One Step Toward Stability?

News of the downed SEAL chopper in Afghanistan earlier this month overshadowed a historic positive development for the region. On Aug 12, Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari announced the first reforms to the archaic Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR). These laws, imposed by the British in the 1800s, govern the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and trump state jurisdiction. Although some say that the reforms don’t go far enough, the changes are likely to have positive consequences for crisis stability along the border region as citizens of the region gain greater access to political rights.

Provisions in the FCR allowing for collective punishment, limited right of appeal, and arbitrary detention have long fueled popular anger and the absence of fair government has led some to seek swift justice from militants. Where the FCR rules, the Political Agent, an unaccountable bureaucrat responsible for distributing aid funds, represents the Pakistani state. Residents of FATA have no access to the Pakistani Supreme judiciary. This fundamental lack of access to justice has been cited by many, including Ploughshares Fund grantees International Crisis Group and the Center for Strategic and International Security as among the prime causes of conflict in the tribal areas. Because of this, many experts and advocates, including the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), have been calling for total repeal of the FCR.

“The FCR is still a law of dubious constitutionality that needs to be done away with," according to one Pakistani journalist.

The new reforms don’t completely answer these calls but certainly move the nation in the correct direction. While not done away with, the FCR will undergo the following reforms:

• Political parties will be allowed to operate
• Children below 16, and those above 65 will not be arrested or detained as part of collective punishment of a tribe or village
• Authorities must conduct a judicial hearing within 24 hours of arresting a suspect
• Citizens whose property has been wrongly seized by the government or have been falsely accused of crimes will receive just compensation
• For the first time FATA residents will have right to appeal a Political Agent’s decision
• Funds at the disposal of Political Agents will now be audited by the auditor general of Pakistan.

Referring to new freedoms for political parties, Crisis Group’s Shehryar Fazli writes, “We can… expect to see a surge of political mobilization, which could in turn move FATA closer to Pakistan's mainstream.”

For these small steps forward, a different FATA ordinance may set chances for stability back. In June, the government passed the Actions (in Aid of Civil Power) Regulation allowing the military rights to arbitrarily detain suspects and occupy land without compensation, and giving courts the authority to punish a suspect solely based on the testimony of a single army officer.


photo by isafmedia on Flickr