Restorative Councils Help Pakistani Police

Ali Gohar in a meeting on jirga matters. (Photo courtesy of Ali Gohar.)

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 Yousufzai (MA ’03) co-authored Pukhtoon Jirga, a book available for downloading at

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 ( 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.

Ali Gohar (center) with a police official. (Photo courtesy of Ali Gohar.)

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.

More: Disaster and Peace

[To view a video on the modern practice of jirga in Pakistan or for more information, visit JustPeace International.]

2 comments on “Restorative Councils Help Pakistani Police”

  1. Rukhshanda says:

    It is surprising to see EMU publishing an article which contains many factual errors and protrays a win-win situation. Unfortunately facts are reverse. These Musalihat Committees do not have any legal status/cover, nor any rules of business, nor any selection criteria for it members(mostly persons on these committee are gender-blind and close confidente’s of the local police officers (in other words the front men) who use extortion, coersion and police pressure to get issues settled. So one must explore, this is so-called justice at who’s cost? Certainly at the cost of the vulnerable, the weak, the one who has already been wronged & his/her Human rights violated. This process has unleashed a vicious cycle of corruption with police, revenue staff collusion and infringed upon the rights and entitlemens of the vulnerable. There is no gender balance in these commitees…. its the strong & powerful men who decide matters as part of the police musalihati committee….. Musalihat means reconcialtion, not co-ersion as is practiced by these commitees….. resultantly, the weak are being pushed to the wall. These committees do not follow the basic human rights, have any respect for the local laws or international conventions. Instead they use their person judgement, little tribal know how and personal biases to make and enforce their decisions. These decisions ‘being most illegal’ are not recorded anywhere.

    In most of the districts where this project was launched, the communities demanded of their administrations to wind up these corruption houses (so-called musalihat committees) immediately. therefore the donors have also with-drawn their support. The police, particularly the corrupt officials likes of Malik Naveed (who is currently facing multiple charges of corruption in various departments he has served in National Accountability Courts and was under arrest on court orders) wish this malicious corruption cycle to continue as these committees (also called thana or police committees) provide the ‘daily bread & butter’ for the corrupt police officials at local level…..

    Please verify these facts from the local communities in districts where these committees were established…..

    Appreciate your understanding. thanks

    1. Thanks for the valuable comments of Rukhshanda. Her feedback will give us further guidance to go in the right direction, as the issue is complex and needs many inputs from different stakeholders.

      Before I address her criticisms in detail, I just want to stress that all of us recognize that the situation in Pakistan is bad. There are allegations of corruption and political malfeasance against a thousand people in the Pakistani courts. There are many things not functioning in a healthy, just manner—there is political pressure, nepotism, different mafia-type groups, warlords, militants and so forth. But we cannot just stand and accuse people of being bad and doing bad things. We must offer and work toward alternatives. And we must try to work with anyone who seems willing to do the same. What choice do we have? For that reason, I am happy to work with Rukhshanda, and I invite her to contact me personally through my website, I answer all sincere e-mails myself.

      Concerning Rukhshanda’s specific concerns, firstly, it is possible for people to assume that jirga is the one function throughout Pakistan, while in fact there are different systems–Punchayth, Fasilo and Kacher–doing many wrong things with women. The inhuman acts committed by these various systems are credited to jirga by many civil society organizations. Secondly, many of our colleagues–especially those with less knowledge of jirga and restorative justice systems–still consider jirga as composed of illiterate, traditional, narrow-minded people, while in reality most people involved are more educated even than modern westernized English medium-educated people. In Muslahathi committees there are lawyers, social workers, civil society members, religious leaders, even minorities’ representatives–they decide the case on its merit and according to the human rights rules. The cases are registered in the police station, along with the procedures followed and with the signatures of the committee’s members and parties. The outcome of the case can be seen and challenged, if necessary, by anyone in the courts. I know of cases that were brought to the courts and Muslahathi committees members were asked to defend their decisions, and the courts the rendered the same verdicts (as in case of Abbottabad). I also know of cases that were referred by courts to the committees for resolution.

