A banyan tree in Landi Kotal Cantonment Area, Khyber Agency has been under arrest for a more than a century now. The tree was chained as a punishment that will make your head explode after your get to know about it. In 1898, under the British Raj, a drunken British army officer ordered his soldiers to arrest the Banyan Tree for lurching towards him, counting it as an offence. It has been 70 years since we became an independent state, but the tree still remains shackled and fettered by Draconian Laws in the tribal area. This is what the plaque fixed on the tree reads exactly,
“I am under arrest”. One Evening a British officer heavily drunk thought that I was moving from original location and ordered mess sergeant to arrest me and since then I am under arrest.
This bizarre episode of insanity is not the only one to take place under the British colonial rule. The local residents say that the apprehension of this tree implied to the tribesmen of the area that if they stand up against the British army, they will have to face serious consequences. The tree stands as a symbol of tyrannical British power that was supposed to instill a sense of fear into the Pakhtoon residents.
The Landi Kotal Area near the Afghanistan border comes under the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), a place where the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) is still applicable. The FCR is an heirloom passed from the British rulers to the Pakistani government to maintain law and order in the area. The laws in this part of the state are rather different from the other parts and people are usually penalized in a different manner too. Some of the laws allow the authorities to punish the entire tribe for the crime committed by a single person. Local residents of the Cantonment area were not happy with the Draconian treatment of all the living beings in the area, calling the FCR downright cruel.
The main problem in the tribal areas is the FCR, promulgated by Raj in 1901. It is still in practice. An assistant professor in the archeology department at the University of Peshawar was also concerned about the reckless attitude of the government towards the preservation of its heritage,
If this tree would have been in some other country, they [the authorities] would have taken care of it and made it a part of their history
Clapped in irons, the Banyan tree near the historical Khyber Pass, presents the view of criminal punished for a crime it never committed and nor it could. Symbolically, it takes you back in time when acts of barbarity against the tribesmen were a part of the usual routine. The entire story may sound a bit funny to you today, but it is just a glimpse of what the local residents back then must’ve faced. The tree however, stands in the Landi Kotal Area, holding an “I am Under Arrest” plaque, growing old as it becomes laughing stock for more and more people.