The political administration of Bajaur Agency has banned office-bearers of political parties from participating in local dispute resolution jirgas as members – a move being perceived as an attempt to curtail parties’ influence and reforms agenda in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).
The ban comes at a time when the government has moved legislation to replace the draconian British-era Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) in effect in Fata with the equally controversial Rewaj Act.
In a text message to reporters on Tuesday, the Bajaur political administration confirmed that it had barred political parties’ office-bearers and leaders from being part of jirgas which are an integral part of the FCR system.
Bajaur-based journalist Saleem Khan told The Express Tribune that in meetings with the Fata Secretariat and the officials of the political administration, tribal elders and even political leaders had repeatedly complained about political activists participating in jirgas as members.
He added that the elders had complained that some party officials were campaigning against FCR calling it a draconian law, but also participating in jirgas under the same system, which showed their double standards.
The elders said political leaders were trying to malign the jirga system for their political motives. Khan further said the elders had also accused some of these officials of taking money and taking their fellow party members’ side when reaching verdicts – which was against the spirit of the jirga.
A source familiar with the matter said political agents of other agencies were likely to follow suit soon and ban political officials from jirgas.
Tribal elders, who have been demanded the move since long, have welcomed it while the reaction by political leaders is somewhat mixed. Some have described the move as against basic human rights while others have termed it a good decision.
Jamaat-e-Islami Bajaur leader and president of the Fata All Political Parties Alliance, Sardar Khan, termed the decision an “obstruction in the way of justice”.
He said said jirgas could be partial and bought by influential people. “Therefore it is important for impartial political officials to be a part of them to ensure that locals are given justice,” he added.
The general secretary of Awami National Party’s (ANP) Bajaur chapter, Gul Afzal Khan, described the move as positive step. He said his party had earlier urged the political administration to make this decision because political workers might not make fair decisions in jirgas because of their political affiliations.
However, ANP Mohmand Agency President Nisar Mohmand said the political administration’s decision denies political officials the right to participate in local affairs even though they were part of the system.
He added that Bajaur’s decision showed that the bureaucracy in Fata wanted to sideline political parties in all matters concerning the tribal system for their own vested interests.
“The ANP will resist the move because it is an attempt to restrict the activities of political parties in Fata,” he maintained.
“The government is introducing the controversial Rewaj Act in Fata instead of extending the Constitution and at the same time the political administration is banning political activists from jirgas. This shows their intention to malign [local traditions].”