A fight over coal mining has become the catalyst to push the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government to complete leftover business of the Fata-KP merger: open courts in the tribal districts.
The tribal areas used to be government by the Frontier Crimes Regulation or FCR, which was abolished when this region was merged with the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in May, ending 117 years of isolation. The only problem is that tribal jirgas were not replaced with courts.
This is why a man named Talamkhel from the tribal districts has been forced to go to the Peshawar High Court to settle a coal mining dispute with another tribal district resident, Parwan. Talamkhel had originally taken his case to the Fata Tribunal but it cannot be processed as that institution no longer exists since the merger.
On Tuesday, the Peshawar High Court judges, Justices Qaiser Rashid Khan and Qalandar Ali Khan, questioned high-level officials about the vacuum. The secretaries for law and parliamentary affairs and home and tribal affairs appeared before them along with the Advocate General.
The judges asked them how the legal vacuum created after the merger would be filled as the Fata Tribunal has stopped working but hundreds of its cases are still pending. Their fate has been left undecided even though six months have passed.
The law secretary answered that the KP government is going to pass a draft bill to replace the legal system in the tribal districts. Work is going at a fast pace and the government would soon table it in the assembly.
Advocate General Abdul Latif Yousafzai added that another high court bench headed by Chief Justice Waqar Ahmad Seth had given the KP government a month to set up regular courts. Those judges had declared null and void or inapplicable the FATA Interim Governance Regulation, 2018 (a stopgap arrangement after the FCR was ended). But one month had not been enough time to set up the courts. He said that the government had challenged this decision on the interim rules in the Supreme Court as the Peshawar court had said that decisions made by commissioners would be considered illegal after one month.
After hearing this, Justice Qaiser Rashid Khan said that it is the KP government’s right to challenge an order of the high court in the Supreme Court, but unfortunately, the federal government is not taking any interest in replacing the system after the merger. This is most important as hundreds of tribal district people are being deprived of justice since the Fata Tribunal is not working and setting up a regular justice system in the tribal districts is being delayed.
Justice Khan observed that the chief minister and governor of KP should spare some time to resolve the issues of the tribal district people after the merger as they are facing problems.
The Peshawar High Court bench then directed the chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to immediately replace the legal system in the tribal districts with regular courts by making amendments that are run through the assembly or house of elected representatives.
Justices Qaiser Rashid Khan and Qalandar Ali Khan told the government to submit a progress report before December 20.