Changing a mindset

10 Mar 2019


The writer is a former bureaucrat and author of Cheegha: The Call.
The writer is a former bureaucrat and author of Cheegha: The Call.

AFTER a decades-long wait, on Monday, judicial officers will begin work in the newly merged tribal districts. It is a landmark day, achieved by the locals’ struggle in spite of bitter opposition from rent-seekers. The dreaded Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) is gone.

The extension of the superior judiciary brings hope, opportunities and peace of mind: relief from fear of being apprehended for someone else’s folly (one might not even know it happened), relief from the fear of whole villages being razed, tribes blockaded, properties confiscated and people harassed for no fault of their own. Those living in the tribal areas suffered, no doubt, but tribal domiciles weren’t safe anywhere in Pakistan.

This signifies the first giant leap for the area’s people, who almost lost faith in the prime minister’s oft-repeated promises. Hats off to Peshawar High Court (PHC) Chief Justice Waqar Ahmad Seth for taking the initiative and making it possible. The people of the tribal districts will remain forever obliged.

To start, a district and sessions judge, two additional district and sessions judges and one senior civil judge have been posted in every tribal district. In due course, civil judges/ judicial magistrates will also be posted. A fortnight ago, the provincial government created 907 posts in the district judiciary. Since recruitment and training for these positions will take time, the PHC made sizable promotions to bridge the human resource requirements. The court also submitted budgetary estimates for the district judiciary so that that the necessary funds can be provided as soon as possible, and directed all concerned offices in the districts to immediately submit records of pending litigations to a dedicated cell set up in the district judiciary secretariat.

Supporters of status quo in KP’s merged districts haven’t given up.

The PHC registrar said that the judicial officers would perform their duties from adjacent districts until logistic arrangements are made in the merged districts — a makeshift arrangement expected to last for six months before courts/ offices are established there.

There has always been a fear that reforms would not be implemented in letter and spirit to benefit the tribal people. Those benefiting from the old system would not forego their petty interests, and attempt to retain the old order by making only superficial changes. To this end, the last government enacted the Fata Interim Governance Regulation, 2018 — another form of the old FCR. The PHC and Supreme Court rescued the tribal districts and foiled the attempt to frustrate the reforms process by declaring the regulation ultra vires of the Constitution.

Supporters of the status quo haven’t given up yet; they are using customs and traditions as a pretext for derailing the reforms agenda. They mobilised the maliks and the Khasadar against the new system, demanding a separate province, retention of the old jirga system and disallowing extension of police jurisdiction to the districts.

In a meeting at the Governor’s House in Peshawar, deputy commissioners demanded retaining the jirga system and command of the Levies and Khasadar. In the last meeting of the apex committee, it was decided to introduce legislation that would allegedly deny the inspector general of police any command over the Levies. The chief secretary and KP IGP were unceremoniously replaced when they disagreed with the scheme of things, suggesting they were against the spirit of the Supreme Court’s orders.

The matter is about retaining the deputy commissioner’s office’s power as commandant of the Levies and Khasadar. Different proposals, like bringing the FCR back through the Fata interim Governance Regulation, having ‘A’ and ‘B’ areas along the same lines as Balochistan, or gradually transitioning from Levies to police over a 10-year period, are being floated. What the KP governor and status quo-loving bureaucrats don’t realise is that once a bad system is in place, it creates beneficiaries who will resist its change when the time comes.

The whole of Balochistan, for example, was declared an ‘A’ area until vested interests lobbied and had it revert to the old system. It will only be wise to go forward now that an opportunity has arisen. Instead of petty personal interests, we need to bring the merged districts at par with the rest of the province.

The prime minister may like to take serious note of the state of affairs in KP and not allow anyone to play with the destiny of millions. PHC Chief Justice Waqar Ahmed Seth is requested to supervise and scrutinise steps towards reforms. Any act that is ultra vires of the Constitution, against the spirit of the Supreme Court’s direction or against the aspirations of the tribal people must be struck down. Now that the jurisdiction of superior judiciary has been extended to the merged districts, its people are confident their rights will be protected.

The writer is a former bureaucrat and author of Cheegha: The Call.

Published in Dawn, March 10th, 2019