approval of the KP Assembly, whose term is going to expire on May 28, is the last requirement of that constitutional amendment to get the presidential assent. The National Assembly has already passed the bill.

Under Article 239(4) of the Constitution, the president cannot assent a constitutional amendment bill which affects geographical boundaries of a province without approval by that provincial assembly.

Soon after the announcement of voting results, Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani greeted the Fata people for now being part of the mainstream.

The 25th Constitutional Amendment will allow elections of KP Assembly for the first time in the area in 2018 as the area will have 21 seats in the assembly. Similarly, all eight Fata seats in the Senate will stand abolished in 2024. Furthermore, the number of seats in the National Assembly for Fata will also be reduced as the total National Assembly seats would be reduced from 342 to 336 in the general elections 2023.

Before the passage of the constitutional amendment bill that was tabled by Law Minister Bashir Mehmood Virk, Usman Kakar of PkMAP opposed the bill and called it a black day for Fata. He said the other day was also a black day when the National Assembly passed the constitutional amendment bill. He alleged the merger of Fata with KP was being done under “the supervision of Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa”. He questioned how the National Security Committee (NSC) could say that Fata should be merged with KP. He further alleged all political parties had a consensus on the merger only because the military establishment was behind the move. “All are in a hurry to get the constitutional amendment passed because a general has ordered its passage,” he said while giving a direct reference to the military establishment.

Kakar also went on to say that treasury and opposition parties were bringing an amendment in the constitution that actually was not their authority. He said the passage of this constitutional amendment bill was violation of Article 247 of the Constitution as only the president had powers to make changes in the boundaries of the area. He claimed 15 million people of Fata did not want merger with KP, but wanted reforms and development and the decision of merger was against their wishes.

Former Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani whose party voted in favour the bill also endorsed some of the points raised by Kakar and regretted the parliament was not the initiator of the this move; rather it was the military establishment that took the initiative. He said former president Asif Ali Zardari wanted to announce Fata reforms in 2009, but some “unseen forces” prevented him from doing so as they did not want the merger then —a reference towards the military establishment. “But when these forces have a change of thought on a certain issue, it looks that strings are attached to the parliament,” he said, adding this was seen at the corps commanders conference on April 11 when the Fata issue was discussed. The political parties made a lot of efforts to get the bill passed till May 20 as the NSC said Fata should be merged with KP. “This means parliament did not take initiative on its own and it needed prodding,” he said and added that to his understanding, the parliament could not act and acted only as a puppet.

Rabbani also opposed the creation of new provinces and said the notion in the sense was wrong that this constitutional amendment would pave way for creation of more administrative units. He said new provinces could not be made on administrative grounds as they have their own cultures, languages and ethnicities. “We will not allow creation of more administrative units as provinces have historical perspectives,” he said.

MQM Senator Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif said they should not be mistaken that Fata will become a paradise after this amendment. He said more provinces should be created to make governance better.

Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Sherry Rehman said it was an important day in the history. She said it was the democratic right of the political parties to oppose the bill. She said the people of Fata were actually seeking their right of Pakistani citizenship and added Fata mainstreaming was the dream of PPP founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who had first formed a committee on the issue in 1970s. She also denied the impression that the bill was being passed at someone’s behest.

JUI-F Senator Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, opposing the amendment, said the decision lacked logic as Fata, after the merger, will lose all Senate seats and its share in the National Assembly seats will also decrease. He said either Fata should have its assembly or a council on the pattern of Gilgit-Baltistan. He said the decision had been made without seeking consent of the people of the area.

 

 

 

Fata-KP merger bill sails through Senate