The govt has yet to complete digitization of land records
Bloody clashes over land are frustrating the people of the tribal districts that merged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The fights are caused by one simple thing: paperwork.
For over a decade, these areas—the seven agencies Bajaur, Mohmand, Khyber, Orakzai, Kurram, North Waziristan, South Waziristan and six frontier regions of Peshawar, Kohat, Bannu, Lakki Marwat, Tank, Dera Ismail Khan—were subsumed by terrorism. Several military offensives were launched, displacing hundreds of thousands of families, who took refuge across the country.
This entire time, these people had bigger problems to worry about as they struggled to survive away from home with their children. Land was the least of their concerns, explains Bismillah Khan, an elder from Khyber’s Jamrud. But as the population slowly started to return and pick up the pieces of their lives, disputes emerged. The land they left behind was “collectively owned” by several tribes and had never been demarcated.
Simultaneously, sweeping legal reforms were being introduced. The region called ‘Fata’ was consigned to the footnotes of history books and its districts merged with KP in 2018. The merger abolished the colonial Frontier Crimes Regulation laws that governed Fata and replaced them with the mainstream Pakistani justice system.
A painful process ensued of pivoting the administrative machinery to adjust. Even the people had to understand how the government would be responding to their needs.
Before the merger they had jirgas that meted out justice.
According to Bismillah Khan, once the merger abolished the jirga system, people had to start going to court. But the problem is that the courts don’t have land records to be able to decide these cases.
As early as 2016 the process of digitizing land records began with GIS mapping. But the process has yet to be completed.
In the meantime, in Khyber district alone, scores of people have been killed after the Koki Khel, Sher Khan Khel, Manya Khel, Tor Khel, Lala Khel and Kathia Khel decided to settle the dispute on their own: with weapons.
Elders have managed to persuade the warring tribes to a ceasefire but it is a temporary one as the dispute has yet to be resolved.
Wazir Ahmad, an elder, added that the new administration doesn’t even recognize these settlements because of the absence of land records.
Other elders expressed frustration over the government’s inability to provide these districts a new system.
Malik Salahuddin Koki Khel of Khyber district said that dozens of people have been killed in his area since the merger. The clashes over land disputes are not limited his district either.
Koki Khel now wants the government to restore the old jirga system.
Prior to 2018, Political Agents used to settle land disputes with the help of elders but there was never a proper system of land registration, said Kohat-based lawyer Jan Sher Khan. The government needs to survey the collectively owned land and resolve the ownership issues once and for all, he said.
The role of police
Khyber District Police Officer Waseem Riaz said the disputes between families and tribes have been going on for years and several land cases are currently being heard in court. People set up pickets to launch attacks on each other but the police demolished them, he said.
Dozens of people have been booked in cases, he added.
Does the KP government have a solution?
Kamran Bangash, a special assistant to the KP chief minister, said the provincial government kept the jirga system in place in the tribal districts after amending the local government act. However, he said that there is a need to strengthen this system through administrative reforms.
The CM’s aide said the government has had the Alternate Dispute Resolution Act passed by the KP Assembly and the cabinet is working on its rules which will soon be approved.
The new act will provide legal cover to jirgas to resolve these disputes, according to Bangash. Intermediaries will include tribal elders, retired civil servants, lawyers, clerics and experts. The intermediaries will be selected by a committee of the commissioner, regional police officer, senior civil judge, regional director prosecution, deputy commissioner and law enforcement professionals.
The government aims to reduce the burden on courts and provide swift justice, Bangash said.