Anti-merger forces have pelted stones and set fire to a police vehicle in Darra on January 05, 2020. Photo Source: Wikimepia.

Tayyeb Afridi

On January 5 this year anti-merger protestors in Darra Adam Khel – a town known mostly for gun manufacture – set fire to a police vehicle. The police officer in the car, who was pelted with stones, had to flee for his life.

Anti-merger forces in Darra Adam Khel set fire to a vehicle.
Anti-merger protesters set a fire to a vehicle of Police officer in Darra Adam Khel.

Darra Adam Khel used to be in one of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Since the FATA were merged with the neighbouring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province on May 31, 2018, it has now been part of larger Pakistan.

I was raised in Darra Adam Khel. I went to school there until the age of 17. The attack on the police by the anti-merger demonstrators hurt me deeply.

It did, however, remind me of the fact that, under the British-imposed Frontier Crimes Regulation(FCR), no such protest would ever have been possible. It is beyond my comprehension that anyone would fight to restore a system that has been so manipulative and inhumane, but the anti-merger protesters are doing just that.

The FCR, imposed by British Raj in 1901 and remained in effect in the FATA until 2018, authorised the Political Agent and his subordinate, the Assistant Political Agent, and the tehsildar, to exercise powers of arrest and prosecution. Under the FCR, none of these officials could be held accountable for wrong decisions.

On many occasions, the tehsildar had demolished people’s homes, properties and businesses. They jailed people without due process. There was no right to assemble to demonstrate against the local government, and there was no free press.  Few people would have even considered protesting against the tehsildar and the deals allegedly being done under the table with smugglers and killers.

Would those protesting last week in Darra Adam Khel ever have dreamed of attacking a tehsildar, let alone torch his vehicle?

The government, led by the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), was backed by almost all political parties in the country in its decision to merge the FATA with KP.

The fruits of the merger cannot be reaped in the short term. Its impacts are not yet being felt by those living in the former FATA. Perhaps it will only be their grandchildren who will recognise the benefits.

Anti-merger activists are still entrapped; still slumbering behind the bars of what they consider to be, and hail as, bravery and great traditions and customs.

You brag as if you were courageous in face of the tehsildar who were hearing cases in their political offices. You were not. If you were warriors with your own laws, why were you bowing your heads to the Raj?

Affluent Maliks (chieftains) live in expensive areas of Peshawar and engage in anti-merger politics in areas that they don’t consider as suitable and safe for their own families.

You and your children were born in, and when necessary are treated in, the KP hospital. There was not a single reputable hospital in the former FATA.

You prefer to educate your children in Peshawar or elsewhere in Pakistan, but you still hate the system in KP, which is better than that which existed in the former FATA.

Are you not being racist? Many of you oppose merger merely on the basis that you are tribal and have better traditions than those of Pakhtuns living in settled districts in KP.

Who told you that you are better than other Pakhtuns? It is the FCR, in fact, that convinced you of this.

I know many stories of violence and encroachment, of compromises agreed to by the poor when the jirga took the side of the powerful. With few exceptions, the Maliks served the masters, not the general population.

I left Darra Adam Khel in 2001 and am thankful to have avoided the fear and violence that erupted after the Taliban emerged as victorious against the system. The Taliban were initially seen as heroes, but later turned the screws on people whose support they had won because they were against the FCR.

I recall an occasion in 1999 when there was pin-drop silence about an electricityoutage that lasted for several days. Women blocked roads in protests over water shortages. (The men were afraid of being arrested and jailed by the tehsildar.)

I wrote a letter to the now retired generalPervez Musharraf, who was then Pakistan’s chief executive, and who had just taken power in a coup d’état. I asked him to provide us with a water supply, pointing out the suffering that the shortages were causing, mostly to women.

The letter eventually arrived on the desk of a tehsildar, who sent an infuriated Malik to tell my grandfather to be careful next time. The tehsildarand the Malik had the laws on their side, and could silence people at will.

There are those of you who are anti-merger who voice concerns about their illegal businesses. Did you ever ask yourself why there has been no room for legal business? It is the exact system that you now want reinstated that was at the root of the illegalities.

You need to realise that the merger has given you the right to protest. If there had not been a merger, you would still be slaves of the FCR system.

We are in a modern era in which people even advocate for the rights of animals, yet you are stuck in a mindset that supports an unjust system that has benefitted the powerful and exploited the poor.