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National Assembly bill for tribal areas widely lauded in Pakistan

Pakistani paramilitary soldiers patrol at the premises of National Assembly building during an assembly session in Islamabad, Pakistan. (File photo/AP)
PESHAWAR: Pakistan’s recent National Assembly bill that placed the country’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) under the jurisdiction of the Peshawar High Court (PHC) and the Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan has been widely hailed across the country as a landmark political decision.
The bill was approved on Friday, and effectively brings to an end the colonial administrative system that has been used in the area even after Pakistan’s independence in 1947 — the British-enacted Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), regularly referred to as the “black law.” Now, the seven tribal agencies will be subject to the same legal system as the rest of the country.
FCR was enacted in 1867 as a means for the British to suppress the fiercely independent Pashtun tribes.
Among other things, the FCR deprived people of their right to legal representation and appeal.
It also institutionalized the idea of collective punishment, allowing the authorities to penalize an entire family or tribe for the actions of an individual who had committed an offense against the state.
The political agent who administered the draconian law wielded unfettered executive and judicial authority and could not be challenged for committing human rights violations.
The National Assembly bill on Friday promised to treat the residents of the tribal territories as regular citizens of Pakistan. However, there were those who still opposed the bill; including the hard-line party Jamiat-e-Ulama-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), a government ally, whose member Naeema Kishwar Khan walked out of the session to record her protest.
Khan told Arab News that the bill goes against Article 247 of the country’s 1973 constitution, which prohibits parliament from introducing legislation regarding FATA.
“Before passing the bill, they should have amended Article 247,” she said. “Apart from that, the Article 175 of the constitution clearly says that a high court’s jurisdiction is limited to a single province. It would have been alright if the jurisdiction of the Islamabad High Court had been extended to FATA, but they should not have done the same with Peshawar High Court.”
According to Peshawar-based analyst Rahimullah Yusufzai, the National Assembly’s decision is unique. And it will take improved resources to implement it properly.
“They will have to build more courts, and make lawyers and judges available, to implement the decision,” he said.
“It is premature to say anything about the future,” he added.
“We will have to see if extending the jurisdiction of these courts will benefit the tribal population or create new challenges.”
Shah Jee Gul Afridi, a National Assembly member from FATA, was optimistic about the decision.
“FCR caused plenty of problems in the tribal region. Under its collective-responsibility clause, the administration could arrest anyone from a tribe if they failed to arrest the real culprit.
“If the people of Islamabad can have a court,” he continued, “why can’t the residents of FATA? They are also humans, they have their rights, and they need courts of justice.”
President of the FATA Lawyers Forum, Rahim Shah Afridi, concurred, saying that the country’s tribal population had ceaselessly fought to eliminate FCR and live under a normal legal system.
Asked if it would have been better to extend Islamabad High Court’s jurisdiction to FATA, he said: “Islamabad is far away from the tribal region and the people would have faced difficultly traveling to that city. We have been demanding the extension of Peshawar High Court’s jurisdiction because it is more accessible to the tribal population. It’s good that our demand has finally been met.”

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