The merger of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) offers a number of opportunities to locals but also poses serious challenges for Pakistan, which need to be resolved on an emergency basis, otherwise it will strengthen the hands of the vested interests opposed to the integration.
People of FATA have suffered immensely because of terrorism and extremism. Their lives and families have been torn apart, homes and villages destroyed, hundreds and thousands are still missing. Youths are uneducated and unemployed. They urgently need quality schools, hospitals, roads, jobs, clean drinking water and other basic facilities. It will take time to provide all civic facilities to them and they can wait for them. However, they will badly miss speedy justice under the old Jirga system if reformed police and justice systems are not provided to them immediately. The government should enforce an effective system for speedy and cost-effective justice to tribal people to stop dissenting voices from growing.
According to some analysts, interim regulations enforced in the region are against human rights. The Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) have been repealed, but unbridled discretion has been granted to authorities in dispensing justice. The interim law, exercised in addition to the temporary structure assumed by provincial and federal authorities, extends the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and High Court, provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, pertaining to security and the provision of bonds, and enforces 119 laws in the tribal areas. The seven agencies, Bajaur, Khyber, Kurram, Mohmand, Orakzai, and North and South Waziristan, have been re-titled as tribal districts while existing tehsils and Frontier Regions (FR) will be considered to be sub-divisions. Political Agents (PA) will be re-designated as deputy commissioners while additional and assistant political agents will become additional and assistant commissioner officers. Assistant commissioners will also have the powers of a magistrate. The FATA Secretariat has been given the powers to re-designate other posts.
The administration system has serious flaws. The law allows deputy and assistant commissioners to act as judge, jury and executioner by authorising them to act as district and first class magistrates, respectively. Commissioners can transfer cases to a council of elders, appointed by a DC and presided over by an AC, who in turn would be considered as a judge by the governor, upon the request of one or both parties. Civil disputes that threaten peace can be assigned to the council of elders or a “qaumi jirga” with an aim to reach resolutions in accordance with tribal customs. In criminal references, the same shall pass orders in accordance with the findings of the majority of the council of elders. Where the system allows parties to voice apprehension in the selection of the council, it also grants the DC the power to dismiss the reservations. Decrees penned by the DC or the appellate authority shall be considered “final settlement”, carrying the same weight as a civil court verdict, but no civil or criminal court shall have the jurisdiction to question the legality of the decision.
The system favours offenders by limiting the conditions of a life sentence to 14 years of rigorous imprisonment. Arrests without warrants are legalised in situations where there is a reason to “believe” the suspect has committed or attempted to commit a crime under Section 496(a) of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC). Similarly, a person found carrying arms in a manner deemed “suspicious” or with intent to using it unlawfully or evading arrest shall be liable to be fined and arrested, with the ammunition being confiscated. The law outlines executing of sureties or bonds for a person likely to commit a wrongful act that “may” disrupt peace. A person who fails to submit sureties is liable to be detained until the amount is paid or the period outlined in the surety expires. The assertion that a person cannot be prosecuted or punished for the same offence more than once is contradicted by the allowance for a DC to start fresh proceedings against a person who has served a prison term for failure to submit security, but is deemed a “habitual” or “hardened” criminal.
The regulations grant DCs complete authority to forfeit assets of those “believed” to have colluded or committed serious offences – defined as crimes punishable with imprisonment for more three years. Any property suspected to be in use for criminal acts or harbouring offenders can be sealed, disposed or transferred to the government of Pakistan if the owner or the tribe fails to organise the surrender of the suspects. The DC has also been given the authority to issue notices to complainants if accusations are found to be of malicious intent or otherwise falsified. The appellant may be liable to pay fines as compensation to the victim. The DC has the authority to pardon accomplices directly or indirectly involved in all crimes, except murder, as long as the accomplices agree to become prosecution witnesses. The decision to release an accused arrested for a non-bailable crime is a prerogative granted to the DC. The regulation states that if a DC finds no reasonable ground to believe that the offence is non-bailable, the accused can be released on bail with or without sureties for appearance. However, the suspect can be rearrested on the directions of the FATA Tribunal or the appellate authority. A review of the verdict passed by the DC or judge can be challenged in a high court within 30 days.
The Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) of Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party of Mahmood Khan Achakzai opposed the idea of merger from the outset to protect their political influence in the region, which has largely been eroded by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) of Imran Khan. It was also a difficult decision for the former ruling party of ex-Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi because Fazlur Rehman and Mahmood Achakzai were its staunch allies. It is said the former government could not delay the merger because of pressure by the establishment which wanted to consolidate gains from its peace efforts with civil administration and fundamental rights to locals after years of military operations against militants in the area. The idea of making FATA an independent province was also discussed at length but rejected on the basis that it was not feasible under the current situation as autonomy to the region under the 18th Amendment could not be beneficial to the country as the area is the still the focus of enemies of Pakistan.
The merger of FATA with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is a huge development for locals. It is clear that an independent province is the permanent solution to problems of the tribal people. However, they will have to wait for it for few more terms. In the meantime, they should be provided with the fruits of a democracy which is expected to improve in the next government.