Swanson: It’s Time that Pakistan Cracked Down on Its Savage Tribal ‘Justice’ Problem

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By Gavin Swanson, Opinion Writer

One of the most elite clubs in the world is the group of countries with nuclear capabilities. Thirty states worldwide have nuclear energy capabilities, but only the most powerful have managed to turn that energy into world-ending weapons. Nine countries have attained this level of prestige: the United States, Russia, France, China, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, India, Israel and North Korea.

With the exception of North Korea, these nations — as nuclear-capable powers — are looked to as strong nations that must be held to a higher standard, as any one of them has the capability to begin doomsday around the world. It’s easy to point out North Korea as the black sheep of the group, but it’s time to focus on Pakistan.

The world should find it absolutely reprehensible that one of these nine countries still has a primitive and barbaric justice system. Despite having an actual court system, the real law of the land in Pakistani provinces Punjab and and Sindh is carried out in “jirgas.” In these meetings, judgment is made by a group of elders without a day of legal experience in their lives, and the consequences are torture, murder and rape. A relic of centuries past, this system of justice is still carried out by the tribes of Pakistan as a tool to seek revenge by the most savage means imaginable. Jirgas are accepted as a way to settle anything from property and money issues to theft and adultery, and locals both embrace and fear their power.

The authority of the jirgas allows assemblies of tribal leaders to carry out unimaginably horrifying punishments on their people. Testimonies of bodily mutilation, stonings and mass rape have been recorded. The worst of the atrocities is often targeted towards women of the tribes. One such account was reported by The Los Angeles Times. Suleman Khan’s wife slept with another man, and consequently, the jirga declared that the Khan could punish the other man and his family in any way he saw fit. Khan and his brothers went to the adulterer’s home. They stripped his mother, Shehnaz Bibi, of her clothes, dragged her by her feet out of the house and made circles in the dirt with her body for nearly an hour with other villagers surrounding as spectators. Bibi’s story is only one of a long list of horror that the jirgas has sanctioned upon the women and other people of the country.

There should be no reaction less than outrage at the fact that the state has not stepped in to immediately stop these jirgas. Unfortunately, no official Pakistani law that deems the actions of these jirgas as illegal, and while the country’s supreme court has sometimes ruled that the jirga’s verdicts are indeed illegal, the rulings are often nebulous and vague to the point that no legitimate action can be taken. The state is worried that by cracking down on the jirgas, they will alienate the tribes and locals that embrace this tradition in opposition of the larger state. This should not be accepted as an excuse for inaction.

Though some may say that jirgas are an important part of Pakistani tradition and culture, this is no justification for the horrors committed by the jirgas. It would be tantamount to allowing Salem to resume witch trials because, traditionally, it was accepted. Savage and barbaric systems should not be accepted in our modern world, especially in a nation that has reached the technological prowess of weaponized nuclear capabilities. Jirgas have been on the hit list of human rights groups for years, and it’s time that the general public, both at home and on the worldwide stage, expresses outrage.

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