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Political agent torturing students – By Farhat Taj

It has been almost ten months now. The political agent (PA) of Khyber in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) has subjected 13 students from the Government Degree College, Jamrud, Khyber Agency to acute mental torture. The students’ representative, Masoud Shah and some Koki Khel tribesmen shared with me the prolonged ordeal of the students with the request to share it with the people of Pakistan and appeal to them for help.

During a search operation in January 2010 in the Shahkash area in Jamrud, security forces randomly rounded up several people, including a student of the Government Higher Secondary School, Jamrud. In response, some students of the Degree College went to the Khyber Agency’s educational authorities with the request to immediately release the school student. The authorities promised to request the PA of Khyber, the highest state authority in the area.

The PA flatly refused to release the boy. Upon this refusal, the students held a peaceful demonstration in Jamrud. They invited the local media to cover the event. But the media persons were stopped from reaching the demonstration on the orders of the PA. Following the demonstration, the students issued a brief statement about the demonstration to newspapers. This annoyed the PA and he began to blackmail, harass and mentally torture the students. Meanwhile, the school student was released because the authorities found him to be innocent.

The PA cancelled the college students’ affidavit — an undertaking routinely submitted by students to educational authorities whereby they pledge to abstain from participation in political activities during their stay as students on college campuses. Resultantly, the tribal elders who had signed the affidavits for the students had to pay a fine of Rs 50,000 per canceled affidavit. Then the tribal elders began to pressurize the students to give them the fine money that they had paid to the PA.

Only five students have been able to pay to the tribal elders. The authorities clamouring for the non-payment have arrested some and some have locked themselves up in their houses out of fear of the authorities. Most of the students cannot pay the amount due to economic constraints. All of them are under mental stress and fear indefinite incarceration on the order of the PA.

The students cannot even protest against the pressure from the tribal elders and blackmailing of the PA because they allege that the PA has ordered the security forces to shoot at sight any protesting students. They have sent appeals to the governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the prime minister of Pakistan, but to no avail. The most torturous aspect is that they feel as if there is no authority all over Pakistan to rid them of the dictatorship of the PA.

The tribal elders, who are pressurising the students for money, are on the payroll of the PA and are hardly anything more than puppets in the hands of the PA under the system of the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) in FATA. Political agents routinely exert state oppression on the tribesmen and women through such tribal elders. Successive governments of Pakistan have treated FATA and its people with disdain in pursuit of strategic goals in Afghanistan.

The office of the PA, a colonial relic, should have been trashed in the dustbin of history long ago. The office and, by extension, those who hold the office are an embodiment of arrogance and a symbol of state oppression. The PA of Khyber is no exception. It is not difficult at all for the PA to restrain the tribal elders from harassing the students. But I am afraid he will never do so.

The reason for this is that in FATA human rights do not apply. The constitution of Pakistan forbids it. What the students did — a peaceful demonstration — is a human right that they, as residents of FATA, are not entitled to. The PA now seems determined to make a horrible example out of them for ‘violating’ the constitution of Pakistan. This is also important in deterring any such incidents by other tribal students in the future.

Education is a big casualty due to the ongoing terrorism in FATA. Both the Taliban and the Pakistan Army have bombed educational institutions all over FATA. Now the PA of Khyber is making his ‘contribution’ in the destruction of education. It is pertinent to mention that, following this incident, the Jamrud tribal elders have stopped signing affidavits for new students intending to take admission in colleges in Khyber. Resultantly, several students could not get admission in the new academic session because their applications were rejected for want of the signatures of the tribal elders.

FATA observers around the world are quick to refer to the low literacy rates in the area. Now is the time that they pay serious attention to the role of political agents around FATA regarding the low literacy rate. It is an interesting research area and I would like to encourage people to pay attention to it.

The students of the Government Degree College Jamrud, Khyber, request people all over Pakistan, especially the media, to highlight their plight and do whatever they can to rid them of the state representative’s sponsored mental torture.(Source)

The writer is a PhD Research Fellow with the University of Oslo and currently writing a book, Taliban and Anti-Taliban