The federal cabinet on Thursday approved the recommendations put forth by a reforms committee to mainstream the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), Radio Pakistan reported.
The cabinet meeting was held in Islamabad with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the chair.
Speaking at the meeting, Sharif stressed the need for focusing on underdeveloped areas with the aim to improve the living standards of people.
“Time has come that the tribal people will be brought into [the] mainstream to end their sense of deprivation,” the reported quoted him as saying.
The premier also said the people of Azad Kashmir, Gilgit Baltistan and Fata will be given their due share from national resources.
Federal Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal said in a post on his Facebook page that the merger of Fata with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had been approved by the cabinet.
The set of reforms were recommended by a six-member committee headed by Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz.
The final report of the Committee on Fata Reforms proposed merging of the seven federally administered tribal areas with KP, and criticised the idea of holding a referendum in this regard.
The proposed merger would be carried out over a period of five years and a ten-year development package would be introduced for all of Fata.
Political parties’ support for merger
The committee’s report had earlier been removed from the cabinet’s agenda for its Feb 7 meeting at the eleventh hour. The decision had drawn strong criticism and caused unrest among supporters of the merger plan.
Major political parties and Fata parliamentarians had announced a protest outside the Parliament on March 12 against the delay in approval of the committee’s report.
The Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) had also staged a sit-in outside the Governor’s House in Peshawar on Feb 26. The protest was called off after Governor Iqbal Zafar Jhagra had assured that the cabinet would approve the committee’s report before March 12.
Besides JI, other parties, including the Awami National Party, Qaumi Watan Party, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and PPP, had also demanded the immediate merger of Fata with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the abolition of the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), and the representation of tribes in the KP Assembly.
The JUI-F and the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, another ally of the PML-N in the Centre, had opposed significant parts of the committee report, including the merger of Fata with KP.
JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman had recently claimed that he had reached an understanding with Prime Minister Sharif on Fata reforms. According to him, the word ‘merger’ would be replaced with the ‘mainstreaming’ of Fata.