The 26th Constitutional Amendment Bill, passed unanimously by the National Assembly last week, will help erstwhile Fata integrate fully into the rest of the country
It was the first time ever in the parliamentary history of Pakistan that a private member’s constitutional amendment bill was passed by the National Assembly.
It was also the first time since Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI’s) coming into power that both the treasury and opposition benches agreed to support a bill, despite their deep differences. What united them was an increase in the number of assembly seats for the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), commonly known as merged districts after their merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in May 2018.
The credit for moving the bill goes to the young lawmaker Mohsin Dawar, elected as an independent member of the National Assembly from North Waziristan in the July 25, 2018 polls. His bill was unanimously backed by all 282 MNAs present in the House even though he is affiliated with the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), which was bitterly criticised recently by the Pakistan military for receiving funds from hostile intelligence agencies of Afghanistan and India. The bill would have drawn wide support even if any other lawmaker had moved it from the merged tribal districts since it addressed the genuine demand of the long suffering people of Fata, but Mohsin Dawar took the lead to write his name in parliamentary history.
The easy passage of the bill also showed that important issues can be highlighted and even resolved through private member’s bills. In the past, 20 Fata lawmakers, including 12 MNAs and eight senators, often complained that they lacked the power to make laws for their tribal areas as all such powers under the constitution are vested with the president of Pakistan. However, they never used the power of the private member’s bill to highlight issues confronting the tribal people.
Mohsin Dawar introduced his bill on April 23, proposing amending article 51 and 106 to increase the number of general seats for ex-Fata in the National Assembly from six to 12 and in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly from 16 to 24. A report of the National Assembly’s standing committee on law and justice was presented on May 9. It had proposed amendments in Mohsin Dawar’s bill by seeking an increase in the National Assembly seats for the merged districts from six to nine and in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly from 16 to 20. However, the bigger increase in the assembly seats as proposed in Mohsin Dawar’s bill received the unanimous support of all the lawmakers.
The passage of the bill was fairly quick as four days later it was passed by the National Assembly without any opposition. This unopposed passage of the bill was facilitated by the negotiations between the treasury and opposition lawmakers beforehand. Pir Noorul Haq Qadri, an MNA from the merged district of Khyber and federal minister for religious affairs, played a key role in reaching a consensus on the issue.
As per the 25th Constitutional Amendment Bill that paved the way for Fata’s merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in May last year, the election for the 16 general seats in the merged districts was to be held by July 25. An amendment subsequently moved by Mohsin Dawar allowed a six-month extension in the deadline to allow for the new reality.
The Election Commission of Pakistan had announced July 2 as the polling date before this 26th Constitutional Amendment Bill, but it will now be postponed as new delimitation of constituencies will have to be done. A large number of candidates had already filed their nomination papers by the cut-off date, but the process would need to be started afresh in view of the inevitable changes in the constituencies.
The erstwhile Fata used to have 12 seats in the National Assembly before the merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but the 25th Constitutional Amendment Bill reduced the number to six. This new bill has restored the 12 seats in the National Assembly for the merged districts and they will remain in place until the next census,, which will be the yardstick for distribution of seats in the parliament for the four federation units, with ex-Fata getting its share as part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
In fact, the main plea taken by the mover and supporters of the 26th Constitutional Amendment Bill was that the internally displaced persons (IDPs) from ex-Fata had not been counted during the 2017 census. It isn’t clear how many IDPs spread all over the country weren’t counted, but the official figures show that two million people of Fata which forms about 40 percent of its five million population (according to the 2017 census) were displaced due to militancy and military operations.
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It will be the first time that the tribal people will get representation in the provincial assembly.
With 24 seats in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly plus the five reserved seats including four for women and one for minorities, the merged districts would have a fairly significant representation and a strong voice in provincial affairs. It would be the first time that women and minorities from ex-Fata would have their representatives in an elected body. Greater representation should translate into more focus on issues affecting the merged districts and bringing the problems of the people into the limelight. The elected representatives from Fata, where the principle of one-man one-vote was introduced in 1997, were generally unequal to the task in the past and the use of money and tribal affiliation often determined the winners. There is now hope that the future lot of public representatives from the merged districts would be better.
The outcome of the election for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly in the merged districts won’t affect the PTI government in the province due to its two-third majority in the house. In the July 2018 election, the PTI won six seats followed by the JUI-F with three and the PPP with two out of a total of 12. The two remaining seats were won by independent candidates, Mohsin Dawar from North Waziristan and Ali Wazir from South Waziristan, affiliated with the PTM.