On November 1, following the death of a Pakistan Army major, the political agent ordered the demolition of a two-story market in Wana, South Waziristan, citing a clause of collective responsibility and punishment in the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR). This was yet another example of a constitutional dilemma that Pakistan is currently facing while dealing with its fragile periphery, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Where the rest of Pakistani territory is governed under the country’s constitution, the FATA region, on the other hand, is still governed under the primitive and colonial era FCR.
There were different accounts — both from local and foreign media — of what triggered this massive action by the security forces. The local administration and the office of the political agent suggest that action was taken after an improvised explosive device killed a Pakistan Army officer during a raid on a weapons shop. Eyewitness accounts could not verify the local administration’s version.
Ali Wazir, the owner of the demolished Al Muhib market, was justified in his dismay when he asked whether the security forces would have reacted in the same manner had the incident taken place in a settled area of Pakistan. Wazir’s agony is shared by a number of tribal Pashtuns, who feel let down by the political and ruling elites. In the view of locals, officials are not trying hard enough to abolish the FCR; thus locals must suffer even for mistakes committed by others.
A local resident of Wana told me how dejected the locals felt about the military’s actions. According to him, Al Muhib market was the “heart of Wana,” and a frequent gathering spot for the locals. He further revealed that even though the military had apprehended the Afghan suspect selling arms, it felt completely unfair to demolish dozens of shops, a fuel station, and hotels in retaliation, depriving more than 150 families of their livelihoods.
Another local also spoke well of Ali Wazir, whom he felt contributed a lot toward Wana, both politically and financially. He said that the locals are still in a state of shock as to why all the business owners had to pay for the crimes of a single Afghan national. He further told me that a local Jirga (a council of elders) has decided to rebuild all the shops, brick by brick, on their own without asking the military or the government for support. Both sources felt that the time had come for the government to abolish the primitive set of laws in the FCR, and include FATA in Pakistan proper, either by declaring FATA as a separate province or merging it with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The tribal areas in Pakistan are commonly known as the Ilaqa e Ghair, which in Urdu means foreign/unknown territory. The treatment meted out to resident of FATA – whether through U.S. drone strikes, violent attacks by the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), or Pakistani military operations – has made them feel that they are indeed Ghair (unknown) to the state of Pakistan. While the Pakistani media and civil society constantly advocate the case for equal distribution of power and respect for democracy, no one bats an eyelid when it comes to the absolute power the state exercises vis-à-vis FCR in the tribal areas. After all the recent talk of introducing reforms in FATA, the reality on ground still reflects an adverse situation.
FATA’s fate still hangs in the balance with the future of FCR. Even after 69 years of independence, Pakistan has kept FCR — a set of laws introduced in 1872 and finally enacted in 1901 to tame the tribes in the tribal belt. FCR not only contributed toward disintegrating the cultural structures and foundations of Pashtunwali, but also created an administrative gap in the FATA region. Where everyday conflicts were solved through tribal Jirgas, the FCR took this conflict resolution structure from the Pashtuns and handed over decision-making powers to the political agent. The political agent is therefore the judge, jury, and prosecutor, and holds enough power to decide on the fate of a whole village or tribal agency.
FATA is standing at a dangerous crossroads when it comes to national and regional peace and stability. Tribal elders and political leaders have time and again voiced discontent over the lack of progress on the reforms recommended by the FATA Reforms Committee a few months ago. Such delays only reaffirm the fact that higher ups in policymaking circles oppose FATA’s progress, preferring to maintain its “buffer zone” status in case the political scenario changes in neighboring Afghanistan. Without the introduction of reforms and an effective framework for the inclusion of FATA in the mainstream, the FCR will continue undermining the basic human rights of tribal Pashtuns. At a time a when the civil-military establishment seeks to establish peace in the tribal belt, persisting with the FCR and invoking its clauses as they please would only take the region backwards, and not forward. After all, taking the livelihoods of more than 150 families in response to a single person’s mistake can never contribute towards peace, and will only fuel the flames of anger among the tribal Pashtuns.
The author, Farooq Yousaf, is a Research Fellow and a Programme Consultant at CRSS. He is currently pursuing his PhD in Australia