When jirgas abet crime
THE fracas involving ANP leader Ayaz Wazir in South Waziristan harks back ominously to the ‘bad old days’. That was when the district was part of the semi-autonomous Federally Administered Tribal Areas, which lay beyond the purview of the Pakistani courts and thus left the people deprived of judicial protection of their fundamental rights. On Friday, a jirga of the Ahmedzai Wazirs decided that a lashkar would raze Mr Wazir’s house to the ground. The tribal elders had reportedly been angered by the ANP leader speaking with the district administration to advocate for local police to be empowered to raid places where they suspected the presence of criminal elements. On Saturday, the jirga reconvened to raise a 2,400-strong armed militia to demolish Mr Wazir’s house. However, local police called in reinforcements from elsewhere in KP, including 500 elite force from Bannu. The show of counter force enabled the police and district administration to persuade the Ahmedzai Wazirs to come to the negotiating table and accept Rs1m and four rams as reparation from Mr Wazir and his clan. Peace has been restored, at least for now — but at what cost to the state?
Fata’s integration with KP in May 2018 fulfilled one of the principal demands of its residents — that the draconian Frontier Crimes Regulation be done away with in its entirety (it had been amended in 2011). Thus, at one stroke, with the passage of the 25th Amendment, the people of the tribal districts had recourse to Pakistan’s legal system instead of relying on parallel mechanisms of justice known as jirgas. These tribal, all-male councils are known to have meted out wholly disproportionate as well as regressive and misogynistic punishments.
Then, in January 2019, the Supreme Court declared jirgas/ panchayats as ultra vires of the Constitution when they function as adjudicative bodies in civil or criminal matters. According to the judgement, they could lawfully operate as arbitration, mediation, negotiation or reconciliation forums between parties to a civil dispute.
However, as the latest incident shows, old ways die hard, and those who have historically wielded power do not give it up easily. More importantly though, the state, by facilitating negotiations whereby the intended target of a crime had to compensate the perpetrator — rather than arresting those holding the jirga, and planning and abetting the attempted crime — has abdicated its duty to the people. That the jirga announced its intentions so openly is also indicative of the impunity with which notables of the area operate. The state must demonstrate that it alone has a monopoly on violence. Then again, this is hardly the only jirga that has taken the law into its own hands. Nor are the tribal districts the only place where such gatherings take place. Pakistan must no longer indulge these kangaroo courts.
Iran & nuclear deal
WHEN the US withdrew from the multilateral Iran nuclear deal in 2018, it was hoped that the other signatories would help save the landmark accord by helping investment reach Iran’s battered economy. Due mainly to US pressure, hardly any of that investment has materialised, and the Iranians had been saying for a long time that if the deal failed to bring them due benefits, they would withdraw. Sadly, it appears that the JCPOA, as the nuclear deal is known, may now well be in its death throes as according to the IAEA, Iran has violated the restrictions placed on its nuclear activities by the 2015 accord. Specifically, the global nuclear watchdog says Tehran has surpassed the amount of enriched uranium it is allowed to keep.
For a brief while over the past few days, it seemed that behind the scenes, progress was being made between the US and Iran. The most tangible evidence of this emerged when details of a prisoner swap were made public; Iran sent back a US navy veteran it had apprehended while the Americans released an Iranian scientist they were keeping in detention. However, it may well be that the US will pounce on Iran for violating the deal based on the IAEA information, even though it is no longer part of the JCPOA. It is a fact that Iran is under a lot of pressure. Due to crippling US sanctions its economy is tanking, while it has been hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. The violations of the nuclear deal must be seen in this context — a signal from the Iranian establishment that, unless it is given some breathing room, it will discard the deal. However, Iran would be well advised to stick with the deal; any further sanctions and blockades will only add to the miseries of the Iranian people. Moreover, the other signatories of the deal — the Europeans, China and Russia — must try and save it, mainly by allowing more economic interaction with Iran. Should the situation deteriorate resulting in Iran’s departure from the deal, it will not be a good omen for the region. The war party within President Donald Trump’s administration will once again raise shrill cries for Iran to be ‘punished’ and, should they deliver on this threat, the people of the Middle East will suffer the consequences. Therefore, Iran must tread carefully and resist such provocations.
Upholding PWD rights
LAST week, the HRCP raised concerns about “the government’s decision to abolish the two per cent public and private company employment quota for persons living with disabilities, by deleting Section 459 of the Companies Act, 2017, through a presidential ordinance in May”. Later, on Twitter, secretary of the Ministry of Human Rights Rabiya Javeri Agha stated that the deletion of this section from the Companies Act would not jeopardise the job quota guarantee. While the secretary’s responsiveness ought to be appreciated, this episode highlights issues that can arise through hastily promulgated ordinances, without stakeholder feedback and parliamentary debate and oversight. Hopefully, the briefing from the chairman SECP before the Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights scheduled for today will bring clarity to this issue. Disability rights advocates have every reason to be wary of their protections being eroded, and seek an official guarantee from the government that this one remains intact. Labour protections in this country are weakly enforced in general, and more so for PWDs who have been historically barred from accessing their rights and opportunities on an equal basis.
Despite ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of PWDs in 2011, Pakistan has made little to no progress to help bring these citizens into the mainstream fold through inclusive policies in every sphere and at every level of government. There has been legislative progress at both the federal and provincial levels since on disability rights, yet implementation remains piecemeal and negligible. The spirit of the UNCRPD demands an approach in which disability is factored into all decision-making processes. Merely filling job quotas will never lead to systemic change if this effort is not blended with comprehensive measures to facilitate PWDs’ participation in society by ensuring all their rights are affirmatively upheld. Without these, Pakistan will never be able to redress decades of stigma and discrimination of PWDs. Far more Pakistanis are estimated to have some form of disability than is officially recorded — it is time to treat them seriously.