Political reforms: A century later, some rights for the tribals

Published: August 12, 2011

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani was present at the signing with President Asif Ali Zardari. PHOTO: EXPRESS/FILE

ISLAMABAD: 

More than a century after it was introduced in its current form, the government amended the draconian law that currently governs the tribal areas to include provisions that take into account some basic civil rights and allow for greater political participation by allowing parties to operate in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).

The move aims to lessen the grip of militancy in the semi-autonomous region which has become home to an assortment of militants.

On Friday, President Asif Ali Zardari signed two orders that set into motion what may be the most comprehensive changes to the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) since it was introduced in 1901. The new laws will be amendments to the FCR and the 2002 Extension of Political Parties Order.

(Read: Making nonsense of Fata)

The reforms are meant to curtail the power of government officials in the region to arbitrarily imprison people. The FCR famously stripped tribal citizens of three basic rights – appeal, wakeel, daleel (the right to appeal their detention, the right to legal representation, and the right to present reasoned evidence.)

Under the unreformed FCR, the tribal areas were under the direct jurisdiction of the president. In practise, it has been governed by political agents – civil servants, usually from the district management group or police, who ran the area on behalf of the government and reported to the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa governor.

Political agents appointed jirgas (tribal councils), which decided all disputes in the areas according to ‘rewaj’ – tribal customs codified into law by the British in the early part of the 20th century.

These laws allow for collective punishment: if one person is found guilty of a crime, their whole tribe was subject to punishment and could even see their property confiscated for failure to pay fines levied on them by the jirga. There was also no right of appeal.

(Read: Crying out for justice)

Political agents could even send people to prison for three years – or even indefinitely – if they determined that a person was a threat to public order, a decision that also could not be appealed. Under Article 247 of the constitution, no laws in Pakistan apply to the tribal areas “unless the president of Pakistan so directs.” President Zardari has apparently decided to exercise his powers over the tribal areas and amended many of the arcane laws.

For instance, any person accused of a crime must now be brought forth before the authorities within 24 hours rather than being locked away indefinitely as was previously done. The power of arbitrary arrest has also been curtailed.

The laws of collective punishment have also been diluted. Women, children below the age of 16 and those above the age of 65 will no longer be subject to collective punishment provisions and the extent to which the male adults of the tribe would be held responsible has also been changed to make it a step-wise process.

Critically, no person in Fata can now be deprived of their property without being provided compensation in accordance with market rates. This change restricts the government’s powers of property seizure to the same extent in the tribal areas as in the ‘settled’ districts of Pakistan.

Cases must now be disposed of within a fixed timeframe and, for the first time in the history of the tribal regions, there will now be a right of appeal through a two-tier system that will include the newly created Fata Tribunal, which will have the same status as a provincial high court, according to the president’s spokesperson Farhatullah Babar.

Underneath the Fata Tribunal will be an appellate authority, which will comprise a commissioner and a dedicated judicial additional commissioner, to be appointed by the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa governor. The appellate authority will be the first place where Fata residents can appeal decisions made against them.

A new section in the FCR has been added to protect citizens against false accusations: if a person is proven to have been accused falsely, they will be entitled to compensation.

For the first time in history, the political agents’ utilisation of funds available to them will now be subject to audit by the auditor-general of Pakistan, just like any other government department.

A provision has been added to allow for inspections of jails by the Fata tribunal, the appellate authority and the political agent to help prevent the mistreatment of prisoners.

The second order signed by the president allows political parties – subject to regulations yet to be framed – to operate within the tribal areas and solicit votes from the people there. Fata is currently represented by 12 members in the National Assembly and 8 senators (elected by those 12 MNAs). Until now tribal lawmakers were technically independents. Though some have been supported by political parties, the parties themselves were not allowed to operate in the tribal regions.

(Read: Jirga held for launching political process in tribal areas)

The Pakistan Peoples Party-led government has been trying to amend the British-era law almost since the first day it came into office in March 2008. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani had even said in his maiden speech as leader of the house in the National Assembly that his government would abolish the FCR.

