South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

Afrasiab Khattak speaks at the seminar on Friday. Sartaj Aziz, HRCP’s I.A. Rehman and Kamran Arif, Sher M. Khan and Farhatullah Babar are also seen. — White Star
Afrasiab Khattak speaks at the seminar on Friday. Sartaj Aziz, HRCP’s I.A. Rehman and Kamran Arif, Sher M. Khan and Farhatullah Babar are also seen. — White Star

ISLAMABAD: Though they acknowledged the efforts of parliament in merging the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, speakers of a roundtable conference on Friday expressed apprehensions regarding the extended role of the bureaucracy in the new setup.

It was highlighted during the roundtable organised by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) that the interim governance regulation of Fata does not acknowledge the jurisdictions of the supreme and high courts as judicial powers have been granted to deputy commissioners.

The regulations do not recognise local governments in any capacity, even though all of these have been provided under the law and constitutional amendments.

Say interim regulations do not acknowledge court jurisdiction, local govt

In his opening remarks, Sartaj Aziz, advisor to the prime minister on foreign affairs, lauded parliament for the merger and said that 228 votes were required in the National Assembly since a constitutional amendment was required for ending the special status of Fata.

Mr Aziz had headed the committee formed in 2015 to merge and mainstream Fata.

“We are thankful to all parties, as 231 MNAs cast votes for the amendment and similar support was witnessed from all parties in Senate as well,” he said, and that that the people of Fata will elect their own representatives in the KP assembly as well.

He said the Frontier Crimes Regulations of 1901 has been replaced, the seven agencies are districts of western KP and political agents are now deputy commissioners.

However, the majority of speakers including former senators Farhatullah Babar and Afrasiyab Khattak were critical of the regulations formed for governing Fata.

Mr Babar said Fata is still a forbidden area for journalists, parliamentarians and members of civil society and that the jurisdiction of the courts should be immediately extended to the tribal areas.

He criticised the security establishment and said there were two elephants in the room, one keeping Fata a black hole and the second pursuing disastrous policies of the past and allowing the so-called good Taliban strut around in the guise of aman committees and other nomenclatures.

Similarly, Afrasiyab Khattak said the Fata reforms bill has been approved in hurry only due to pressure from the establishment.

He said the current regulations were not conducive for ordinary citizens as justice will be provided by a council of elders handpicked by the DC and with no women members.

The DC also has powers to pardon any accomplices when they become prosecution witnesses. Local government do not even figure in the regulation, he said.

He added that while the state itself installs barbed wire fences, the regulation forbids people from building new villages or walled enclosures and anything within 120 yards of the centre of a road without permission.

Mr Khattak said the key issue in Fata was the black economy from which the DCs and even FC commanders make millions. He said security forces are only interested in land, which is scare in Fata and the bureaucracy is worried about losing its domain.

Speakers including academicians, activists and youth from Fata criticised the concept of Rewaj and said traditions do not form a legal system in a modern state.

However, others including eminent journalist Salim Safi said that legally, Fata and Pata do not exist and state institutions will gradually be established in Fata including courts, police, health and education facilities.

Published in Dawn, June 9th, 2018