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EDITORIAL: It cannot be stressed enough that tragic incidents like the one in Kohistan, where a local jirga ordered a girl’s murder because she was seen dancing with boys in a viral video, are able to take place regularly only because they are allowed to.

For, if the state came down hard on all such practices, which only requires treating them according to the law, all parallel legal systems that dictate life and death for a large majority of people would cease to exist immediately.

This is exactly what happened more than a decade ago, when five girls from the same area were executed by the same process, forcing the then chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhary to take suo motu notice.

How ironic it is that all these years later the same jirgas continue to operate with impunity. Worse still, an FIR has been registered on the complaint of the local police station SHO because the victim’s family did not approach authorities to register a case.

Was it because the family was too scared to step forward, and must live with the decision imposed upon it by tribal elders, or do they share the jirga’s view that girls that dare to partake in festivities must not be allowed to live any longer?

We will never know until the state takes responsibility for what is expected of it. Boys that the girl was seen dancing with have had to go into hiding, quite understandably, because the sword is expected to fall on them next. And, remarkably, another girl that was also ordered to be killed and ran away has been returned to her family on the orders of a civil judge.

Shouldn’t the said judge have exercised greater responsibility? What if her family members, too, simply submit to the jirga’s demands and hand their daughter over to the executioner?

As far as such practices go, the state has failed the people of Pakistan on at least two counts. One, it’s never been able to bring the full force of the law to bear down on such transgressions. How could it be that people, in very large numbers, are forced to obey a tribal hierarchy and its set of obscure laws with nobody able to do anything about it? Settling petty disputes among locals is one thing, but deciding who will live and die is quite another; and it violates so many rules and laws that only a limp, ineffective state would appear helpless in such situations. Is that what this country has become?

And two, it’s never been able to erect an overarching narrative that counters regressive issues like honour killings, etc., even when there is a deliberate attempt to infuse tribal control with religious teachings.

Every time a jirga orders the killing of innocent girls for no bigger crime than clapping, singing or dancing, it is sure to stress that it is forced to do so because of religious, not just societal, compulsions; which is blatantly wrong. Yet the state is always more than happy to brush all such issues under the carpet once they drop from the headlines. Why?

The ridiculous, illegal and nonsensical institution of jirga, without any official oversight, has run rampant long enough. It is already too late for the government to take very serious note of these excesses, shut down all such jirgas and also make sure that the country’s legal system is empowered, transparent and accessible enough to deliver justice to the people; so nobody approaches the jirgas even if they continue to exist.

For now, though, the state and the people of this country are forced to hang their heads in shame.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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KU Nov 29, 2023 11:52am
Big problems indeed, and only given scant news coverage because it involves Jirga and their human rights violation. These scenes and injustice actually play out daily all over Pakistan, and officials know about it but choose to ignore it. Most of this less talked about injustice is called ''tradition'', especially when the local people are powerless and have no confidence in police and courts for justice, this says a lot about the writ of the government. A similar lawless Pakistan is currently being witnessed in Lahore where road-rage has claimed the lives of 6 people and a medical student, and this goes on silently in other cities as well without any rule of law. But in a corrupt official environment, this is acceptable while the common citizen suffers cruelty and injustice.
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