Dawn – Supreme Court asks government to explain legality of internment centres

Nasir Iqbal

Islamabad Capital Territory – Pakistan, 16 November 2019. The Supreme Court questioned the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa about the functioning of internment centres without authorisation for three months last year during the hearing of a petition on Friday against the KP-Action in Aid of Civil Power Ordinance.

Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, who heads a five-judge Supreme Court bench, cautioned Attorney General Anwar Mansoor a number of times that he must satisfy the court about the legality of the matter. Otherwise, he warned, it would cause problems to the government.

And in a lighter vein the chief justice told the AG that he needed to “do more”.

The Attorney General retorted that “in Pakistan we always have to do more”.

The joint challenge to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa ordinance, brought by PPP stalwart Farhatullah Babar, rights activists Afrasiab Khattak, Bushra Gohar and Rubina Saigol, seeks scrapping of the ordinance since it “impinges upon fundamental rights”.

In addition to the petition, the larger bench is also seized with the federal government’s appeal against the 17 October 2018, Peshawar High Court (PHC) decision holding the ordinance as ultra vires. The verdict also held as illegal the provincial government’s decisions to continue with laws in the erstwhile Pata and Fata.

The issue cropped up when it came to the notice of the court that the 25th Constitution Amendment came into effect on May 31 last year after removal of Article 247 (7) from the Constitution and merger of both the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (Pata) with KP.

Prior to the 25th Amendment, the tribal areas were administered under Article 247 of the Constitution, authorising the president to make regulations for peace and good governance in Fata and Pata.

Later the KP Assembly adopted the Action in Aid of Civil Powers Regulations giving protection to internment centres and other actions taken by the armed forces to deal with terrorism.

The law had also mentioned Fata even though the 25th Amendment had merged both Pata and Fata in KP.

Realising the mistake, the governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa promulgated the KP-Action In Aid of Civil Power Ordinance on 04 January this year by giving a retrospective effect to the law from September 2018 and by removing other deficiencies like mentioning of Fata in the earlier regulations.

But the Supreme Court was concerned why the ordinance ignored the period from 31 May 2018, when the 25th Amendment came into effect and provided protection only from September.

During the hearing, Justice Gulzar Ahmed regretted that the federal government granted some rights to the people of Fata and Pata through the 25th Amendment, but the provincial government took away those rights.

Justice Qazi Faez Isa observed that the amendment had done much more than merging Fata and Pata with KP since it had introduced democracy in the erstwhile tribal areas by giving them representation in the assemblies.

The chief justice asked whether the constitution makers provided any transition clause in subsequent laws because after the 25th Amendment the legislature knew well about the mechanism and arrangements under which the internment centres function and that all these systems have to be taken care of by the provinces. Otherwise, the arrangement will be rendered unconstitutional.

The attorney general read out the regulation to establish facilities afforded to interned persons, e.g. visits by family members, letters after 15 days, clothing, imparting skills and rehabilitation.

Anwar Mansoor said he would produce a video at the next hearing to show how internment centres functioned and how international organisations like Unicef were working with them.

Justice Gulzar Ahmed asked whether the government had evidence that the people being interned were non-state actors.

“No country in the world accepts them any longer since they have no allegiance to any country, except the organisation for which they are working,” Justice Ahmed observed.

The AG said that there were certain things which he cannot disclose.

But the chief justice wondered whether the list of missing persons had been shared with the commission on enforced disappearances. He explained to the AG that the court was not seized with the performance of internment centres, but with the legal status of the arrangement.

Attorney General Mansoor replied that the state had to be protected by taking extraordinary steps and “we have saved the country from miscreants”.

“I will try to convince the court that internment centres are not unconstitutional,” the AG said.


Dawn – Tribals see KP Assembly elections as ‘beginning of a new life’

Zulfiqar Ali

Peshawar – Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – Pakistan, 21 July 2019.

Yaka Ghund – Mohmand District: For 60-year-old Abdul Jalil, July 20 is a day of joy and celebration like over five million other residents of the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).

“I feel that we (tribal people) spent 72 years in the hell and today is the beginning of a new life,” said Jalil, a resident of Yakaghund area in Mohmand tribal district.

He was sitting under a large canopy pitched outside a polling station, waiting for his turn to cast vote in the first-ever provincial assembly elections in his area.

“Today is the most important day for the people of tribal districts. There are many reasons for them to celebrate the occasion because they will have representation in the provincial assembly and will get rid of the corrupt administration, and there will be more development,” he told Dawn.

For 60-year-old Abdul Jalil, July 20 is a day of joy and celebration like over five million other residents of the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).

The scene outside the polling station was full of excitement.

The candidates placed large-size canopies to protect voters from the scorching sun.

Workers decorated the venue with flags of their parties and posters of candidates, while vendors sold ice cream, mobile phone SIM cards, and food items.

The polling began at 8am on Saturday. Elaborate security arrangements were seen inside and outside polling stations. Candidates arranged transport vehicles to provide pick and drop to voters.

After decades of neglect, the people of tribal districts got the historic opportunity to elect 16 members of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly on general seats. Tribal people already have representation in upper and lower houses of Parliament.

Abdul Jalil gave the youths of former Fata credit for raising voice for their constitutional rights at every forum.

“We got representation in the provincial assembly because of the youths’ struggle,” he said.

The decision to bring millions of people of former Fata to the mainstream took over seven decades, while tribal people paid a heavy price for it. The reforms process began in tribal districts during Field Martial Ayub Khan’s Basic Democracy in 1959.

The populist prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, initiated the development of infrastructure to fulfil basic needs of the people. He paid extensive visits to the area and launched projects through the defunct Fata Development Corporation.

President Farooq Ahmad Khan Leghari and caretaker prime minister Malik Meraj Khalid took one step forward by introducing adult franchise system in Fata in 1996. Before that, only selected Maliks were allowed to elect members of Parliament.

President Asif Ali Zardari has the credit to extend the Political Parties Act to the region in 2010 allowing political parties to carry out activities, while the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif got 25th amendment to the Constitution passed in parliament.

The 80-page report of the six-member Committee on Fata Reforms, 2016, headed by Sartaj Aziz paved the way for the merger of tribal areas with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in July 2018 and the subsequent representation of the region in the provincial assembly despite the opposition of vested interests in political circles and establishment.

The PTI can be credited for fulfilling the dream by holding elections in merged tribal districts for the KP Assembly.

The eras of military regimes led by Zia-ul-Haq and Pervez Musharraf proved dark periods for the tribal people. The region experienced militancy, brutalities, drug trafficking, proxy wars, displacement and poverty.

The provincial assembly elections have made the residents of merged districts very optimistic about the future.

They hope that the polls will pave the way for good governance, provision of quality education to their children, improvement of health delivery system, and employment of youths. The post-merger era is a big challenge for the PTI government and state institutions.

“Former Fata was a grazing filed for the government officials because there was no audit of funds and accountability. Officers serving in the erstwhile tribal agencies were not answerable to anybody,” said Hassan Wali, former conservator (forest), who had served in tribal area for many years.

“This is a big achievement of the merger is that the Annual Development Programme for tribal districts has been increased from Rs 21 billion to Rs 83 billion and it will get Rs 100 billion per annum from the National Finance Commission Award at the rate of three per cent,” he said, adding that the people’s destiny would change if development funds were utilised judiciously.