Haram Money and Noah’s Age: The Crippling Judicial System of Pakistan

As per the World Justice Project`s Rule of Law Index 2021 Report, Pakistan ranks 130th out of 139 nations in its adherence to the rule of law.

I recently had an interaction with an elderly man in his 60s who had just had a dispute settled through the Jirga System. When I asked him why he chose to resolve the issue through the Muchhi or Jirga and not the judiciary, he said, “I do not have haram (illegitimate) money to waste in courts and kechehries, nor do I have Noah’s age to wait for the verdict to come.” A joyful laughter followed the statement, and everyone sitting in the room laughed to his loudest. That laughter seemed to reflect on the worsening condition of the judiciary of the country, where a great number of people rely on the traditional justice system (TJS), known as Jirga in Pashto, and Muchhi / Dewan in Balochi, to settle or resolve their disputes in Balochistan. This paper delves into the reasons for such reliance and recommends a feasible course of action for the future.

As per the World Justice Project`s Rule of Law Index 2021 Report, Pakistan ranks 130th out of 139 nations in its adherence to the rule of law. The report states that Pakistan`s Judiciary lacks accountability and just law. The accessibility and impartiality of justice are other major reasons that Pakistan is ranked so low in the report. These are fundamental causes that parallel judicial systems, despite their discouragement, function in Pakistan. In Balochistan, a great number of the residents of rural areas of the country rely on TJS to settle their disputes rather than going to the courts. The system is more active in the Suleimani tribes of the southeastern Balochistan, and rural areas of the Pashtun majority areas of the province. It is praised for assuring quick justice and being less expensive than the judiciary.

However, it cannot be ignored that Jirgas are dominated by the tribal elite, with no participation from women, and are known to render verdicts that often violate basic human rights. Despite this, tribal people continue to trust and consider Jirga system more efficient for its speedy and cost-effective provision of justice. In an interaction, a Malak (a Pashtun elder of local Jirgas) told me that he had settled three disputes in a day, and the longest duration he took to reach a verdict was two and a half months. In contrast, he added, “One of our friends went to settle a property dispute in court, and it has been over four years, but the verdict is still pending.”

Another man in his late twenties said that he wanted to correct his date of birth in his documents, and it took him more than three years until he asked an influential person to intervene and fast-track the process. Similarly, a government employee said that his name was Muhammad Zahoor (name withheld) on his Computerized National Identity Card (CNIC) but Zahoor Ahmed on his certificates and other documents. “It took the court over a year and a half to order NADRA to change my name [in the CNIC],” he contended. An advocate, filled with anger, stated that the killing of a policeman by a relative of a famous politician some time ago was the final nail in the coffin of the country’s judiciary. “If people prefer Jirgas over courts, they are doing the right thing,” he argued, “and we have no reason to expect them to trust us, the judges, or even the entire judicial system of Pakistan.”

In short, despite being discouraged at certain levels, the TJS is perceived as more reliable by a great number of people in Balochistan, particularly in rural areas, where people lack trust in the country’s judicial system. Even the last Caretaker Prime Minister of Pakistan, Anwaar Ul Haq Kakar, justified enforced disappearances in the country sharing similar views in the media that the Criminal Justice System of the country is weak. Moreover, reliance on the parallel justice systems is evident in the province, as even those who get elected and become Members of the National or Provincial Assemblies also participate as elders in Jirgas, rather than encouraging people to trust the country’s judicial system.

Therefore, there is a need to make the judicial system of the country more reliable by providing quick and cost-effective justice. In this digital age, people should not waste their time in coming to court or kachehri for every nitty-gritty thing; instead, the judicial system should be virtualized, and every sort of form, application, letter, or stamp paper should be available online to them. They should not pay Rs. 200 for a stamp paper that is of Rs. 30. Sub-branches of the court should be made in different areas of the province so that people should not need to think of coming to Quetta every time for a verdict. Transparency in the judicial system is the backbone of the system, which is clearly missing. Thana Culture adds more burden on ordinary citizens which needs to be taken into consideration by the competitive authorities.

Even after implementing these recommendations, people will take time to trust the judicial system. But if indifference in this regard continues, parallel justice systems will maintain their lead, and different parts of the province, akin to France and German states pre-Napoleonic Era in Europe, will have varying laws. A Jirga sitting in Sibi will have a different yardstick to measure justice from the one sitting in Zhob, and the one sitting in Kalat will have different than the one sitting in Pishin. For these reasons, a fair and consistent justice system is the need of the hour.

Asadullah Raisani
Asadullah Raisani
Research Fellow Balochistan Think Tank Network, Quetta.