|Jirga Picture taken by Khyber. org|
Jirgas are conventionally defined as a parallel judicial system, constituting of region’s elders that handle disputes and offer justice to parties concerned. The most important thing that this definition fails to cover is the fact that Jirgas also works like executive bodies, implementing their decision and ensuring that the conflicting parties respects the decision. If any party violates decree of Jirga, he is punished with fine and in case of non-compliance the violator is declared as “Kabar Jen” the Pashto term for a person who should be disrespected by all tribes in the region, for not respecting the Jirga. In extreme cases, the jirga can even ask other tribesmen to take up armed fight against the ‘Kabar Jen’.
In tribal areas, people believe Jirga is still famous for cheap delivery of justice as compared courts which are very technical and need more time in resolving issues. Subhat Khan, a local tribesman from Bara Khyber Agency, fully endorses Jirga believes that it is still capable of delivering justice on both domestic and political matter
“Elders who used to constitute Jirgas for common good of people or on general community issues to defend right of their tribesmen, are now busy carrying out the work for Political Administration. Obviously They now have to safeguard administration interests. So how can one expect tribesmen would believe in a system that is not delivering justice” says Fazal Rehman, a journalist from FATA; “Youth in FATA are now looking towards media for justice.” Fazal Rehman also believes that the newly introduced political party act will empower people, especially the youth, who are educated and politically aware how to exercise vote and how to make their elected candidates accountable.
Critics of the jirga system are many, but, Subhat Khan, doesn’t agree with the opinion that this conventional Jirga system has failed. He blames the government for using Jirgas as a tool to serve its own interests in post 9/11 era, thus soiling its image. Subahat Khan also added that ““In social disputes, the authority of decision has been given in soul and spirit to Jirga members and that is why people are satisfied with Jirga but unfortunately the same authority was not given to Jirga members to deliver on political fronts as vested interest of political administration are involved”; says Subahat, adding that Jirga can deliver if Jirga members are allowed to remain impartial.
Rafiullah from Swat highlights the importance of Jirga in resolving domestic issues but agrees that its political role is dubious “Yes, I believe Jirga has been playing its due role in social issues and people used to solve their domestic matters with Jirgas, but it has failed in case of political issues and we have seen that in Swat in 2009. Jirga has not delivered so far in terms of political issues when you look to the militancy issues of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and provincial administered Tribal areas (PATA) of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, such as Swat”.
Rafiullah divides FATA’s youth in two categories. The first one, from 15 to 25 years of age, are termed as aggressive and wanted to see rule of law in action. “When provincial government decided to talk to Swat Taliban, the youth disliked that effort, which they perceived as handing over writ to Taliban.
The other group of youth, from ages 25 to 35 is open to anyone who has power to heel their wounds. They supported Taliban’s move to kill robbers’ dacoits in first place while after witnessing Taliban brutality they then supported security forces who released them from virtual siege of Taliban. They simply want the culprits to be punished either by Taliban or Government.
Unsurprisingly, this view doesn’t go unopposed. Fazal Rehman believes that jirga’s failure in political dispensation is enough for those who wants to ensure conventional means of justice. He says that the time is ripe for complete reform and FATA citizens should now choose the system that can address the modern day problems including terrorism and militancy.
Bakhtawar Jan, 29, from Razmak North Waziristan says that the social fabric of tribal areas is now divided on this point; to upgrade the existing system or to revert to conventional system of governance which incorporates the infamous collective clause of responsibility even in Frontier Crime Regulation imposed by the British Raj.
Fazal Rehman while maintaining his argument says that it is important to have laws for social and political dispensation of Justice. Those who want to resolve their problems through Jirga should be given that choice but having sacrificed lives and livelihood over the last ten years, he believes that FATA citizens should demand the same system the rest of the country is enjoying.
Subhat Khan, questioning the idea of mainstreaming FATA into court judicial system remains skeptical. “Can anyone ensure that the court system will resolve FATA’s problems and will ensure free and fair justice? Frankly speaking, I don’t like criticizing Jirga for failing in the provision of justice because we are expecting too much from Jirga while doing nothing to empower it”.