Pakistan passes constitutional amendment to merge tribal areas along Afghan border with Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa

Islamabad: In a historic move, Pakistan's National Assembly on Thursday overwhelmingly passed a key constitutional amendment to merge the restive tribal region along the Afghan border with the northwestern province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, bringing an end to a 150-year-old British-era arrangement.

After months of delays following disagreements between coalition partners and the opposition over its clauses, Law Minister Mahmood Bashir Virk on Thursday tabled the 31st Amendment Bill 2017 to merge Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) with Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

The amendment was passed with a 229-1 vote in the house of 342, as the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) was supported by Pakistan People's Party (PPP), Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) and Jamat-e-Islami.

Dawar Kundi from the PTI was the lone dissenting vote who opposed the bill.

 Pakistan passes constitutional amendment to merge tribal areas along Afghan border with Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa

File image of Pakistan's parliament. Reuters

Two allies of the government including Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) staged a walkout.

The bill amends several Articles of the Constitution including Article 1 that defines the territory of the Pakistani federation.

The number of seats of parliament will decrease once the bill is passed. Senate seats will reduce from 104 to 96 members and the number of seats in the National Assembly will be cut to 336 from 342, as FATA will no longer have separate representation.

The bill will be sent to Senate, the upper house, which is expected to pass it before the end of the week. After this, the bill will be presented to the president who will sign it to become part of the Constitution.

Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi who played a key role in bringing consensus to pass the amendment said in his address to the lawmakers that it was joint effort by all parties, which will "change the 150-year-old system in the tribal areas."

The semi-autonomous tribal region was created by British colonisers as a buffer zone to avoid direct conflict with Afghanistan.

It consists of seven districts — Bajaur, Khyber, Kurram, Mohmand, North Waziristan, Orakzai and South Waziristan — which stretch along the border with Afghanistan, and became known in the world due to presence of militants who fled the porous border after US forces invaded Afghanistan post-9/11.

These seven districts are home to some eight million residents, mainly ethnic Pashtuns.

Pakistan forces launched repeated military operations to clear the area of rebels and dismantle their hideouts which were used to launch attack in the country and Afghanistan.

Updated Date: May 24, 2018 22:55:59 IST