RECENT clashes with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Police in the newly-merged tribal districts led us to believe that the Levies and Khasadars were resentful about their imminent merger with the police. A month later, these same forces were protesting the delay in the process. If they were keen on the merger, then who were the people agitating against the police? Some speculated that these protests were initiated by the maliks. At last, the government caved in to the Levies’ and Khasadars’ demands, and merged them with KP Police.
The Khasadars were a community police in former Fata, nominated by the tribes. Under the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), each tribe was collectively responsible for any offence committed within its territorial limits. The government gave a stipend to the tribes to protect government installations in their territories and provide badraga (escort) to officials. Initially, the tribes nominated Khasadars to perform the assigned duties. Later, the political administration began giving Khasadaris as a reward to the maliks. There were no recruitment, fitness or age criteria. They were hereditary posts; another person could be substituted for duty; and they performed their duties only within their tribe’s territorial jurisdiction. The Levies, on the other hand, had proper recruitment criteria and performed all policing functions in the tribal agencies.
With the passage of the 25th Amendment last year, the draconian FCR has now been consigned to history. The president signed the Fata Interim Governance Regulation, 2018 to replace it, but that too has ended. The constitutional amendment also extended the jurisdiction of the judiciary to Fata, and the courts have now started functioning. So, unless something new comes up, the regular laws of KP and the KP Police Act, 2017 stand extended to the tribal districts.
The government promulgated the KP Levies Force (Transition) Ordinance, 2019 to clarify the status and functions of this force. They have been assigned the same duties and functions as the police under the KP Police Act. DPOs have been posted to the tribal districts as commanding officers of the Levies. Unlike KP Police, however, and contrary to the recent decisions of the provincial government and the apex committee, the Levies will work under the home department. The superintendence, control and administration over the force are vested in the government through the home and tribal affairs department.
There is still little clarity regarding the fate of the Khasadars.
With the FCR gone, tribes are now absolved of territorial responsibility, so there was a need to redefine the duties and responsibilities of the Khasadars. To legalise their status, the government promulgated the KP Khasadar Force (Maintenance, Regulation and Protection of Service) (Transition) Ordinance, 2019 — and gave assurances that the two forces would be merged with KP Police. Those Khasadars who do not qualify to join the police would be given a golden handshake. On April 8, the forces were merged, giving the Levies and Khasadars a six-month timeframe to assimilate. They will have the same or equivalent posts in KP Police.
It has been almost a year since the merger of Fata with KP, and the ex-Fata Secretariat was supposed to make logistical and legal arrangements to facilitate it long before the merger took place. Instead, the government came up with futile exercises like the Rewaj Act (which it subsequently withdrew in the face of widespread opposition in the National Assembly) and the Sustainable Development Plan (which is virtually redundant, given that the prime minister has already ordered a ten-year development plan).
In the existing scenario, there are no clear government guidelines regarding the fate of the Khasadars, thus creating much confusion and resentment among them. There is no service structure, no mention of a golden handshake for those already at superannuation (many are much older), nor of pension and other benefits for those left with less than the qualifying time for receiving pension. They are not a disciplined force like the Levies; they don’t have any training and many are unable to speak Urdu. Why is the government so unprepared? Why such disrespect to people who served it well for over 100 years?
The government is hell-bent on retaining the old Fata system, a special area with special laws and a special administration. It wants the DC of tribal districts to be as powerful as the political agent. The government announced the merger without doing any homework; the transition period for assimilation in the provincial police is very short, making it impossible to achieve its objective.
Why is the government taking this route? Why is this one great opportunity being wasted? It was the special status of Fata that people wanted to get rid of; instead of moving in circles, the government should just mainstream the region. Will the government have mercy on the tribal people, for once?
The writer is a former bureaucrat and author of Cheegha: The Call.
Published in Dawn, April 18th, 2019