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Stop Seeing Tribal Region As Half-Sibling

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It is time we let go of seeing our citizens as ‘collateral damage’. It is time we see them as people who have only ever lived in a state of emergency, awaiting the ‘Subh-e-Azadi’ that has only become a wistful wish, writes Noor Ejaz.

“I thought I could wake up this sleeping country with my cries, but still they sleep as if in a dream”, The Shadow of the Crescent Moon, Fatima Bhutto

Throughout history, colonial powers have often suspended the operation of due process to suppress independence movements. Today, postcolonial states have retained these measures to suppress political dissent through militarism.

Emergency laws have often been used as a replacement to fill voids left by an absence of civilian authority, often on the touchstone of state necessity. The State, including the judiciary and legislature, decides what constitutes normalcy i.e. the rule of law, and what determines a state of emergency.

Somehow, since Pakistan’s very inception, one particular region has been at the brunt of a constant state of emergency: the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). A state of emergency was blanketed over the FATA region with the enactment of a direct colonial import: The Frontier Crimes Regulations in 1901. These regulations were outdated measures aiming to ensure ‘governance’ in the FATA region.

Much has been said about the adverse impacts of FCR over the people of FATA. However, the state in all its formulations has agreed that certain ‘special’ measures are needed to eradicate ‘counter-terrorism’ or ‘anti-state’ activity in the region for the purposes of good governance.

Thus enacted was the Actions (in Aid of Civil Powers) Regulations, 2011. These Regulations extended exclusively to the FATA and PATA regions and were given retrospective effect from 2008, on the pretext that a grave security threat existed in Pakistan. Therefore, the law necessitated the spread of human rights violations with impunity throughout the region. Citizens who had been detained in 2008 were now covered within the remit of the law, with a constitutional net safely covering any responsibility.

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Not one institution can be said to be violating the constitutional rights of erstwhile FATA’s people. It is a mesh of executive, legislative, judicial and military actions that has pushed this side of Pakistan to the margins. Good governance for FATA has always been detentions, disappearances and abductions as may be necessary to return to the ‘rule of law’ from this state of emergency. We may perhaps never know what necessitated or continues to necessitate the emergency declared by these laws. These are supposedly counter-terrorism laws enacted on the pretext that FATA posed a threat that needed to be curtailed somehow.

Maybe this is why the 25th Constitutional Amendment was quick to be lauded by liberals as a victory for FATA. The Amendment sought to merge the region with the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and it was believed that people of the region would be liberated. They would stand free from draconian laws, arbitrary counter-terrorism policies and ‘good governance’ mandates that had haunted them since colonial times.

Evidently, Pakistan and its progressives were grossly mistaken. The oppression of colonial forms of rule shadowed the people of FATA wherever they chose to go within Pakistan’s borders. Therefore, brought into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa along with FATA was the KP Action (in Aid of Civil Powers) Ordinance, 2019.

The draconian ordinance was recently nullified by the Peshawar High Court (PHC), but the Supreme Court has suspended the said order of the PHC.

The new Ordinance reproduced the 2011 Regulations ad verbatim. They re-created internment centres in blatant violation of citizens’ fundamental rights to due process and rights under the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973. Pleasantly, the Ordinance does maintain a façade of liberal human rights discourse. ‘Torture is prohibited’ and ‘human rights must be effectively realised’; these are terms to be broadly thrown. But how many times have they been implemented in unknown internment centres by forces acting beyond their constitutionally held mandates?

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Therefore, Pakistan must answer: what is the state of emergency and why is the tribal region always found languishing in its centre?

Ultimately, by limiting these policies to the North for the sake of an emergency; we are not only systematically radicalising violence – we are also purporting the narrative that a particular ethnicity is inherently anti-state. We are associating an identity with violence, as those who necessitate this emergency. Think of the narrative this creates and the resistance it has borne. How many times lives will it take before we stop seeing erstwhile FATA as the half-sibling, invoking emergencies and causing disturbances to the rest of the country?

It is time we let go of seeing our citizens as ‘collateral damage’. It is time we see them as people who have only ever lived in a state of emergency, awaiting the ‘Subh-e-Azadi’ that has only become a wistful wish. It is time that the state of emergency must be defined and transparent- or finally uplifted from the erstwhile FATA region so that its people can also enjoy citizenship rights at par with the rest of Pakistan.

How long before we finally realise that the tribal region’s people are Pakistanis, longing to be seen as such? How long before we see that they are more than the shadows of Pakistan’s crescent as Fatima Bhutto laments?

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