NOTORIOUS for abusing the concept of justice through their illegal verdicts, the proliferation of jirgas is of grave concern.

This fact was underscored after the killing last week of 16-year-old Ambreen Riasat, who had helped a school-friend elope. Her gruesome murder was ordered by a 15-member jirga in Abbottabad, one of hundreds of illegal judicial councils in the country that often sanction summary ‘punishments’ to legitimise anti-women practices.

Soon after the murder, chilling images of a charred, unrecognisable corpse fastened to the backseat of a van began circulating on social media.

Subsequently, 13 jirga members, and the victim’s mother — forbidden by jirga members from going to the police — were arrested.

The case is now with the anti-terrorism court. While in this case the police intervened, in many other such instances, the law enforcers fail to apprehend the offenders, often in cahoots with the tribal elders.

Their lack of vigilance and failure to obtain warrants beforehand allow parallel judicial systems to go unchecked.

Jirgas have been discouraged, even banned, and the Supreme Court has termed them unconstitutional. Yet, the Abbottabad murder reminds us that state judicial processes are inaccessible and slow and communities rely on parallel justice systems.

Why is the government not focusing on implementing the law and reinforcing the writ of the state? Jirgas must be prohibited from giving unconstitutional verdicts and the abuse of women should be criminalised.

Also, serving parliamentarians presiding over jirgas must be taken to task and made to face the law.

Some years ago, the apex court under former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry had ordered the arrest of a federal minister Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani and other jirga members, who had offered five minor girls as compensation in a murder case.

But such action against erring lawmakers must be consistent and across the board. Meanwhile, the government must condemn the Abbottabad murder and similar incidents, and punish the offenders; otherwise, the menace of these arbitrators of justice will continue to plague society.

Published in Dawn, May 7th, 2016

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