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Landmark Court Judgment Calls for Tribal Rights

FATA residents demand more rights.
FATA residents demand more rights.

Pakistani lawyers and activists have welcomed a groundbreaking ruling by a provincial court calling for a constitutional amendment that would grant full citizenship rights to residents of the country’s northwestern tribal regions.

In a detailed verdict this week on a lawsuit over whether Pakistan's high courts have jurisdiction over the tribal areas, the Peshawar High Court called on Islamabad to propose new legislation amending the constitution to extend more legal, political, and human rights to the region's estimated seven million people.

The May 5 verdict specifically calls for amending the constitution’s article 247, a relic of the British colonial regime that barred regular Pakistani laws from being applied in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), thereby excluding the region from the jurisdiction of the country's legislature and judiciary.

"This is groundbreaking and a great gift for the people of FATA who have been oppressed for a long time and have endured a lot of suffering," said Wali Khan Afridi, an activist in the northwestern city of Peshawar. "This is truly historic."

FATA is still being run under the restrictive, century-old Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) law. Despite modest reforms in 2011, the law deprives FATA residents of many basic rights. Notably, it prescribes collective punishment of clans and tribes for alleged crimes committed by their members or in their territories. Residents have the right to appeal only to a government-appointed tribunal that has little real power.

Ijaz Mohmand, president of the FATA Lawyers Forum, praised the court verdict for formally asking the Pakistani president and the speaker of the country's parliament to move swiftly to amend article 247.

Mohmand is now translating the 70-page verdict into Pashto and Urdu languages in order to distribute it across FATA and mobilize residents to support their rights. "We want our youth, men, and women to be aware about their rights and press for getting them."

A decade of Taliban and Al-Qaeda insurgency and military operations by Pakistan’s security forces has brought great suffering to FATA residents. With tens of thousands of civilians killed and their economy decimated, more than one million residents are displaced from the mountainous region.

Lawyer Taj Mahal Afridi said that the verdict has put the suffering and discrimination faced by FATA residents on the national agenda. "From today onwards we hope that the parliament will debate this issue and come up with a solution."