ISLAMABAD: The 31st Constitutional Amendment Bill for the merger of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas with Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa province was on Friday passed by the Upper House with an overwhelming majority. The next step in the passage of the bill is its ratification in the Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa Assembly that is set to meet on the issue on Sunday.The bill was passed in the Senate with 71 votes in its favour, and only five senators of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) casting ballots against it. The senators of the other party opposing the bill, Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam-Fazl, boycotted the session. On Thursday, the National Assembly (NA) of Pakistan had passed the bill with a two thirds majority as the major opposition parties – Pakistan Peoples Party, Pakistan Tehrik Insaf and Mutahidda Qaumi Movement – extended their support.Speaking at the floor of the Upper House on Friday, PPP Senator Raza Rabbani regretted that the Parliament could not pass the bill at its own will. Without specifying who he was referring to, he said that when PPP government had wanted to announce Fata reforms, it was prevented from doing so by ‘certain forces’ who did not want the merger back then. He said the merger could not take place back then despite several attempts by the Parliament, but the process started immediately after the issue was raised in a corps commanders conference and a meeting of the National Security Council. “When the intentions of some forces change, the Parliament has to follow suit,” Rabbani said.Rabbani said that it was unfortunate that the Parliament was unable to act on Fata reforms from within and was later told from outside to do so. Still, he maintained, it was a positive move that should have happened earlier. In her speech before the bill was tabled, Leader of the Opposition Sherry Rehman, however, denied the impression that the bill was being passed at someone else’ behest.She said that the people of Fata were demanding basic rights and that the responsibility of ensuring that lied with the elected representatives of the Pakistani people.Further, she said she acknowledged the democratic right of those opposing the bill, but added that mainstreaming of FATA was the dream of PPP founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was the first to form a committee on the issue in 1970s. “Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto also moved the Supreme Court on the matter,” she said.Expressing his opposition to the merger, PkMAP Senator Usman Kakar said the days on which the bill was passed in the lower and upper houses of the Parliament would be remembered in the country’s history as black days. He regretted that in the past FATA was used as a base camp for the war in Afghanistan, adding that the people of Fata hated terrorism and terrorists in the area had arrived from outside.Before staging the walkout, JUI-F Senator Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri said that the status of the region was being changed without seeking consent of the people. He said his party believed that FATA had a separate status and merger decision was being imposed on its people.In his remarks, PTI Senator Azam Swati said that the merger of FATA with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa would help free tribal areas from the clutches of a decades-old system. He said the initiative would usher a new era of development in the region.Sirajul Haq of the Jamaat Islami said that the merger would prove to beneficial for both Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA.During his speech on Friday, Raza Rabbani maintained that new administrative units would not be allowed in the country. She said provinces should have their unique ethnicities, cultures, languages and histories. “A province cannot be made until these ingredients are present.”Published in Daily Times, May 26th 2018.