By Iftikhar Firdous
If it smells like the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR), looks like the FCR and sounds like the FCR, then you can bet that it will act like the FCR — no matter how you dress it up.
This is the case with a law the federal government has put together to replace the FCR. It is called the ‘FATA Interim Governance Regulation, 2018’, which is nothing but a set of rules for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The idea is to get the president to sign it into law. And those interim rules are to apply in Fata until it merges with Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa ‘within a timeframe of two years’.
The good thing is that those new rules do away with the FCR that the British had imposed on the region in 1901, ensuring over a century of misery for the people. But that is also where the good stuff ends.
The Express Tribune has obtained a copy of the draft law. Right at the top of the 20-page document, it says that the government wants to ensure ‘administration of justice, maintenance of peace and good governance’ in Fata. Those certainly are good intentions.
Changes being proposed
Tribal agencies will be called tribal districts, so Kurram Agency, for example, would now be called Kurram district. Tehsils and frontier regions would be renamed as sub-divisions, so, FR Bannu would be referred to as Bannu sub-division. This is a simple enough change. Doing away with old names is a tried and tested formula for cosmetic change. NWFP is now called Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. It gets slightly more complicated, however, when you rename the political agents, who, up until now, virtually ruled the agencies. The government is now proposing that they be called deputy commissioners. Their additional and assistant political agents will be called additional and assistant commissioners. Assistant commissioners will enjoy magisterial powers. The government says its intention is to provide justice in Fata. It is also doing away with the FCR. So, why then the interim set of rules says: If there ‘appears to be a good reason to believe’ that the people of any village have helped with a crime, failed to help arrest people, or suppressed evidence, deputy commissioner can levy fines on whole villages.
If any tribe or a member acts in a ‘hostile, subversive or offensive manner towards the state’, then the deputy commissioner can arrest them and seize their property. He can keep them in detention and bar them from going to settled areas of Pakistan.
The deputy commissioner can banish a man if he is “dangerously fanatic” or is a tribal who has no “ostensible means of subsistence”. He can ban a man who cannot give a “satisfactory account of himself”. Under the new rules, criminal cases would be referred to a Council of Elders, which is, in essence, a jirga. The deputy commissioner will refer cases to a jirga or Council of Elders. But he also appoints members of the jirga which then conduct hearings and submit their findings to the deputy commissioner. The interim rules also say that if someone is found guilty of a crime, the deputy commissioner can forfeit any “assignment or remission of land-revenue or allowance payable out of public funds” from them.
This applies to people who have ‘colluded with or harboured any criminal’ or someone who has ‘suppressed’ evidence or failed to ‘render loyal and proper assistance to the authorities’.
Perhaps the oddest rule is that people can’t establish new villages or towers or walled enclosures on the frontier without the deputy commissioner’s permission. This applies to any place within 120 yards of the centre of a road. What is more, the federal government can remove any village close to the frontier, so long as it awards compensation to the inhabitants. Civil disputes that threaten peace can be assigned to the council of elders or a Qaumi Jirga that is supposed to settle them according to Rewaj.
One of the most questionable clauses says that no civil court can question the legality of anything done in Fata.
The deputy commissioner can convict people, pass sentences of imprisonment (for under 14 years), and fine them. The deputy commissioner also has the authority to pardon accomplices directly or indirectly involved in a crime, so long as they become prosecution witnesses. “It’s a combination of the FCR and a draft bill called the Rewaj Act of 2016. The regulation has not taken care of the contradictions that have arisen as a result of borrowing from the two documents,” an official with the background knowledge told The Express Tribune. “It gives extreme discretion to the authorities concerned. Some of the powers being conferred now were not there even in the original FCR. This will certainly raise a lot of criticism on the human rights grounds,” said a source with the knowledge of the draft proposed.
“The regulation has not mentioned either the Supreme Court or the high court, the jurisdictions of which have recently been extended to Fata,” the source said.
“Instead, it mentions the Fata Tribunal and other appellate authorities. It creates conflict at various levels,” he observed.