Islamabad: President Asif Ali Zardari Friday afternoon signed two orders that set into motion the far reaching administrative, judicial and political reforms in the tribal areas he had announced on the eve of Independence Day two years ago but the implementation of which had been stalled for various reasons.
The two orders signed today are Amendments in the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) 2011 and Extension of the Political Parties Order 2002 to the tribal areas just an hour after the summary to this effect was received from the Prime Minister.
Held in the jam packed hall of the Presidency the signing ceremony was witnessed by tribal elders drawn from all the seven tribal agencies, five frontier regions, FATA Parliamentarians, Governor KPK, provincial cabinet of KPK, diplomats, Shaheed Bhutto Foundation, civil society members, media persons and representatives of a number of NGOs.
Spokesperson to the President Farhatullah Babar said that representatives of various political parties who had earlier formed a multi parties Joint Committee on FATA reforms and had called on the President in March this year calling for early implementation of the promised reforms also witnessed the signing ceremony.
The political parties represented at today’s event included ANP, PML-N, JI, PPP-S, PML-Q, MQM-S, NP, PKMAP and JUI (F),
The Prime Minister and federal ministers and secretaries and diplomats in Islamabad also attended the function.
Tribal elders, FATA Parliamentarians and representatives of political parties behind the President’s desk signalled the broad based consensus of all stake holders as the driving force behind the reforms package, he said.
Speaking on the occasion the President said that his head bowed in gratitude before Allah for having fulfilled yet another promise made with the people of FATA. He congratulated the tribesmen for harmonizing reforms with their tribal customs and traditions.
He said that the legal and political reforms would rid the tribal people from a century of bondage and usher them into mainstream of national life while respecting local customs and traditions.
Some may say that the reforms are not enough and much more needs to be done, he said adding ‘let it also not be forgotten that no one took even a single step in the last one hundred years to reform the FCR and give political rights to the people’.
The President said that the door had been unlocked and it is for the people of tribal areas to decide how much more of reforms they want in their system of governance. Any system imposed on them from outside will be counterproductive, the President cautioned.
Talking to the media explaining the salient features of the reforms package Spokesperson Farhatullah Babar said that contrary to past practice an accused shall have right to bail and it will be mandatory to produce him before the concerned authority within 24 hours of arrest. Women, children below 16 and aged above 65 shall not be arrested or detained under Collective Responsibility.
He said that henceforth the whole tribe will not be arrested under the collective responsibility clause. Step-wise action will be taken first immediate male members of family followed by sub-tribe and then by other sections of the tribe, he said
Cases will now be disposed of in a fixed time frame and checks placed on arbitrary power of arrest under the notorious Section 40A of the FCR.
Appeals will lie before Appellate Authority comprising of Commissioner and a dedicated Additional Commissioner (Judicial) to be notified by the governor.
The reforms envisage setting of a FATA Tribunal headed by Chairman and two other members out of whom one shall be a person who has been civil servant of not less than BPS 20 having experience of Tribal Administration and other member shall be a person qualified to be appointed as Judge of High Court well conversant with Rewaj.
The FATA Tribunal shall exercise power of Revision against orders/judgments of Appellate Authority and shall have powers similar to High Court under Article 199 of the Constitution.
A new section has been added providing for action for false prosecution in civil and criminal matters. Under it the defendant will be entitled to adequate compensation in criminal matters and compensatory costs in civil matters.
He said that no person shall 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 procedure in settled areas.
For the first time the funds at the disposal of the Political Agent shall be audited by Auditor General of Pakistan, the Spokesperson said.
Section 58A has been added to make provision for jail inspections by FATA Tribunal, Appellate Authority and Political Agent. Rules will be framed for regulating the Agency Welfare Fund.
Farhatullah Babar said that the reforms hammered out after consultation with all stake holders was approved in principle on August 12, 2009 in a meeting in the Presidency that was also attended by the Prime Minister. The meeting had left it to the President to announce it any time he deemed fit.
Although the President announced the reforms two days later on the eve of 63 rd Independence Day its implementation was stalled for a variety of reasons, Farhatullah Babar said.
The signing today has made the process of reforms irreversible, he said. Any attempt to undo it will require dismantling of consensus among the stake holders and another Order to be signed by the President, Farhatullah Babar said.
Henceforth the political parties, subject to appropriate regulations to be framed, will be freely allowed to operate in the tribal areas and present their socio-economic programs on the one hand and the century old Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) will be tamed to make it responsive to the human rights of the people, he said.
The permission to political parties to sell their programs in tribal areas will counter the pernicious one sided campaign of militants to impose their ideological agenda on the people rejecting the state, the Constitution, democracy and indeed our very way of life, he said.
President Asif Ali Zardari said that a bigger challenge awaited us and it was the challenge of defeating the militant mindset. In the long run we must defeat the militant mindset to defend our country, our democracy, our institutions and our way of life, he said.
Lauding the people of tribal areas the President said that they have been governed by a hundred years old obsolete system of administration of justice that did not allow their creative potential to come into full play. He said that the law had been changed in accordance with the aspirations of the people and democratic principles while respecting local customs and traditions.
Farhatullah Babar said that after the amendments in the law the arbitrary powers of arrest and detention without the right to bail had been curtailed.
He said that the FCR was a draconian law under which there is no provision of appeal, Wakeel or daleel (no right to appeal, or engaging lawyer or reliance on reasoning) against the orders of the executive. The tribesmen were subject the whims of administration officials. People have been arrested and kept in jail for long years without trial under the FCR. Under it, a person could be sent to jail for three years without trial. The jail term could be extended indefinitely in instalments of three years and under the Territorial Responsibility women and children have been arrested and sent to jail in the past.
The amendments have changed the most obnoxious provisions of FCR, Farhatullah Babar said.
Farhatullah Babar said that a major initiative was in the field of judicial reform. The changes made envisage setting of a FATA Tribunal which shall have powers similar to that of the high courts. The FATA Tribunal shall have powers of revision against orders and judgments of Appellate Authority. Previously there was no such provision of appeal to a judicial authority.
Giving background of the efforts made in the past to bring about the changes Farhatullah Babar said that in November 2004 the Senate passed a unanimous PPP Resolution calling for changes in the FCR.
In 2004 the former Prime Minister Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto formed a special committee of the Party called the FATA Reforms Committee.
Subsequently she also filed a petition in the Supreme Court for political reforms in the tribal areas.
In November 2004 the Senate adopted a PPP resolution for reforms in FATA.
In August 2005 the Senate adopted the report of its Committee of Human Rights that called for changes in the FCR.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in his first address had announced that the FCR will be changed and brought into conformity with the human rights standards and in accordance with the aspirations of the people. Soon after the formation of government a Committee of the Cabinet was set up in April 2008 under the then law minister Farooq Naek to examine the FCR in consultation with all the stake holders and recommend changes into it.
In August 2008 the Shaheed Bhutto Foundation invited hundreds of tribesmen from all tribal agencies to solicit their views on the FCR and on political reforms in the tribal areas who unanimously recommended a minimum set of reforms.
In January 2009 the President invited FATA tribesmen to the Presidency and heard them say what they had to about the FCR and political reforms. The Cabinet Committee on FCR under Farooq Naek considered all of these and other previous reports that had recommended changes in the law in accordance with the wishes of the people.
Next month the Cabinet approved the report of the Cabinet Committee on FCR which were also approved by the President, he said.
In March 2011, representatives of major political parties called on the President in the Presidency demanding an early implementation of the reforms package.
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