The 1901 Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) governing the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) remains an aberration in the age of cyberspace. It is a set of laws that was essentially a replication of the British-era magistracy system, but with a Political Agent (PA) at the centre who these laws turn him into the uncrowned king of the agency under his control. The PA’s control extends into the agency through the privileged class of Maliks — about 35,000 of them officially hold the title of Malik and serve as the bridge between the PA and the tribes. Residents of Fata got the right of adult franchise in 1997 and the Political Parties Act was extended to it before the 2013 general elections to allow political parties to participate from there.
But this hardly changes the reality — that extremely wealthy people in Fata buy votes for the National Assembly or the Senate. It also remains a fact that while being part of the parliament, these MNAs cannot influence governance or legislation in their respective areas. Also, what is more ironic is that by the virtue of the FCR, these MNAs are virtually subject to the will of their respective political agents, who can place them under house arrest, banish them, or even have their properties demolished or seized. Why? Because the FCR empowers the PA to do so even if he has the slightest suspicion that a particular individual has or is about to commit a crime. This is one of the 50 or so regulations that arm the PA with absolute authority. The penalties that the PA imposes on tribes or individuals or the funds he gets from the federal government for his respective area are also essentially never audited. And that is why every new recruit to the civil service vies for the PA position, particularly in the Khyber Agency.
The dominant majority of Fata residents demand that the FCR be abolished and the tribal area be brought under the Constitution.
They question then, the value of Fata MNAs and what work they do — apart from supposedly making tons of money during their tenure. Those intending to become senators first spend huge sums of money on MNAs to buy their votes and then find ways to recover it.
Resonating popular demands, 10 major parties have therefore, joined hands to strive for ridding Fata of the FCR and put forward eleven demands. Some of these recommendations are as follows:
1) Article 247 of the Constitution should be amended to guarantee fundamental rights for all tribal citizens and shift legislative power from the President of Pakistan to the parliament
2) Local bodies elections should be held in Fata
3) A comprehensive package should be developed for Fata and infrastructure development be initiated with special focus on health, education and employment
4) The future status of Fata should be decided by its people
5) The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority’s (Pemra) jurisdiction should be extended and media should be provided greater access to the region
6) Actions in Aid of Civil Power Regulation 2011 should be abolished
Recommendations in favour of the traditional jirga, or separation of the executive and judicial powers, or the strengthening of civil armed forces (khasadar and levies) resonate the romance with tradition. In the local context, it probably has value too, but one should also bear in mind that the British designed the FCR for controlling citizens and criminals. There were no signs of militancy then. Fata, today, finds itself in the clutches of a reckless militancy that has severely blunted the FCR-guided ruling structures in the sense that these laws could not prevent religious groups from proliferation. The military’s response to the militancy has virtually sandwiched Fata residents between the militants and the military, causing massive disruption in life and displacement of huge populations.
It’s about time the ruling civilian and military elite rid Fata of the FCR.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 7th, 2014.