On August 12, 2009, the president held a meeting with various stakeholders which outlined the contours of the reforms needed in the tribal areas, though it was left up to the president as to when they would be enacted.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 13th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (35)

  • Aftab Kenneth Wilson
    Aug 12, 2011 - 6:03PM

    A very brave and bold step taken by the present government. It was also the wish of FATA people which was ignored in the past. Timely and right step. Congrats to the people of FATA. Zardari Sahib this area came under direct control of the Presidency so you fulfilled the wishes of which others could not dare to attempt. So another feather in your cap and the party. Believe me, I am not a member of PPP but see things as a Third Umpire.

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  • M Usama Kabbir
    Aug 12, 2011 - 6:05PM

    Thank You President Asif Ali Zardari. You are the best thing that has happened to this Nation. We salute you for your courage and patience. Allah Bless You !

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  • Maryam
    Aug 12, 2011 - 8:28PM

    Thank you Mr President the and PPP Government. We will always remember you in our prayers.Recommend

  • H.A. Khan
    Aug 12, 2011 - 8:44PM

    This is a very positive step.Please stand bye this act and do not back off.

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  • Shahid khan
    Aug 12, 2011 - 10:03PM

    Salam to all of you..
    this is most happiest day of my life that our great president Asif Ali Zardari made a bold decesion according to the wishes of FATA residents. the Black Law FCR has been ammended. thanks you all.

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  • Zargun Khan
    Aug 12, 2011 - 10:06PM

    Thank you very much my dear President Zardari. Thumbs up to your leadership. Our prayers are with you.

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  • Realist.
    Aug 12, 2011 - 10:41PM

    A VERY VERY good Step.
    Politics minimizes Violence because people change their way of expressing themselves , they will now use BALLOT instead of BULLETS.
    Above that I think its time to Make FATA a Separate province.Recommend

  • Quraysh Khattak
    Aug 12, 2011 - 10:56PM

    This is a big leap forward in mainstreaming FATA. We look forward to an early merger of FATA with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

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  • Riffat Khan
    Aug 12, 2011 - 11:21PM

    Thank you Mr President for Humanizing FATA! This is another big step after renaming our province as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. We hope that your government and party will also put their weight behind ANP’s demand for merger of tribal areas with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

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  • Gulwush
    Aug 12, 2011 - 11:29PM

    Thumbs-up to PPP government for this good step! Now please unite tribal areas with KP. FATA has already been socially integrated with the province. Its administrative integration with KP will give voice to people of FATA in running affairs of the province also.

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  • Adnan
    Aug 12, 2011 - 11:59PM

    Congrats to my FATA brothers and sisters… I think it’s a good step taken by the President.

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  • Shahid
    Aug 13, 2011 - 12:40AM

    Truly a landmark decision of present govt which will improve lives of every Pakistani. Congratulations to people of FTATA.

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  • Qamar
    Aug 13, 2011 - 1:46AM

    Though I shall vote for PTI, but I must congratulate people of FATA and commend Zardari for such a bold step for strengthening democracy and devolving power. This one step weighs more than the combined efforts of musharaf for this country, if any. FATA should be made a separate province since it can be merged with KP at a moment when we are talking about divisions in provinces for better governance.

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  • Kakar
    Aug 13, 2011 - 2:16AM

    Congratulations dear brothers of FATA. Be creative and Profitable to this motherland and please take part in every field of life. Never go to them who take u astray. Send ur good regards to the President of Pakistan Mr. Asif Ali Zardari.

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  • Khawlah
    Aug 13, 2011 - 3:01AM

    Thank You Mr. President for this Great Historic decision. May Allah Bless You.

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  • Jehanzeb Khan
    Aug 13, 2011 - 3:32AM

    A right step in the right direction…… Three cheers for Zardari……..

