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ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly made history on Friday by abolishing the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR), an oppressive colonial-era law imposed in the tribal areas, in order to pass legislation that would extend the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and the Peshawar High Court (PHC) to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) — a long-standing demand of the people of the frontier tribal region.

Though opposed by the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), the bill titled Supreme Court and High Court (extension of jurisdiction to Fata) Act 2017 was unanimously passed by the rest of the lower house of parliament. The historic legislation extends the jurisdiction of the apex court and the PHC to the tribal areas under the Fata Reforms Package. The proposed merger of Fata with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the development of Fata will also be carried out under the package. The bill will now be sent to the Senate where it will become law after its passage by the upper house.

Members of the treasury and opposition benches in the National Assembly celebrated the passage of the bill in the lower house by beating their desks, clapping and cheering loudly.

“The Supreme Court of Pakistan shall have, in relation to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the same jurisdiction as it has in relation to the province of KP. The Peshawar High Court shall have, in relation to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the same jurisdiction as it has relation to the province of the KP,” says the bill.

“In order to bring the people of Fata into the mainstream, in accordance with their wishes and aspirations, it is necessary that the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and Peshawar High Court should be extended to such areas for safeguarding their rights and providing them proper administration of justice in accordance with the constitution,” it adds.

Legislators from tribal areas hail historic National Assembly move

The federal cabinet had earlier approved the extension of the SC and the Islamabad High Court to Fata in September last year, but the NA Standing Committee on Law and Justice later changed the high court to PHC, after MNAs from Fata pointed out that it would be hard for residents of Fata to travel to the federal capital to obtain justice.

The bill was tabled out of turn, as NA Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq had, on the demand of both the opposition and treasury benches, suspended Friday’s agenda for the lower house so they could hold a threadbare debate on the rape and murder of Zainab Amin in Kasur.

After an extended debate on the issue, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Naveed Qamar requested the speaker to introduce the supplementary agenda related to the Fata bill.

This prompted a reaction from MNA Naeema Kishwar of the JUI-F, which has resolutely opposed the merger of Fata with KP and extension of the jurisdiction of the SC and PHC to Fata. Directing her questions to the NA speaker, she asked how the Fata bill could be introduced and discussed in the house when the entire agenda had been suspended.

The speaker replied that when the majority in the house demanded a discussion on any other issue, a supplementary agenda was presented.

Interestingly enough, the opposition had boycotted the lower house session in December to protest against the government’s decision to not table the bill.

Law Minister Mehmood Bashir Virk read the bill clause by clause, but MNA Kishwar suggested that the jurisdiction of the IHC, rather than the PHC, be extended to Fata because, technically, Fata was part of the Centre.

Following the passage of the bill, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah congratulated the NA speaker and the lower house, terming the Supreme Court and High Court (extension of jurisdiction to Fata) Act 2017 a landmark legislation.

He said his party supported the merger of Fata with KP because it was a long-standing demand of the people of Fata. “Sacrifices rendered by the people of Fata require that the bill regarding merger of Fata with KP be presented as soon as possible in the National Assembly,” he said.

Life in Fata is currently regulated by the FCR, according to which jirgas accord punishments in civil and criminal cases on the basis of their own traditions and beliefs while the state assumes a limited role. Under the FCR, a political agent is appointed as the judicial authority with powers to decide criminal and civil cases.

Speaking on the occasion, Federal Minister for States and Frontier Regions (Safron) retired Lt Gen Abdul Qadir Baloch said the people of Fata had been awaiting this decision for over 70 years.

He said the Fata Reforms Package would bring development to Fata, as well as other facilities accorded to people in other parts of the country.

MNAs hailing from Fata — Shah Jee Gul Afridi, GG Jamal, Shahabuddin and Nazir Khan — expressed their gratitude to the house for passing the historic legislation.

They were of the view that the abolishment of the FCR was a result of long and hectic efforts by the people of Fata, who would now have access to basic human rights.

Earlier, Minister Abdul Qadir Baloch and Sartaj Aziz, adviser to the prime minister on development, had said in a recent press conference that the government would also lay down the basic administrative infrastructure in Fata in accordance with the Constitution of Pakistan, under which the local courts, police and administration would be set up.

Published in Dawn, January 13th, 2018