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Chafing Under Colonial Laws, Tribes Mull Separate Province


FATA residents demand rights and reforms.
KHYBER PASS, Pakistan, -- Younas Afridi, a resident of the famed Khyber Pass, is an angry young man. He spends most of his time worrying about his imprisoned relatives, members of the Sadokhel clan and victims of the century-old laws that still regulate life in northwestern Pakistan's tribal areas.

"Government soldiers arrested nearly 100 men from the Sadokhel villages after a paramilitary convoy was targeted by a roadside bomb [on March 3]," he said. They had no access to lawyers and will likely not face a proper court. "[The same day] a court was attacked in the capital, Islamabad, but none of the city's residents living close to the court were arrested," an example, according to him, of the asymmetrical justice that governs Pakistan.

He continued, "The tribesmen are being oppressed in every conceivable way. We are not allowed to come out of our homes at night [because of government curfew]. But we are held responsible if someone plants a roadside bomb near our village."

Afridi’s grievances reflect the fact that nearly three years after Islamabad announced modest political and judicial reforms in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the region's century-old draconian Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) have not changed.

​Islamabad amended the FCR in 2011 to allow for more accountability and a measure of conformity in FATA with modern human rights standards. One of the crucial changes was to dilute FCR provisions allowing collective punishment of tribes and clans for crimes taking place on their territory or by their members. Moreover, tribesmen were given the right to contest official decisions in a government-appointed tribunal.

But Islamabad's failure to implement the changes and bring stability after a decade-old Taliban and Al-Qaeda insurgency has angered the region's estimated seven million residents, who are increasingly demanding political reform.

In a large gathering last week of the tribes of South Waziristan, FATA's largest district, members demanded that the region become a separate province.

Mir Nawaz Wazir, one of the effort’s leading voices, described the benefits of a separate province. "There is a lot of potential in this region. We have a lot of arable lands and minerals," he told Radio Mashaal in Dera Ismail Khan, a city near South Waziristan. "We need knowledge and manpower to utilize these resources but we first need a proper [political] framework to move towards those goals."

Babri Gul Wazir, another figure behind the initiative, says that there is broad popular support for granting FATA a new administrative status. "People want a separate province because it will help us in getting our rights."

In Peshawar, the capital of the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, the High Court began hearing a case relating to the region’s status last week. The lawsuit will determine whether the tribal areas can be integrated into Pakistani court jurisdictions, from which they are currently excluded.

Ijaz Mohmand, a lawyer backing the case, says that years of uncertainty have led the region’s residents to question the reasons behind Islamabad’s failure to implement reforms in FATA. "People are asking whether they are equal citizens of Pakistan and whether their homeland is really a part of Pakistan."

Explaining FATA’s legal status, former lawmaker Latif Afridi said, "Under article 247 of the Pakistani constitution, FATA is a separate world where regular Pakistani laws are not applied. This provision deprives FATA's residents from fundamental rights [granted by the constitution] and in legal terms, it means that they are treated as animals."

He said that Pakistan's parliament needs to amend the constitution to ensure that FATA joins the national mainstream.

Currently, FATA operates under the authority of a separate tribunal. But unlike other Pakistani courts, the tribunal cannot start a legal process on its own, and it lacks authority to hold officials in contempt for defying its orders and judgments.

Sajadur Rehman is a senior official of the FATA tribunal. "We can only revise the [administrative and judicial] decisions and judgments," he says. "But we cannot intervene in illegal acts being carried out inside FATA."

While sweeping reforms in the tribal areas seem to be a long way off, implementing the reforms already announced could help. Former judge Ajmal Mian oversaw the government committee that worked on the reforms announced in 2011, and told Radio Mashaal that "People will feel a real difference if all the reforms of the FCR laws are properly carried out."

But back in the tribal areas, there is little hope. Noor Khaliq Wazir, a clan leader in the North Waziristan tribal district, says collective punishment of lineages and tribes remains the norm in FATA.

He says that officials in Pakistan’s cities often arrest tribesmen and even confiscate their cars and businesses when their kinsmen in the tribal areas are accused of a crime. "Whole communities still pay for alleged offences committed by one individual."

Written by Abubakar Siddique. Monawar Shah and Majeed Babar contributed reporting from Prague. Umar Daraz Wazir, Sailab Mehsud, Farhad Shinwari and Ghulam Ghous contributed reporting from Pakistan.
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