      In the Peacebuilder magazine article it is mentioned that the reconciliation committee is known as Muslahathi. “Muslahath” in local language means “making wrongs right” as it is also in restorative justice system. While “adal” refers to justice that is done by the courts. In the present scenario, true justice may not be gotten in the courts in Pakistan. Similarly, truly “making wrongs right” may not be achieved through the Muslahathi committees. It is not realistic under present circumstances to expect ideal functioning from either system. I agree that jirga is without women–that’s why we started Muslahathi committees to include women’s human rights violations, along with improving the treatment of young people and children. Reviving jirga was intentional on our part; first we did research on it, and then we traced the joint linkages with the restorative justice system and we arranged an international seminar in 2003. In 2008, we started implementing it in a new shape and spirit, in the form of Muslahathi committees at each police station. In the international seminar in 2003 and in the 2008 implementation phase, Malik Naveed khan took the lead, initially as Director FIA, and then as Inspector General of Police. Senator Afrasyab Khattak, Dr. Kabir (late) and I assisted him to introduce the restorative justice system in Pakistan. It was important to link it to the system of jirga, because jirga has been in the Pukhtoon culture since long ago and it is still in practice, as there is an official figure that 90% cases in rural areas and 70% in urban areas are still resolved through jirga. Everywhere in the world, it is important for restorative justice practices to be embedded in the local culture and context, or local people will not feel that they “own” them.

      This is not the time or place for me to address the corruption case you mentioned involving Malik Naveed khan, since it is in court and I do not know all the particulars (though I must add that in Pakistan in our current mistrustful and dysfunctional situation, there are numerous charges and counter-charges of corruption of officials, and it is not always clear whether the charges are politically or honestly motivated). Personally, though, I found him to be one of the best police officers in terms of working closely with me to revive the system of jirga and introducing the restorative justice system in the police department. The main reason for the introduction of Muslahathi committees was to cleanse the THANA culture and to make an effort to correct corruption in the police department—this is what Malik Naveed put on the table to us before implementation of the project in 2008. I agree that corruption is in the police department. For that reason, we established these committees in the police station to record each case, and to develop checks and balances for that. A mechanism was developed so that elders could report police officers to higher ups if they were believed to be involved in corruption. Similarly, if the elders were involved in human rights violations, they too should be checked by police and courts together. If the checks and balances are not working as well as we would hope, they are still better than nothing!

      Malik Naveed took another bold step, by opening offices for the Muslahathi committees at each police station. This means, for the first time in the history of Pakistan, elders of the community now sit at police stations, without the permission or involvement of the police. Any member of the community–male, female, children–can approach straight to them for any complaint to be launched and for it to be settled. Before that THANA (police station) culture was a symbol of terror for vulnerable groups like women, children, who could not easily access the police. Now they can approach very easily since their own community people are sitting there.

      Regarding female committees, we have made progress but of course there is still room for improvement. Women have been trained separately and linked to the committee in police stations in the following locations: Nowshera police station (Malik Juma Khan Convener); Havealian Muslahathi committees; Abbottabad Muslahathi committees; and Harpur Cant Muslahathi committees. In some place like Nowshera Kalan, women sit in police stations along with male committee members on a regular basis. In some cases minority women (Hindu, Sikh, and Christian) have representation, as in case of Mardan and Nowshera, as well as in Haripur, Abbottabad, and Manshera. In some places–like Mardan, Swabi, even in Peshawar—the traditional culture and ways of thinking have blocked the representation of women. In these cases, the best we can do is to continue to work at showing traditional men how it is a benefit to all to include women.

