Bajaur admin bars politicians from jirgas

Elders say party offici­als are campai­gning agains­t FCR but contin­ue to partic­ipate in jirgas under the same law

Elders say party officials are campaigning against FCR but continue to participate in jirgas under the same law. PHOTO: EXPRESS/FILE

Elders say party officials are campaigning against FCR but continue to participate in jirgas under the same law. PHOTO: EXPRESS/FILE

SHABQADAR: The political administration of Bajaur Agency has banned office-bearers of political parties from participating in local dispute resolution jirgas as members — a move being perceived as an attempt to curtail parties’ influence in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).

The ban comes at a time when the government has moved legislation to replace the draconian British-era Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) in Fata with the equally controversial Rewaj Act.

In a text message sent to the media on Tuesday, the Bajaur political administration confirmed that it had barred office-bearers and leaders of political parties’ from participating in jirgas which were an integral part of the FCR system.

Bajaur-based journalist Saleem Khan told The Express Tribune that in meetings with the Fata Secretariat and officials of the political administration, tribal elders and even political leaders had repeatedly complained about political activists participating in jirgas as members.

He added that the elders had complained that on the one hand, some party officials were campaigning against FCR by calling it a draconian law, but on the other, they were also participating in jirgas under the same system, which showed their double standards. According to the elders, he said, political leaders were trying to malign the jirga system for their own political motives.

Khan further said the elders had also accused some of these officials of taking money and siding with fellow party members when reaching verdicts – which was against the spirit of jirgas.

A source familiar with the matter said political agents of other agencies were soon likely to follow suit and ban political officials from jirgas.

Tribal elders have welcomed the move, a long-time demand, while reaction from political leaders was mixed.

Some described the move as against basic human rights while others termed it a good decision.

Sardar Khan, the Jamaat-e-Islami leader from Bajaur and president of the Fata All Political Parties Alliance, termed the decision an “obstruction in the way of justice”. He said jirgas could be partial and bought by influential people. “Therefore, it is important that impartial political officials are part of the jirgas to ensure that locals get justice,” he added.

Gul Afzal Khan, general secretary of the Awami National Party (ANP) in Bajaur, described the move as ‘a positive step’. He said his party had earlier urged the political administration to take this decision because political workers may not make fair decisions owing to their political affiliations.

But according to ANP Mohmand Agency President Nisar Mohmand, the political administration’s decision denies political officials the right to participate in local affairs even though they are part of the system. He said the decision showed that the bureaucracy in Fata wanted to sideline political parties in all matters concerning the tribal system for their own vested interests. “The ANP will resist the move because it is an attempt to restrict the activities of political parties in Fata,” he maintained.

“The government is introducing the controversial Rewaj Act in Fata instead of extending the Constitution and at the same time, the political administration is banning political activists from jirgas. This shows their intention to malign [local traditions].”

Published in The Express Tribune, May 18th, 2017.