FCR: The Mother of Violence
The military operation in FATA is nearing to end and focus has shifted to the peace building processes. In post-conflict peace building, structural reforms play a crucial role in bringing sustainable peace. The draconian Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), enforced by the British government, is considered as one of the major root causes of the conflict in tribal areas of Pakistan. The FCR still exists with minor amendments through which the federal government administers FATA. The question arises Can a legal structure that is the root cause of the conflict, guarantee sustainable peace? The existing laws are not only inhuman and left over of the colonial regime but also a discrimination with the people of FATA who deserve equal rights like any other citizen of Pakistan.
It is important to first discuss the purpose and structure of FCR and its viability in the 21st century. During the British colonial era, one of the purposes of invocation of FCR was to control the tribal people and bring them under British control. In John William Kay’s words, “We cannot rein wild horses with silken braids”. Another reason was to create another buffer zone between British India and buffer land of Afghanistan. The invocation of FCR provided control over the tribal people to the British government in a way that the local people could neither revolt nor work against the British interests in the region. Another important fact about the FCR is that not a single article or sub-article of Frontier Crimes Regulations safeguards the interest of the local people of FATA. Instead, it serves the interests of the government at the cost of inhuman treatment to the local population.
The bureaucrats and handpicked Maliks (local chieftains) propagated that FCR is based on tribal customs and traditions. But it was the blow that turned upside down the tradition and customs of the tribal people. While history says that neither the British masters nor were their imperial regulations accepted by the locals. They opposed and fought against the British imperialism and defeated the British in battlefields on several occasions but failed to get rid of this unnatural and inhuman law.
FCR overburdens the local people with responsibilities without assuring any right to them. Under the draconian law, people are responsible for controlling crimes and militancy etc. and are also responsible for maintaining peace. It is the responsibility of tribesmen to assure safety and security of government officials and installations. In the case of failure, the whole tribe is punished collectively. The punishment ranges from fine to jail sentences and in severe cases the demolishing of houses or villages.
Pakistan is the signatory of The International Humanitarian Law, UN Declaration of Human rights, other covenants on civil, political, economic and social cultural rights that guarantee more than thirty rights to individual living on the earth.
In concurrence to international obligations, Pakistan’s constitution has guaranteed fundamental rights of protection of life, properties, movement, business, fair trial, political and civil rights, economic and social rights to its citizens except for the residents of FATA. Human rights scholars believe that the society where human rights are not respected/ensured are more prone to conflicts as compared to those where human rights are guaranteed and protected. Therefore, the provision of human rights to the people of FATA can help maintain sustainable peace in the region.
The inherent structural violence in FCR led to direct violence and conflict in FATA. The structure is autocratic and centralized, despotic lacking democratic values and spirit. The centralization and accumulation of powers responsible for corruption and abuse of authority result in poverty and deprivation. These deplorable situations are exploited by the militants. After the successful culmination of military operations and convalescence of IDPs, the region is likely to drift to the situation from where the conflict actually spiraled. All efforts of peacebuilding and development are useless without reforming the governance structure and abolishment of colonial law.
The colonial legal structure even does not match the principles of Islamic law. Islam stresses on equality, liberty, fair treatment, human protection, and welfare. The FCR is not even in conformity with any religious law on earth. None of the religion preaches collective punishment, violence and human rights abuses.
FCR only serves the interests of criminals, smugglers, elite involved in black money and narcotics and authoritarian bureaucracy in FATA. The common people living in FATA are at the receiving end having no legal protection for their life, property, and interests. The bureaucracy implementing the FCR is not answerable to the people or their representatives. Even the people have no right to challenge the illegal decisions of the political administration. The decisions of the political agent are binding. Bureaucracy has unlimited powers i.e. financial, executive, judicial and administrative. Accumulation of powers, lack of accountability, the absence of public role in decision making and implementation, has made bureaucracy unbridles and corrupt. “Absolute power corrupts absolutely”, aptly befits to the situation in FATA. Formal and informal elites including politicians, religious leaders, leader of narcotics and heads of other criminal networks want the continuation of this arrangement and are exerting their influence to create hurdles in government’s reforms agenda.
The people have suffered a lot under the draconian law who were denied the rights of citizenship and civil political liberties. The abolishment of FCR and mainstreaming FATA is in the larger interest of population and of Pakistan. The local population will lose nothing but all the bad practices flourished under FCR. It will abolish the false liberty and misunderstanding that FCR is based on tribal customs and culture. In reality, FCR has ruined tribal culture and customs. FCR has turned upside down all the elements of peace in tribal culture and customs. The tribesmen enjoy the negative liberty to kill one another and there is no institution to come to the rescue in the time of need. Under the collective responsibilities, the innocents have seen their houses and markets bulldozed, lost businesses, and even denied funeral of dear ones, and relatives for being behind the bars but the offenders are at large. How long the innocent majority will continue to reel under miserable conditions. When would their miserable plight will come to an end?
With the abolishment of FCR and mainstreaming of FATA (by extension of the constitution) the road to progress, peace and development will be opened. The people will not remain subjects but will start enjoying human and citizens’ status. All rights in the constitution of Pakistan will be extended to them. Their tradition and customs will get legal protection. Liberty of individual will be assured. They will be no more scapegoats of others’ interests. The bureaucracy will be not a master but servants and accountable to the people. Life, properties, and businesses will get legal protection. The people will shoulder off the responsibilities of protection of government officials and installations instead the government will ensure the protection of individual property and dignity. The revocation of FCR will also abolish the practice of benefitting handpicked Maliks instead the whole community will benefit from the development projects and government allocated funds.
The individual will be punished for their crimes not for the crimes committed by any other person of his tribe or family. Unfair treatment, illegal punishment, arbitrary rule, and monopoly of power will come to an end. The introduction of good governance will help fight poverty, illiteracy, and diseases. The revocation of FCR will usher in an era of equal development in the region which is abundant with human and natural resources.
The decades-old war economy will transform into peace economy which will make possible the development, progress, and exploitation of natural resources for the collective benefit. With mainstreaming no one will be at losing end even the elite groups. Everyone will be treated equally and will be answerable before the law. Exploitation, anarchy, despotism, corruption, bad customs and structure will lose their existence.
A transition from conflict to peace, black economy to white, getting away with corruption and nepotism, tyranny to true democracy, elitist to public centric reforms, arbitrary rule to accountability is a daunting task which requires will and resources.
The people have pinned all their hopes to the government and parliament for the adoption of FATA Reforms Bill so that they can live with a status of human being in their own country.
The writer is a researcher focuses on peace, regional conflict, and political development. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org