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Opinion

September 11, 2017

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Changing Fata

In 1901, the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) was promulgated in Fata. The regulation was originally drafted in 1872 by the British rulers. In order to strengthen their colonial empire, the British rulers conferred unchecked judicial, executive and administrative powers on the political agent.

These powers were used to control the locals and make them more submissive towards the Crown. Although the FCR is inconsistent with the constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Pakistan retained the colonial administrative and legal mechanisms in Fata by preserving the regulation. In the past, the country’s superior courts have also recommended the government to repeal the FCR. But this hasn’t happened as yet. 

In the recent past, murders that were committed in Fata in the name of ‘honour’ were legitimised by jirgas and the court of political agent in accordance with the rewaj (customs). The most dangerous part of this proposition was the endorsement of the illegal verdicts of the jirga by the political agents who worked as judges and legalised murders on the pretext of local customs. On the other hand, Article 8 of our constitution states that: “any law, or any custom or usage having the force of law, in so far as it is inconsistent with the fundamental rights, shall, to the extent of such inconsistency, be void. The state shall not make any law which takes away or abridges the rights so conferred and any law made in contravention of this clause shall, to the extent of such contravention, be void”.

Amid multiple objections that the committee on Fata reforms suffered from a structural gender imbalance and proposed lengthy time periods to mainstream Fata or merge it with KP, the Rewaj Act attracted wide, univocal criticism from rights activists, the civil society, politicians, student groups and lawyers. The question that arises is: how can Pakistan retain fundamental rights, constitutionalism, human rights, rule of law and customs that are inconsistent with these rights at the same time? The inhabitants of Fata should not be deceived by imposing those customs which violate human rights and Article 8 of the constitution. 

The peaceful protests and sit-ins by members of the civil society and political activists after the twin blasts in Parachinar, Kurram Agency in June were a unique sight in Fata. Before this, there were few examples of people coming out on the streets in agitation and asking the government for their rights. They were demanding equal treatment, compensation, security and other rights. They have also criticised the government for its failure in implementing National Action Plan. This was encouraging because activists from different parts of the country rushed to Parachinar to show solidarity with the families of victims. 

It attracted more enthusiasm when the student organisations, the civil society, women’s groups, lawyers and political leaders and workers staged two different protests – one from Qayyum Stadium to Governor House in Peshawar and the other from Islamabad Press Club to D-Chowk – for the implementation of Fata reforms. The residents of Fata participated in both rallies and their motivation was the most encouraging component of these gatherings.  

The sociopolitical awareness of the inhabitants of Fata has been unparalleled over the years. The growing interaction with their elected representatives, the emergence of Fata’s civil society and the contribution of women, student unions and the youth in shaping political awareness are signs of hope for this dissembled region.

In the past, Fata’s people have been victimised by militants through targeted attacks and blasts. The local administration also battered them through arrests and detentions by using powers of collective responsibility and prolonged detentions under the FCR. But people had never used such an approach to fight for their rights. Now, with the dawn of social media and civil society activism, the politically-motivated masses of Fata have come out for their rights.

Activists in Fata believe that in the past people were not aware of their rights and didn’t know what was going on in the rest of the country. Some have argued that after the extension of the Political Parties Order 2002, the Representation of People Ordinance 1990 and the Representation of People Act 1976, political activities began in Fata. As a result, people became more conscious of their rights.

Some activists believe that even though the IDPs faced countless problems when they were forced to abandon their homes after peace deteriorated and the military conducted clearance operation against the miscreants, the positive impact of this ordeal has been the socio-political uplift of those people. A large number of women have received their CNICs which they had refused been in the past. Consequently, they are now more aware of their sociopolitical rights. 

From the experience of the last two decades or so, it has become clear that Fata is not an ungovernable region. Instead, the state has opted to govern it through FCR, which has deprived the inhabitants of their basic constitutional human rights. In the 21st century, people are far more aware of their rights and are up-to-date about what is happening nationally and internationally. Gone are the days when you can keep people hard-pressed for a long time. Now the tribal women, students, elders, lawyers and politicians are more political conscious and know how to fight for their rights.

Pakistan should extend and implement fundamental rights in Fata and declare all those customs illegal which are inconsistent with the constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights. Fata should be opened to the media and human rights monitoring bodies in order to “highlight and investigate human rights violations”. Pakistan should no longer dither over reforms in Fata because the tribal areas have undergone considerable sociopolitical changes that can necessitate legal, administrative and judicial reforms.

 

The writer is a Peshawar-based lawyer.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: s_irshadahmad

 

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