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A Parallel Judicial System

Justice, where art thou to be dispensed? Shall we look towards the judge in the powdered wig or the Zamindar with the big guns? Might we be at the mercy of our Pir or should we knock on the door of the Makhdoom? All powerful men in their own right have appointed themselves as rulers of fate but the question remains, justice, where art thou to be dispensed.

When the state fails to deliver swift justice to the most marginalized segment of the society, a parallel judicial system emerges, a system of Jirgas and Panchaiyts where one man or a group of men are the judge, jury and executioner. This alternative to the judicial courts must be analyzed extensively; understanding its merits and costs is of profound importance before we jump to any conclusions.

Most people who understand the rural part of Pakistan would agree that the most common problem in most villages in Pakistan is ‘Bhains Chori’ (Cow Theft). For most villagers, a cow is not only their most vital asset but also their means to an income. How many courts would be willing to entertain such cases?

The second issue is the problem of accessibility. The judicial courts seem alien to most of the rural population of Pakistan. The average villager cannot comprehend the technicalities of lawyers, documentations and most cannot afford to pursue judicial litigation even if they understand the dynamics of the law.

In any given village of Pakistan, there lies a nexus between politicians, landlords, police and other tribal elders. They have a sort of monopoly over justice and give any ruling they will depending on their own social, cultural norms among other factors such as making decisions which will be politically beneficial. Case in point: Tribal Jirgas in KPK mostly pass extremely strict verdicts on cases, which involve females and males interacting. We have not forgotten the girls who were sentenced to death just because they were dancing in a celebratory fashion. This is not justice but in places like Hazara, this is as close to justice as it gets.

Every province of Pakistan has it’s own unique parallel judicial system. In Punjab and Sindh, local politicians/landlords settle disputes mostly on their own but police presence is not uncommon. In KPK, tribal elders hear cases relating to people of their own tribe. Politicians also play a role but mostly tribal elders make the majority of the tribal Jirga. In Baluchistan, absolute power lies with the Sardar (Chief of the tribe) who can pass death sentences without thinking twice. There is no regulation of these entities and hardly any system for appeals. In these places, the Sardar or the landlord is the law and even the local authorities such as the police seldom lock horns with these ‘leaders’.

The question remains, do the merits of this parallel system outweigh the demerits? This is a tough question with no clear answer. On the one hand we have the uneducated, poor and disenfranchised rural population who have no other option but to consult the parallel judicial system. On the other hand we allow absolute power to a select few people who have nothing to do with the courts. The most confusing aspect arises when parliamentarians head these Jirgas. These people ask for votes from their people to be parts of the ‘democratic system’ yet don’t show them the constitutional avenues for justice. Blatant hypocrisy? Maybe, but what is one to do when the courts themselves oblivious to the matters of a significant chunk of the population?

Can another generation down the line afford to let the parallel judicial system continue to operate?

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