ISLAMABAD: President Asif Ali Zardari signed on Friday amendments made to the century-old Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) which will give the people of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) for the first time the right of appeal against decisions of the political agent.
The president also signed the Extension of the Political Parties Order 2002 to the tribal areas where, after appropriate regulations to be framed later, political parties can operate freely and present their socio-economic programmes.
The amendments envisage setting up of a three-member Fata tribunal headed by a chairman. It will exercise the powers of revision against orders/judgments of an appellate authority having powers similar to a high court under Article 199 of the Constitution -- a provision dealt with the jurisdiction of the high court.
One member of the tribunal will be a senior civil servant of not less than BPS-20 and with experience of tribal administration and the other should be qualified to be appointed as a judge of the high court though well conversant with the local Rewaj (customs).
Considered always a black law the FCR was devised by British colonialists in 1848 as an instrument of subjugation meant to discipline the Pakhtun population and establish the writ of colonial authority. Innocent men, women and children become victims of the draconian regulations. Even family members were handed a jail term for no crime of their own under the FCR.
People were sentenced to jail for the alleged crimes of their father, uncle or any of their blood relatives.
Under the FCR, the government had the powers to raze the houses of criminals and their relatives to ground as a punishment.
Extension of Political Parties Order The government believes that the permission to political parties to sell their programmes in tribal areas will counter the pernicious one-sided campaign of militants to impose their ideological agenda on the people.
Supreme Court Bar Association President Asma Jehangir welcomed the reforms and said it was a gift on the eve of Independence Day for the people of Fata as well as for the rest of the people in the country. The amendments, she said, were a big leap which would prove to be a stepping stone of further reforms.
Ms Jehangir, who had also headed the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, was confident that the jurisdiction of an ordinary high court would be extended to Fata, but said the collective punishment in every form should be abolished.
“The extension of the political parties order will also help generate the interest of people who will be gradually brought to the mainstream national life because they will enjoy the right to vote, but not to a political party. The audit of political agents will also take care of bribe in Fata,” she said.
HRCP Director I.A. Rehman said the reforms had some nice features but were still short of expectations.
Contrary to the past practice, the amendments to the FCR provide right of bail to the accused, but it would be mandatory to produce them before the authority concerned within 24 hours of arrest.
Women, children below 16 years and men aged above 65 cannot be arrested or detained under the collective responsibility clause. Also the entire tribe will not be arrested under the clause whereas a step-wise action will be taken in case of a crime by first involving male members of the family followed by sub-tribe and then by other sections of the tribe.
A new section has been added which provides for action for false prosecution in civil and criminal matters while the defendants will be entitled to adequate compensation in criminal matters and compensatory costs in civil matters. Similarly, no person will be deprived of his property without adequate compensation as per prevailing market value in accordance with the procedure laid down in the Land Acquisition Act 1894 in settled areas.
For the first time, funds at disposal of political agents have been brought under the audit by Auditor General of Pakistan.
Section 58A has been inserted into the FCR to make provision for jail inspection by the Fata tribunal, while the appellate authority and political agent rules will be framed for regulating the agency welfare fund.
President Zardari praised efforts of the Shaeed Bhutto Foundation which worked in Fata to pave the way for implementation of the reforms.