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Pakistan introduces major political reforms in tribal areas

August 13, 2011 18:15 IST

The Pakistan government has finally introduced its much awaited reform package in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The Pakistani constitution is not fully applicable in its lawless tribal areas; these areas are ruled as per the Frontier Crimes Regulation that was introduced by the British centuries ago.

On Friday, a major plan of political reforms and development was unveiled in FATA. These measures aim to blunt the appeal for militancy by allowing greater political activities through key amendments in federal laws and comprehensive development projects.

President Asif Ali Zardari has signed the decree that allows political parties to operate freely in FATA. The amendments include changes in FCR and extension of the Political Parties Order 2002 to tribal areas.

FATA has long been considered the stronghold of the Pakistani Taliban, headquartered in Waziristan. It is also considered the global headquarter of Al Qaeda by the United States.

"In the long run, we must defeat the militant mindset to defend our country, our democracy, our institutions and our way of life," said Zardari.

The two orders signed by the President will set into motion far-reaching administrative, judicial and political reforms in the tribal areas. Though Zardari had announced these reforms in August 2009, their implementation has been stalled for various reasons.

Talking about the amendments in FATA, Presidential spokesperson Farhatullah Babar says, "Henceforth the political parties, subject to appropriate regulations to be framed, will be freely allowed to operate in the tribal areas and present their socio-economic programmes."

According to Babar, allowing political parties to operate freely meant that they would now liaise with tribal elders in order to carry out their activities in a peaceful manner.

The FCR was introduced in 1901 by the British to control the freedom-loving Pashtuns living in tribal areas. Under this system, the colonial rule was enforced by the Political Agent.

With expansive judicial, administrative and coercive powers at his disposal, the PA maintains social control over the tribes by bribing or coercing the state's local proxies, the Malaks.

Under the FCR, the PA has the powers of arbitrary arrest and detention without the right of bail, discretionary control over criminal and civil justice through a distorted jirga system and the power to punish entire tribes under 'collective and territorial responsibility'.

The reforms package in FATA may finally ensure that the tribesmen get rid of centuries of bondage.

Thanks to the changes promised by the reforms, an accused shall now have the right to bail and it will be mandatory to produce him before the concerned authority within 24 hours of arrest. Women and children below 16 and above 65 years shall not be arrested or detained under 'collective responsibility'.

Under these amendments, the whole tribe will not be arrested under the collective responsibility clause. Criminal cases will now be disposed of in a fixed timeframe and checks will be placed on the arbitrary power of arrest under the notorious Section 40-A of the FCR.

Appeals will lie before the appellate authority comprising a commissioner and a dedicated additional commissioner (judicial) to be notified by the governor.

The reforms also envisage the setting up of a FATA tribunal headed by a chairman and two other members, one of whom will be a civil servant with experience of tribal administration. The other member shall be a person from a judicial background who will be appointed as a judge.

The FATA tribunal shall exercise the power of revision against orders/judgments of appellate authority and shall have powers similar to high courts under Article 199 of the Constitution.

A new section has been added for action against false prosecution in civil and criminal matters. The defendant will be entitled to adequate compensation in criminal matters and compensatory costs in civil matters.

No person shall be deprived of his property without adequate compensation as per the prevailing market value in accordance with the procedure laid down in the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 procedure in settled areas.

For the first time the funds at the disposal of the political agent shall be audited by the Auditor General of Pakistan.

Tahir Ali In Islamabad