ISLAMABAD - As the government intends to bring reforms in Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), senators and experts have asked the government to rehabilitate the displaced of tribal areas at earliest and hold referendum or local bodies polls in the militancy-hit areas before deciding fate of the Fata.

This was the gist of the Senate ‘Committee of the Whole’ presided over by the Chairman Senate Raza Rabbani held yesterday on public hearing regarding legislative, administrative and other measures that are required to bring the people of Fata in the mainstream.

The entire Senate has been converted into a committee known as ‘committee of the whole’ where lawmakers debate on public petitions. Yesterday’s committee was attended by a large number of students from Fata and those that raise voices for bringing the neglected region at par with the rest of country.

The government was asked by speakers and senators to consult with the people of Fata either through a referendum, local bodies’ elections or Jirga before taking any decision about the future status of the country’s seven agencies.

Former senator and expert on Fata Afrasyab Khan Khattak who was specially invited by Chairman Senate to express his views about reforms in the tribal areas said, “No reforms package in the Fata would remain successful if it is not owned by the people or is backed by them”.

He said the government needs to consult with people for their ownership and suggested three methods –referendum, local bodies’ elections and Jirga - inviting applause from the committee members that endorsed the suggestions.

Mr Khattak strongly criticised the Fata secretariat and termed it “Shahi Darbar literally meaning king’s court” arguing the officials working in the secretariat behave like ‘Kings’ with the people of the Fata.

He said that social sector infrastructure, health and education have been completely ruined because of the military operations and militant activities adding that the infrastructure should be renovated and restored at the earliest.

The former senator said that implementation of Frontier Crime Regulation or FCR halted development process in the agencies suggesting that the draconian law should be repealed forthwith.

He also suggested amendment in Article 247 because elected representatives of the Fata cannot make legislation for their own areas in the existing shape of the Article.

He said if government decides to hold LB elections, it must first ensure the return of the huge number of IDPs from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab. He said 70 percent of the displaced people currently take shelter in KP and 30 percent have opted to live temporarily in Punjab.

President Fata lawyers’ Forum Ejaz Shah said that after 70 years, it is now being considered whether people of Fata are Pakistanis or not. He suggested that amendment should be made in Article 246 to give the areas a status as Provincially-Administered Tribal Areas (Pata).

Ejaz Shah who was among those invited to shed light on Fata reforms said that the bill moved in the National Assembly about the status of Fata was the actual solution of the issue.

President Fata Journalists Association Mehboob Shah Afridi said those holding ID cards of Fata should be consulted in the reforms process and suggested that Fata Reforms Committee constituted by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should pay visits to each tribal area and take input of the elders.

Senator Raza Rabbani on conclusion of the hearing remarked that a strategy needs to be developed with mutual consultations to ensure constitutional rights to the people of Fata.

He said that senators, National Assembly members as well as prominent people from the Fata attended the meeting which shows that how much interest the Senate Committee of the Whole has generated on the issue of Fata. He said the next meeting of the committee will be held on January 12, 2016.

The Committee of the Whole was constituted to suggest legislative, administrative and other measures that are required to bring the people of Fata in the mainstream….