KHAR -- Residents of Bajaur are celebrating the first-ever court hearings in the district and in tribal areas.
Bajaur became the first former tribal district to have regular courts shortly after they were established on March 12 in neighbouring Lower Dir District.
The district administration facilitated the judiciary on June 28, and it has since been working in Khar, the Bajaur headquarters.
The new courts are part of the mainstreaming of the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), which merged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2018. No court system had existed in FATA until now.
Tribal members formerly lived under a draconian, separate legal system, the colonial-era Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), which the merger abolished.
"Bajaur has won the title of having the pioneer district judiciary. It is indeed a historic event as now the inhabitants of Bajaur will gain all constitutional rights," said Peshawar High Court Chief Justice Waqar Ahmad Seth in a statement.
Bajaur elders and other residents welcomed the establishment of lower courts in the district.
"This was the main purpose of my 22-year political career, and thank God we have achieved it -- now no one will be above the law," said Shahab Uddin Khan, a former member of the National Assembly and a tribal elder.
Over time, the tribal judicial system (jirga) collapsed in the tribal areas and militants established their own courts, he said, referring to illegal "sharia courts" established by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that generated even more disputes.
'Any decision' can be challenged
"We are happy about the establishment of courts," said Khan. "Tribal residents can enjoy the benefit of the court like other citizens of the country."
Ikram Durrani, a senior lawyer from Bajaur District, agreed, adding that now tribal district residents "may challenge any decision of the district administration in the courts".
Before the 25th amendment, which merged FATA with KP, decisions by the appointed political agents who ruled FATA could not be challenged, he said.
Now, according to the law, someone arrested by the district administration will face the court within 24 hours, Durrani said.
"After the implementation of the 25th amendment, the administration may not arrest a person because of collective responsibility," he added, referring to a practice that allows authorities to hold entire clans responsible for the crimes of individuals.
Since the implementation of the 25th amendment, lower and higher courts have released more than 30 prisoners whom authorities sentenced to 10 to 14 years in prison for violating the FCR, he said.