Ali Gohar updates jirga
As the founding director of JustPeace International, Ali Gohar (MA ’02) has worked at updating the practice of jirga, an ancient tradition in Pakistan whereby respected and wise elders deliberate in an open community forum to resolve conflicts. In 2003, he and fellow CJP graduate Hassan Yousufza (MA ’03) co-authored Pukhtoon Jirga, a book available for downloading at www.justpeaceint.org.
In a 2010 interview with Insight on Conflict, Gohar explained that he was raised in a traditional Pashtun culture: “My family was involved in enmities, which affected my childhood so much that I promised to do something against the traditions of revenge, honour killing, shame factors, and cruelties by the name of honour.” As an adult, he worked as a social welfare commissioner for Afghan refugees, where he saw “more violence, destruction, kidnapping, murder, and displacement of refugees.”
In April 2011, Gohar told journalist Lis Horta Moriconi of Comunidad Segura (www.comunidadesegura.org) that EMU professor Howard Zehr and his teachings on restorative justice inspired Gohar to tap his own jirga system as a “means to mitigate conflict and contribute towards peacebuilding.”
Gohar studied with Zehr as a Fulbright scholar in 2001. Upon returning to Pakistan in 2003, Gohar encountered Malik Naveed, then inspector general of police for the district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (he retired in 2010). This very high-ranking police official had become familiar with restorative justice as an official visitor to Japan.
With Naveed’s support, Gohar opened dispute-resolution offices, staffed by respected and trained community elders, in 73 village-level police stations (now 93 stations). Gohar told Comunidad Segura that restoring the principles of traditional elder councils has meant “promoting consensus” in areas where, according to him “peace is a touchy subject and men wear guns like women wear ornaments.”
An abridged and slightly revised version of the Comunidad Segura interview follows. It is printed with Gohar’s, Moriconi’s, and the Brazilian publisher’s permission.
What is innovative about the dispute resolution project?
The dispute resolution project in Khyber Pukhtoon Khwa Province involved training elders and police in alternative dispute resolution, our traditional jirga system and in restorative justice. Our other project, “diversion,” diverts youths from police stations and from entering the court system. The same elders of the dispute resolution program also take part in this diversion program, especially in cases that would involve offending by youths from the community, with the goal of rehabilitating them.
When did the project with the police start?
The police project started in 2008 with financial assistance of the Asia Foundation and the Australian embassy. This funding ended in 2010. Today we still work with the police on a volunteer basis.
What inspired you to involve elders?
I am from the Pukhtoon tribe, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and we consider ourselves the world’s largest and oldest tribe. Our 5,000-year history is well known. One traditional system has remained with us, called jirga: the elder council. It not only resolves conflict, but when there was no state, it ruled the Pukhtoon area through consensus.
We organized the first international seminar on restorative justice in Pakistan in 2003 led by Malik Naveed, then Director FIA KPK, and supported by Senator Asfundyar khattak, the late Dr. Kabir and myself. In 2008 we introduced [restorative-justice trained] elders into police stations in two trial districts. The result was very successful, from minor issues to murder. The elders resolved family conflicts and many other disputes.
In the work with police stations, which elements of conflict transformation and restorative justice are present, and how?
We teach all methods of peace building. The common practice is arbitration, but we try to change it to mediation and restorative justice. Jirga traditionally dispenses punishment for offenders, but we try to update it by including restorative elements of community work, to bring it closer to the modern human rights values.
How would you describe the elders’ contribution towards conflict resolution and peacebuilding?
Due to the prolonged, expensive, corrupt and win/lose character and situation of the criminal justice system, decisions taken in the court system result in hostility and enmity for years after, since in the official system there is no reconciliation. One of the best aspects of the “Muslahathi” (reconciliation) committees is that they can resolve, reconcile, rehabilitate and follow up the parties until full-fledged friendly, brotherly relationships are established, and enmities are finished once and for all.
Why “Muslahathi committees”?
Muslahathi in our language means to make wrongs right, while adal, means justice done. So Muslahathi committees are concerned with making wrong right, preferably with reconciliation, while adal (justice) is done by the court.
Is it correct to say that these committees are a new “modernized version” of the jirga system of elder councils?
Yes, the Muslahathi committee is a new version of the jirga. The jirga worked according to the traditional practices, but their decisions were verbal, and women were not allowed to participate. In contrast, the Muslahathi committee decisions are taken according to modern scientific principles of conflict transformation, peace building, and restorative justice. Every decision is written down and registered. Women are also trained (forming their own committees) and a connection is made to the male committees. However the women’s decisions mostly take effect at the community level because of the strict rules of cultural and religious traditional practices.
How do you choose the elders?
We choose people with good reputations. Since the police know the communities well, this is verified by the police intelligence agencies, and their track records are selected by the high police officials.
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[To view a video on the modern practice of jirga in Pakistan or for more information, visit JustPeace International.]