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FATA tribesmen welcome expansion of political rights
Zardari signed extension of Political Parties Act to FCR August 12
By M. Ibrahim
KHYBER AGENCY – Residents of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas have hailed the extension of the Political Parties Act to their area and amendments to the century-old Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), which they had long despised as an oppressive colonial-era law.
“I dedicate this historic day to the poor and (oppressed) people of FATA and the former martyred prime minister of Pakistan, Ms. Benazir Bhutto, who had contested the legality of FCR in the Supreme Court of Pakistan,” Zardari announced August 12, to the thunderous applause of tribal elders and government functionaries, when he signed the two regulations in Islamabad.
Zardari introduced a regulation to amend the FCR under Article 247 of the Constitution. He also extended the Political Parties Act 2002 to FATA, allowing political parties to operate there as they do elsewhere in Pakistan. Prior to the extension, FATA’s 12 members in the National Assembly were elected independently and could not join any political party. The same restrictions applied to its senators.
“The extension of Political Parties Act 2002 affords a unique opportunity to the people of FATA to freely engage in the political process and play an active role in national development,” Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said on its passage.
On amending the FCR, Gilani said, “We have broken the myth that use of force is necessary to govern the people of FATA,” adding that the reforms were an initiative of his democratic government to empower the population of the tribal areas.
National Assemblyman Allama Noor ul Haq Qadri, from Khyber Agency, expressed hope the new regulations would ensure stability.
“It is time the political parties exert their pressure to end terrorism in FATA and strengthen the new system,” he said. Qadri lost four of his close relatives to militancy soon after joining the National Assembly in 2007.
The most important provision in the FCR amendment regards setting up the FATA Tribunal, an exclusive judicial forum for FATA inhabitants.
Detention of women, children, elderly to end
Retired superior court judges will be on the tribunal, which will have powers akin to those of the Supreme Court under Article 199 of the Constitution. Before the new regulations took effect, Article 247 of the Constitution excluded FATA from the superior court jurisdiction, giving it no proper mechanism for guaranteeing constitutional rights.
Another major FCR reform exempts women, elders over 65 years, and children under 16 from detention under collective and territorial responsibility. Under the original FCR’s clause on collective responsibility, authorities had periodically detained tribal women and even infants.
The revisions also compel the administration to produce a detainee before the court within 24 hours of arrest. Convicts also will have the right to appeal sentences, a first, before the FATA tribunal. Malik Waris Khan, a tribal elder from Khyber Agency and a former federal minister, said he hoped the amendment would ensure speedy and fairer justice.
“The present system has become obsolete, and changes were needed in order to make it appealing for the people of the region,” he said.
Financial oversight introduced
The government also intends to curtail the powers of political agents in releasing funds and imposing fines and to make the administration liable to audits by the auditor general of Pakistan.
In the past, tribesmen had denounced the political agents’ financial powers as unbridled, complaining that government-nominated tribal elders controlled most funds under that system.
Such changes will ensure the judicious spending of developmental funds and will bring transparency to development schemes in the area, Senator Abdur Rashid of Bajaur said.
The reforms took life after a two-year delay. Zardari promised nearly identical reforms in August 2009, but for undisclosed reasons the relevant regulations were never issued.
Munir Orakzai, leader of the FATA delegation in parliament, called the announcement historic and said it would pave the way for bringing the tribal areas into mainstream politics.
“The two regulations are to the total satisfaction of FATA parliamentarians, and they will open new avenues for development, prosperity and well-being for the people of tribal areas,” he said. “Now, it is the responsibility of the elected representatives of FATA and the government functionaries to ensure the prompt execution of these reforms.”
The new laws “would ensure the provision of basic human rights to the tribesmen,” said Abdul Latif Afridi, a former member of parliament and a key leader of the Awami National Party.