Shame on us

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014 11:12:29 by

About four million Pakistanis – men and women, young and old, including even newborns — have been living all these 66 years under what can only be termed the most inhuman set of laws based on the ruthless concept of collective responsibility and collective punishment. In fact, since the day we won our independence, these Pakistanis have been living under this shameful colonial law as if the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) were some kind of divine injunction never to be interfered with or done away with.

Only a nation with a dead conscience could have lived with such an obnoxious law specifically meant for a group of its own citizens without feeling guilty. We howl and bawl for the Palestinians and for the Muslims of Myanmar. But for the agony and pain that we continue to cause to these four million Pakistanis –– whom we credit for winning us half of Kashmir way back in the early days of our independence – we show no feelings at all. Shame on us.

Why am I talking about FCR at this point in time when Pakistan is surrounded by a multitude of problems, one more perilous than the other? I agree, on the face of it, it does sound untimely. But is it? I think any time is a good time to talk about righting a wrong. More so, when the wrong we are talking about concerns the people of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), a section of which is up in arms against the state itself.

Under the FCR, residents of Fata are deprived of the right to appeal detention, the right to legal representation and the right to present evidence. And the collective responsibility and punishment clause imposes severe punishment on anyone in the tribal areas (now changed to family members, which in a tribal society means the entire tribe itself) for a crime committed by him or her relative, spouse, or even any other person from the same tribe and area. Innocent women, children and old people are known to have suffered and continue to suffer imprisonment for years under this clause. And it is well-nigh possible that the Taliban, in order to attain a high moral perch, are deliberately referring to such prisoners as non-combatants and asking their release as a condition for continuing the ongoing peace talks.

Under the current dispensation, the political agent in Fata or his deputy wield immense executive and judicial powers and no regulatory mechanism exists to hold his hand from misusing these powers. Like the police stations in Karachi, the offices of political agents are also said to be bought and sold at a premium.

Former president Asif Ali Zardari, to his credit, extended the Political Parties Order to Fata. Some political parties did put up their candidates in the last general elections held in May 2013. But ironically enough, while these elected Fata MNAs and senators can participate in the national legislative process, they have no powers to do the same for their own constituencies. Also, because most of these elected members belong allegedly to the families of the political agents or Maliks, they therefore, are said to feel more comfortable with the status quo and refrain from making any noise against the FCR or Article 247 (3).

One positive development on this front in recent times has been the formation of a Political Parties Joint Committee on Fata Reforms. It has proposed an 11-point recommendation, including local bodies polls, the future status of Fata to be decided by its people, abolition of Actions (in Aid of Civil Power) Regulation and the separation of executive and judicial powers. But the relevant authorities seem to be taking too long to make themselves available for a briefing on the progress so far made by the committee.

Strategic reasons are said to be what is holding up genuine reforms in Fata. But it is on the strategic front itself that these inhuman set of laws has failed to deliver, as despite the existence of these harsh laws all these years, the area has remained a lawless no-man’s land for criminals, and now a safe sanctuary for the militants waging war against Pakistan. So it would only be strategically helpful if opposition to the reforms is given up by you-know-who.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 19th, 2014.

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