Killing jirgas

Published February 28, 2024

ANOTHER day and another chilling story unfolds in Kohistan. The jirga institution, declared illegal by the top court, continues to bristle at what it perceives to be moral transgressions. A father, on Monday, pleaded for police protection for his son after an assassination decree was issued by a jirga in Kolai-Palas. He claimed that a ‘death squad’ killed the girl under the chor custom, ‘for bringing dishonour to the community’ and was now in search of his son. The circle of terror spins on, turning every incident of fatal moral policing into a rerun of past horrors. Last November, a young girl was murdered on the orders of a local jirga for the ‘crime’ of dancing with boys in a viral video. The incident was a reminder of some five female lives lost in 2011. While an illegal justice system has run wild for too long, successive governments have proved incapable of mustering the courage to neutralise it.

Instead of letting people down on multiple fronts, the state must ensure processes in accordance with the rule of law for all citizens, thereby saving people from arbitrary ‘rulings’. First, it needs to close in on grave violations of the law so that communities are not at the mercy of a tribal structure. Second, it must construct a counter-narrative that defeats degenerate notions such as ‘honour’ killings. And lastly, it should criminalise primitive practices such as the chor tradition. Increasingly, jirgas are making premeditated efforts to imbue every order to kill with the compulsions of ‘tradition’. Officialdom must heed the call and ensure that legal fora replace tribal justice to establish gender equality and human rights for citizens, especially vulnerable sections. Parallel systems must be subdued before they become untouchable. Hence, the policy of stonewalling reforms for an accessible and empowered legal system should be abandoned without delay. In a modern world, no individual can be held hostage to regressive hierarchies.

Published in Dawn, February 28th, 2024

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