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PR Short Notes


Photo Source: Dawn

Pakistan Reader# 560, 1 March 2023

Pakistan’s Private Jails: Tribal Sardars, Feudal Structure, and Weak State



The issue of private jails in Pakistan, will come back again in the future, despite the recent attention in garnered.

D. Suba Chandran

Recent developments in the Barkhan district of Balochistan have brought (once again) the “private jails” of influential tribal leaders in the province. This is not the first time Pakistan is debating over its existence of private jails, the failure of the state in preventing such a phenomenon to exist, and a decayed tribal system. Unfortunately, this will also not be the last time. Existing problems in Balochistan will ensure that this question either gets undermined by another bigger one in the province, or the state carpets it, and move to fire-fight another issue. As a result, the issue of private jails in Pakistan, will come back again in the future, despite the recent attention in garnered.

Barkhan is one of the districts of Balochistan in the northeast, bordering Punjab. Khetrans, one of the Baloch tribe is dominant in the district, along with the Marris. The latest case of private jails involves a tribal leader of the Khetrans, illegally keeping the family members belonging to a Marri tribe in confinement for years. 

According to a Dawn report, the victims belong to the family of a Khan Muhammad Marri, who worked earlier for Sardar Abdul Rehman Khetran, a minister in Balochistan province. According to Khan Marri’s wife, she and seven of her children were kept illegally, and two of her sons were killed. Bodies of those two children along with an unidentified woman have been found – which led to widespread protest in Balochistan, leading to the arrest of Sardar Abdul Rehman Khetran. The victims have complained of assault, physical abuse, and torture.

In January 2014, there was a similar case against Sardar Abdul Rehman Khetran. According to an earlier Dawn report, police and anti-terrorist force raided a private jail of Sardar Khetran and recovered seven people including two women. Undoubtedly, the victims need justice; Since this had happened earlier in Balochistan, the larger question is, how to prevent similar developments in the future. And to analyze why such issues happen in Balochistan.

The feudal structure of the society and its abuse by the feudal lords in Balochistan, along with parts of Sindh and Punjab is the primary issue. Unfortunately, despite British rule and independence, parts of the three provinces still remain feudal in approach. The emergence of education and the slow growth of the middle class is changing the nature of feudal society, but the pace is painfully slow. Second, along with the social hold, the political hold of the feudal lords and the Sardars is another important factor in not letting the State perform its responsibilities. In the feudal regions of Pakistan, the State serves the upper class, than the rest. Even if cases are such as what had happened in Barkhan come to the limelight, justice is never served. The fact that the victims were held for four years in private confinement should speak for itself. Third, the weak state; the investigation agencies are not competent and are even accused of being with the Sardars or serving them due to political pressure. As a result, the law never takes its course, because the crimes are hardly proved in the courts. 

So what next? Sardar Khetran walked out free in 2014, and will walk out again in 2023. Pakistan will debate about the private jails again over another incident in the future. PR will have another editorial. Everything will get repeated. Except for justice for the victims.

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