ISLAMABAD: Senator Farhatullah Babar said Thursday that the piecemeal extension of the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court (SC) and Peshawar High Court (PHC) at the whim of the federal government amounted to hoodwinking the people and urged the government to come out clean on the issue.
He was speaking at a seminar on the proposed legislation to extend the jurisdiction of superior courts to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) that was organised by the Bhutto Foundation at the National Press Club.
As is the case with FATA, the superior courts initially had no jurisdiction in the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA), including Chitral, Dir, Swat and Malakand, Babar said. In 1973, the jurisdiction of the superior courts was extended to these areas with immediate effect and without requiring official notification, he added.
He said the scheme was now being designed differently, adding, “I suspect foul play on part of the federal government in connection with this process.”
Babar suspected that the piecemeal extension could have been employed to pave the way for Shakil Afridi’s release under foreign pressure. I am not against Afridi’s release because he had been wrongly sentenced under the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) for allegedly helping Mangal Bagh, and not for locating Osama bin Laden, he said. However, it was wrong to hoodwink the tribal people by giving them false hopes and making vague promises to them, he said.
He further said that an amendment bill had already been moved in the Senate for the immediate applicability of the proposed legislation across the tribal areas. We would also push for a constitutional amendment bill to take away the legislative powers in FATA from the president and vest those in the parliament, he added.
Peace and development in tribal areas would remain elusive until the elephant in the room was identified and reined in, he said while pleading for a review of Pakistan’s Afghan policy. Afghanistan must be treated as a sovereign and independent country and not as Pakistan’s fifth province, he added.
Senator Babar also demanded the immediate demolition of the existing system of levy and collection of taxes by the political agents in the tribal areas, which he termed as “arbitrary, illegal and a tool for corruption”.
Poor people were subjected to an illegal tax on the transportation of items of daily use, he said, adding that it was a lucrative business for some and must be discontinued immediately. He also called for an audit of the civil-military bureaucratic complex in FATA by the Auditor General of Pakistan to provide a better picture of their total expenditure in the tribal areas.