Why I believe the jirga system should stay
We, as people, are very quick to jump to conclusions, form opinions, and criticise what we hear and see in the news. It may be something as trivial as Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) holding talks with Tahirul Qadri, or the supposedly fake video that went viral showing the Taliban handing down 50 lashes to a girl in Swat who was found to be in violation of the Shariah law by the Taliban jirga.
Very recently when a jirga in Balochistan declared 13 girls vani to settle a tribal feud, soon after television and social media were inundated with extreme views, some slammed the jirga system as ‘barbaric’, ‘medieval’ and an ‘ignoble’ partisan tradition.
We are entitled to foster different views about issues that conflict with our ideologies, but are we right to hold such extreme opinions about a system that we hardly know anything about?
Or has it become an acceptable modern social practice to castigate a system which does not strike a chord with our ideals, albeit a system we do not even know anything about?
Before we delve into recent happenings and dissect the jirga system that is currently embroiled in negative practices, let us first cast a cursory look at the origins of the jirga system.
The jirga assembly has existed across the Baloch and Pashtun cultures both in FATA and settled areas to resolve issues and feuds way before the advent of Islam and the western democratic system. It is similar in structure to that of a ‘town meeting’ in the United States or a ‘regional assembly’ in England.
A jirga comprises village elders who address, discuss and resolve issues of importance that matter to their community. Their decisions are based on consensus in light of Shariah law and local traditions.
A jirga is based on three ethical codes namely hospitality, refuge and revenge.
The underpinning structure of the jirga, which is the Holy Quran, allows Muslims to ‘Shoora’ consultation, in the matter of resolving issues of special importance to a community, or in the case of Loya Jirga, resolving issues of national interest.
It is affirmed in the decision making process that all layers of society are included and the jirga demonstrates unprejudiced judgment. Comprehensive and collective discussions and the thorough examination of the issues enable forming a consensus which leads to an unyielding approach of dealing with the concerning issue. Then the jirga heads, following essential procedures and extensive deliberation, table their final verdict.
However, if a party declines its verdict, the jirga may resort to punitive measures such as a fine in cash to punish those who violate the decision.
In actuality, it is not the jirga system that allows for abusive practices, but some elders who in recent times have exploited the system either to forcefully impose the Shariah, speaking loosely, or to side with a particular party for political gains.
The bright side of the jirga is that people have access to quick and inexpensive justice, whereas legal systems in the bigger cities are expensive and time consuming.
Some argue about whether it is in the interest of Pakistan to have two parallel judicial systems, while others take it as having state within a state challenging the writ of the government.
However, before asking such questions we need to understand why the jirga system resonates with those who follow it.
The Pashtuns and Baloch, over the years, have been reluctant and sensitive to adopting the western judicial system in practice at the local courts.
At a jirga, the executive does not influence the judiciary while in the western judicial system the executive may and does; for instance the endorsement of the National Reconciliation Order (NRO) by the superior courts of Pakistan at the behest of the then executive, extended amnesty to politicians, political workers, and bureaucrats accused of corruption, money laundering, murder and terrorism.
Ask the people of Swat who grew up during the reign of Wali and they will tell you why they do not like the current judicial system.
During the time of Wali-e-Swat, the jirga was the primary judicial system registering less than ten murders in comparison to the current judicial system where such cases are rampant. There are instances reported on a regular basis where people are falsely implicated in cases or how lawyers manipulate the system to gain time for finding loopholes in the system and prolong the cases to defer judgments.
Where our judicial system has failed, the jirga system has been effectively resolving issues such as; murder, theft, rape and land disputes. However, in some places it has understandably been hijacked by extreme factions and exploited for their own vested interests.
The time tested jirga system - also considered by some as the bedrock of modern day judicial systems – is democratic at its most basic form which means that it is here to stay. Those who argue that jirga laws should be replaced by the mainstream western judicial laws should also know that in Pakistan, we are far from an independent judiciary.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.