      The legal status of these committees? Malik Naveed khan–then Inspector general of police–issued a standing order that is law and valid for five years for the establishment of Muslahathi committees. He further inducted Muslahathi committee’s rule of business into the police rule, which is a legal document for police personnel to follow. He also issued a special order for establishment of Muslahathi committees offices in each new police station construction from then onward. For the legal back- up we consulted different people, especially the provincial assembly secretariat. The speaker Karamatullah Khan Chgarmattai stated that the Muslahathi committees were well backed up by custom as we have had an indigenous jirga system for conflict resolution in our system since long ago. He told the evaluation team that he himself practiced as a “jirga mar” (jirga member); being a lawyer of the high court, he often referred cases to jirga. He gave an example of a famous Dabangai enmities case that was resolved by him through jirga after long bloodshed. Other lawyers we consulted also viewed jirga as a simple, cheap, easy justice system that often reconciles the parties in conflict. By contrast, the criminal court system might render a decision, but it does not reconcile the parties in conflict–even after years of litigation, an acquitted person is often killed on the same day, even going home from the court.

      Another form of legal backing was under the district government ordinance implemented by General Musharaf that worked under Nazim of union council. This backing was given to Muslahathi Jirga, Ansaf Committees, justice committees, and Muslahathi Anjuman. These were not as successful as the Muslahathi committees established under Malik Naveed khan’s orders, because the police forces were not involved and it is hard to have any success without the two main actors in Pakistani culture: Thana Moharar (mirza) and Revenue department Patware, as Thana Mirza is sitting at the police station while Patware is asked to attend any conflict if needed. (For further detail, there will soon be published and posted online some new research done for Just Peace International, “Access to Informal Justice System,” conducted for UNICEF Pakistan). Since UNDP started Muslahathi Jirga again in the Province of KPK, I am also planning now to link it to Muslahathi committees to address the conflict from one platform. I need support/help from friends like Rukhshanda to join hands with us for the unification of Muslahathi jirga UNDP project (having legal back-up under district government ordinance 2002 and Muslahathi committees, IGP standing order 2008).

      The system of Muslahathi committees is not perfect in any sense, but I believe the committees are almost always an improvement over what communities previously used to seek justice. (Restorative justice professor Howard Zehr explains that restorative justice is not a final solution; it is a compass that gives us direction.) Civil society is still struggling in Pakistan, but I believe the revival of jirga in the form of Muslahathi committees is a step in the right direction. It is certainly better than giving up and doing nothing! At Just Peace International, we are not seeking perfection, just step by step improvements toward a better society.

      Regarding stoppages of funding, seed funds were given to the Asia Foundation by the Australian embassy to start an initiative for resolving small issues on the grassroots level. The Asia Foundation, in turn, provided funding to Just Peace International. The funder gave no further commitment, as the situation of the province was very violent in 2007-8 and funders were hesitant to commit to a full-fledged program without the guarantee of tangible results. The flood of 2010 also diverted attention of the donors to immediate rehabilitation. We are still working hard on a volunteer basis to offer training and assistance for the Muslahathi committees to work effectively. Recently in 2011 we started Muslahathi Committees in the violent areas of SWAT administrative district, upper and lower DIR Districts, with another very active police officer Qazai Jamil, who was Deputy Inspector General of the Police in Malkand, now DIG Elite Force Peshawar.

      For the achievements and progress of the Muslahathi committees, anyone is welcome to approach Just Peace International, The Asia foundation, Muslahathi Committee offices at Abbottabad, Manshera, Harpur, Nowshera, and the Sociology Department of Peshawar University, where students recently did research on Muslahathi committees. The students not only studied our project area in seven Districts (now eleven), but also went to the South Zone of KPK province, where concerned district police officers started Muslahathi committees on their own. For information on the students’ extensive report to the department of sociology, please contact Professor Rashid Khan, who is the head of the research project. Along with the reports, I also invite anyone interested to see my Facebook page where I daily post information on resolved cases of feuds, land, violence, and issues involving women and children. Some of these have been published in Urdu newspapers, which are also accessible via the Internet.

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