The farce of tribal jirgas

Published: May 28, 2012
Tribal law is traditionally without ‘due process’. It is called ‘quick justice’, often condoned with the adage ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ and wrongly equated with Islamic sharia. PHOTO: AFP

Tribal law is traditionally without ‘due process’. It is called ‘quick justice’, often condoned with the adage ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ and wrongly equated with Islamic sharia. PHOTO: AFP

A tribal jirga in Kohistan in the Hazara division of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa has done something that reminds us of the days of the Taliban rule in Afghanistan and gives us a glimpse of a future Pakistan impacted by growing intolerance and bigotry. A tribal council of elders has condemned four women and two men to death for “staining the honour” of their families. A video presented to the jirga purported to show the alleged crime of  ‘mixing’ of the sexes in violation of the law of  ‘gender segregation’ during a wedding party while the accused allegedly dancing together.

After this shameful episode of  ‘rough justice’, the convicted men fled the scene while the women were caught and locked up in a room in preparation for their execution. The Hazara administration is shocked by the  ‘trial’ by jirga and the indifferent nature of the evidence presented for conviction: the video coverage actually shows the ‘convicts’ singing and dancing separately but they are shown in a single sequence. The reason behind this farce was not difficult to locate. It was a rival’s scheme to destroy a stronger and more affluent family. A member of one of the victim’s family stated: “Since our family is affluent and owns vast acres of forestland, orchards and agriculture farms in the village, our rivals hatched a plot to deprive us of them”.

Since Kohistan of Hazara is a tribal area, ostensibly there is nothing one can do about what has happened. There was no defence for the poor women who could not run away like the men, which reminds us that even the trial conducted by an official of the Khyber Agency recently condemned Dr Shakil Afridi for treason without giving him the right to defend himself. The cruel fact in Hazara is that a jirga, not an officer, has delivered the verdict and the victims are lucky that the sentence was not summarily executed. The jirga, however, has provided for that: It has tasked 40 young men to kill “the fornicators” and the tribe has raised a fund of Rs400,000 for litigation that may ensue once the local administration has taken cognisance of the shameful matter.

Tribal law is traditionally without ‘due process’. It is called ‘quick justice’, often condoned with the adage ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ and wrongly equated with Islamic sharia. What jirga means in essence is a kangaroo court, in which the local influentials satisfy their instinct of vengeance and avarice. Pakistan has kept its tribal areas under a special dispensation where justice through jirga is legally recognised. In the settled areas also, there is a tendency to bypass the legal system under the Constitution through the panchayat. The panchayat is illegally functioning in Punjab and one cannot forget what happened to Mukhatran Mai when a powerful tribe got her gang-raped through an illegal council of elders some years ago; even the Supreme Court could do nothing to undo the horrible bestiality visited on her.

The Taliban unleashed what they said was Islamic justice on Afghanistan, for nearly a decade, with the help of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, which recognised the Taliban government while the world shrank in horror. After the Taliban were gone, the Afghans expressed hatred of them by up to 85 per cent in an opinion survey. In Swat, the people were uninstructed in the requirements of justice and favoured the ‘quick justice’ they equated with Islam till they were brutalised by the warlord Mullah Fazlullah who was imposed on them by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan that was established by the al Qaeda. When Fazlullah was finally ousted by the army, the people of Swat realised their error and repented. The Hazara-Kohistan jirga has used the jargon of na-mehram from Islamic jurisprudence to shield itself.

The truth is that Pakistan is being ‘re-tribalised’ under the influence of growing Talibanisation. Kangaroo courts are functioning in Pakistan’s vast ungoverned spaces where the state once nurtured its deniable jihadis. They are also raising their ugly heads in Punjab and Sindh because of the retreat of the state from its constitutional jurisdiction.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 29th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (14)

  • Ms Marium
    May 29, 2012 - 12:40AM



  • ayesha_khan
    May 29, 2012 - 12:47AM

    Imran Khan has strongly supported justice by jirgas. Please bring this ruling to his attention…


  • Logic Europe
    May 29, 2012 - 3:18AM

    The time to confront barbarians


  • Arindom
    May 29, 2012 - 4:21AM

    The ‘Citadel of Islam’ slogan leads one to a slippery slope – the bottom of which is Medieval Age with Medieval ‘Justice’….


  • imran bhatt
    May 29, 2012 - 5:06AM

    Looking from the state of Pakistani society getting more and more invaginate and intolerant, I would be surprised had the tribal jirga pardoned those hapless people enjoying themselves at a private party.


  • Max
    May 29, 2012 - 7:13AM

    I was never optimistic about social change in Pakistan (tribal belt or settled districts), but now I have thrown out of window whatever hope was left for a tomorrow. Where in the Islam can one find such laws and their punishment? So I should be living in Pakistan by the laws of medieval Arab society?


  • Mirza
    May 29, 2012 - 7:46AM

    Jirga system and other tribal laws are Pakistan’s Guantanamo Bay. What a shame!


  • Feroz
    May 29, 2012 - 7:53AM

    When you have parallel systems of justice this is what happens. A crime cannot be committed with legal sanction which is what we are seeing. What can be seen is that fundamentalism and Talibanisation has crossed threshold levels and entered the blood stream of the country. Time to shed pride and ego and start the cleanup job.


  • May 29, 2012 - 9:32AM

    Kohistan is a symbol of rigid trible and over-conservativeness in the name of Islamic system.
    Though it is forbidden in Islam to dance intermixed genders but there is accurate laws for those. Ulma Jirga should treate the matter with accurate law of Islam.
    when we over-force our trible prestige on Islamic rules and regulations this could not only damage image of our religion but also let those who are in search of such evidence to blame us.


  • Billoo Bhaya
    May 29, 2012 - 10:56AM

    Editor, if you rate Jirgas as a farce, then how would you rate the PM’s conviction and the farce being played in NA and the Courts??? At least Jirgas get their work done and not lead us into a blind alley that PM and his wise counsels have done!!!!


  • kaffir
    May 29, 2012 - 11:47AM

    Forced secularization of Pakistan is the answer.


  • imran bhatt
    May 29, 2012 - 2:35PM

    @Max and all others who still think that this or all other sentences like that and any acts of violence perpetrated in the name of Islam are has nothing to do with Islam. Any society or ideology that overtly or covertly fosters and encourages violence and hate against others is responsible of all acts of hate and violence perpetrated in its name.


  • Aizaz
    May 29, 2012 - 5:44PM

    I am absolutely surprised at This country’s morals with regard to it’s attitude to human life. Pakistanis think NOTHING of taking someone’s life!
    I know there will be some of you who will say that “we are not all like that”. But the truth is that you are, If you were not then you would all unite against such barbaric institutions. Pakistan is NATO, i.e. No Action, Talk Only.


  • Ali tanoli
    May 30, 2012 - 1:07AM

    In Kohistan Hazara every man have to get two meraiges. its a law or other wise they considered them he is not a man and man is not visit his brother house when he is in the house. kohistan is worst than tribal area of fata.


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