The legal system of Pakistan has failed its people at every level.
Amber should have been studying for her ‘A’ levels, doing an internship, groaning over school assignments, listening to music, and trying to avoid cleaning her room. Instead, a bit more than a week ago Amber’s charred body was found in a burnt van near an abandoned house. She had been drugged, strangled, and then killed by being set on fire. Amber’s murder was not committed by an individual, it was a prescribed death, a formalized one, call it what you will. She was condemned to die this way by the local Jirga, for the crime of helping a friend escape the village to marry a person of her, the friend’s own choice. The local MPA said this was the first time an incident of this type had taken place. Presumably he meant within his jurisdiction, but is that important in such a case? And isn’t ‘incident’ too feeble a word for something so terribly, horribly monstrous? There was Sikander Bhutto (he was not from KP where Amber lived, but once again, is that important?); he was also condemned to die by a Jirga for the crime of reporting a case of domestic abuse. And then, after he died his body was to be fed to the dogs. He managed to escape that fate which is another matter. Mukhtaran Mai, could not escape and was paraded naked through her village and gang raped by the orders of the local jirga. And then there was that group of men and women videoed clapping and singing. For this crime the women were all killed by order of the Jirga but the men escaped and went into hiding.
In 2008 a twelve year old girl was married to a forty year old man in settlement of a dispute which had nothing to do with either of them. The same year fifteen girls between the ages of three to twelve were to be married off to men of a rival tribe, again to settle disputes. These events may not be as gruesome as Amber’s death but the children were as good as given over to a living death since aside from their ages and the age difference between them and their spouses the treatment meted out to persons from a rival tribe in a society that condones this brand of ‘justice’ can only be imagined.
Work your way outwards from the nucleus of the event in Makol, where Amber lived with her family. The village is located not somewhere in the sticks but in Galiyat, a strip of land between mountains that contains several popular tourist resorts. It lies within cooee distance of Islamabad the capital of Pakistan, where the country’s central executive, legislature and judiciary are located. What can you say about a country that allows such things to take place not just within its borders but within arm’s reach of the seat of its government? The MPA promised that “strict action” would be taken against the jirga which ordered the brutal ruling. Bull.
The Jirga system exists and thrives all over Pakistan under various titles spewing forth sickeningly violent judgments. It is one of the several traditional para- legal systems of the country. The reason for the continued existence of such systems, aside from official apathy, is that the official (or formal) legal system of the country does not function the way it should. A few years ago the National Commission on the Status of Women commissioned a nationwide survey to examine all these various systems and found that three broad categories of systems co-exist in Pakistan: i) A formal legal system ii) a parallel legal system, and iii) a parallel informal and illegal system. In its recommendations the Commission observed that ‘the prevalence of the formal legal system is inversely proportional to the prevalence of the informal legal system. This means that the more reliable the formal legal system is the less attractive the informal legal systems will be, and vice versa. A large majority of the participants of the focus group discussions felt that if the formal legal system was strengthened to ensure speedy delivery of verdicts, low costs, and easy accessibility across the country there would be no need for parallel systems.’ And this is so. People continue to resort to such systems in the absence of a viable option. The legal system of Pakistan has failed its people at every level.
Regarding bringing terrorists to justice it is as Saad Rasool says in his article Judicial Failure, that ‘according to a study conducted by the Public Policy Review Centre (PPRC), of the sixteen high profile terrorist incidents in Rawalpindi/Islamabad since 2001, the Anti-Terrorism Courts (and its appellate process) has not returned a single conviction.’
With regards to his day to day legal requirements, the common man of Pakistan finds himself dealing with a corrupt police and a broken judicial system that is not above being bribed. Faced with prolonged legal proceedings, prohibitive legal fees and at the end of the day a careless, often biased decision, who would not look elsewhere for relief? Pakistan does, and therefore these Jirgas with their free, swift, but perverted brand of ‘justice’. If the government does not move to put an end to these and other similar groups to bring an end to cases such as Amber’s, if the government does not attempt to improve its own performance where the legal justice system is concerned, it will make it clearer than it already has that it does not care for this country and its people, and is unfit to fill its position.