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  • Aug 13, 2011 - 3:49AM

    What about the other law past the other day which allows the military to detain or prosecute anyone in FATA at will with no recourse to civilian courts?

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  • M Usama Kabbir
    Aug 13, 2011 - 5:45AM

    This is the ‘REVOLUTION’ we needed. Revolution through evolution, not ‘Facebook Events’ & ‘Laal-Peela-Neela Band’ Concerts (Sunday to Sunday).

    جیے آصف علی زرداری

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  • Salman
    Aug 13, 2011 - 6:27AM

    @tightDhoti,

    these laws are not new, even in uk intelligence agencies/police can detain you for a few weeks(this was up to 7 weeks if i remember correctly, later reduced to 4 weeks or something) with no access to court or with out filing any fir.

    Very good steps PPP!!

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  • Mirza
    Aug 13, 2011 - 7:34AM

    Now PPP would do very well even in the KP and FATA in the next elections. With the bold acts like restoration of mutilated constitution with18th amendment, and now civil right in FATA, let us give credit when it is due.

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  • Suresh
    Aug 13, 2011 - 9:25AM

    Unbelievable! Excellent, So sweet. This is actual fight against terror (laws)!

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  • Sajida
    Aug 13, 2011 - 9:45AM

    Indeed! A positive development. The Government should be commended for i. But, this makes one wonder if the FATA gets this freedom why was it being denied local governments?

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  • Anonymous
    Aug 13, 2011 - 9:51AM

    I am so happy that someone took this right decision.

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  • Syed
    Aug 13, 2011 - 10:45AM

    yes its a good step which should have been done much before. Lets also ask them to pay electricity bill now as they are enjoying this free ride for ages.

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  • san
    Aug 13, 2011 - 12:23PM

    at last justice has been made by PPP..

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  • Aug 13, 2011 - 12:34PM

    The president deserves all the praise for fulfilling his promise to the nation.

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  • Atif Siddiqui
    Aug 13, 2011 - 12:46PM

    Appreciate the President for this reforms; wishing best to this will create a peace and prosperity in the region and happiness to the people…

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  • Atif Siddiqui
    Aug 13, 2011 - 12:49PM

    Appreciate the president for this reform; wishing best to this change will create a peace and prosperity in the region and happiness to the people…

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  • michael whittaker
    Aug 13, 2011 - 1:24PM

    Thanks Mr. President. You are going to become Asian Nelson mandela, You deserve Nobel peace prize award. But unfortunately no one is lobbying for this great person; It is duty of current government to submit nominee papers for Nobel peace prize award.

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  • Aug 13, 2011 - 3:23PM

    Very nice move but too late and better then nothing. Now the responsibility goes on the tribal,s elders and politician to overcome the vacuum.

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  • rehmat ullah khan wazir
    Aug 13, 2011 - 6:43PM

    i am happy that ,this is a positive development.and should be needed for fata.
    thank you Mr.president sub
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  • Cautious
    Aug 13, 2011 - 7:27PM

    Pretty obvious that all Pakistani’s are not created equal — how about laws that apply to everyone?

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  • Hussain Ahmad
    Aug 13, 2011 - 9:33PM

    It si stated that Political Parities act has been extended to Tribal areas. so I think that a change will not occoure in the area, because now the heads of political parties will become Maliks of the area. It means that the numbers of Maliks or Elders increased in the area. The system will be run the same. Because FCR is not totally abolished.it has been amended and FCR is the collection of dark law. If the authorities is sencier to bring pleasent changes in tha area so it is required to abolished FCR and impose CiVil Law in whole area. where will a person appleaed against Political Agent.. Recommend

  • ayaz
    Aug 15, 2011 - 10:48PM

    this is really a very good step for our people but improvements and modification need in it because the guys in fata i know them .they will misuse these powers .Recommend

  • raza
    Aug 16, 2011 - 5:46AM

    Thank you Mr. President, PPP and ANP

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