A jirga (Pashto: جرګه, jərga) is an assembly of leaders that makes decisions by consensus according to Pashtunwali, the Pashtun social code. It is conducted in order to settle disputes among the Pashtuns, but also by members of other ethnic groups who are influenced by them in present-day Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Historically, a loya jirga or a "great council" has been convened in order to elect a new head of state, approve a new constitution or resolve critical issues.[1] Loya jirgas have reportedly been organized since the rise to power of the Hotak dynasty in the early 18th century. In July 1747, Afghan chiefs assembled in Kandahar to elect a new king, choosing the 25-year-old Ahmad Shah Durrani, who is credited with founding the modern state of Afghanistan.[2]

From 11 to 14 March 2022, the inaugural meeting of the Pashtun National Jirga was held in Bannu, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to discuss the critical issues faced by the Pashtuns in Pakistan and Afghanistan.


The word jirga might be cognate to Mongolian цирк (tsərk),[according to whom?] referring to a large assembly of men forming a very broad circle, initially intended for laying siege around games or animals to be hunted for food or sport. Pashtun elders also typically sit in a circle when debating and hearing a given dispute during a tribal jirga.

In Pashto, a grand jirga is known as loya jirga (لویه جرګه, lōya jərga). A mini-jirga is called jirgagai (جرګګۍ, jərgagəy).

Origin and historicity

The institution, which is centuries old, is a similar idea to the Islamic shura ("consultative assembly").[1]

It is thought that the ancient Indo-Iranian tribes, also known as Arya or Aryans, practiced a sort of jirga system with two types of councils – simite and sabhā. The simite (summit) comprised elders and tribal chiefs. The king also joined sessions of the simite. Sabhā was a sort of rural council. In present-day India, they are still referred to as Samiti and Sabha.

In Afghan society, the jirga is still maintained and favored, mostly by tribal leaders to solve internal or external disputes with other tribes. In some cases it functions like a town hall meeting. When the Afghans took power they tried to legitimize their hold with such a jirga. While in the beginning only Pashtuns were allowed to participate in the jirgas, later other ethnic groups like Tajiks and Hazaras were allowed to participate as well. The member of the jirgas were mostly members of the royal family, religious leaders and tribal leaders of the Afghans. King Amanullah Khan institutionalized the jirga. From Amanullah until the reign of Mohammed Zahir Shah (1933–1973) and Mohammed Daoud Khan (1973–1978) the jirga was recognized as a common meeting of regional Pashtun leaders. The meetings do not have scheduled occurrences, but rather are called for when issues or disputes arise. There is no time limit for a jirga to conclude, and the meetings often take time because decisions can only be made as a group and arguments can drag out for days. Various issues can be addressed such as major disaster, foreign policy, declaration of war, the legitimacy of leaders, and the introduction of new ideas and laws.

Functioning methodology

The community council meaning is often found in circumstances involving a dispute between two individuals; a jirga may be part of the dispute resolution mechanism in such cases. The disputants would usually begin by finding a mediator, choosing someone such as a senior religious leader, a local notable, or a mediation specialist (a khan or məshər). In tribal Pashtun society, the maliks serve as de facto arbiters in local conflicts, interlocutors in state policy-making, tax-collectors, heads of village and town councils and delegates to provincial and national jirgas as well as delegates to Parliament. The mediator hears from each of the two sides and then he forms a Jirga of community elders, taking care to include the supporters of both sides. The jirga then considers the case and, after it discusses the matter, it comes to a decision about how to handle it, which the mediator then announces. The jirga's conclusion is binding.


1709 loya jirga

A loya jirga was gathered by Mirwais Hotak in Shari Safa near Kandahar in 1709.[3]

1747 loya jirga

A jirga at Kandahar was attended by Afghan representatives who appointed Ahmad Shah Durrani as their new leader.

1928 loya jirga

In September 1928, a jirga was called by King Amanullah at Paghman near Kabul, the third loya jirga of his reign (1919–1929) to discuss reforms, during which King Amanullah asked Queen Soraya to remove her veil in order to gain support for his modernizing policies. However, this was too much for the delegates, some of whom instigated a revolt.[1] Resistance against Amanullah's reforms eventually led to the Afghan Civil War (1928–1929).

2002 loya jirga

Main article: 2002 loya jirga

In June–July 2002, Hamid Karzai elected to oversee a loya jirga. This was only possible because in the fall of 2001, Karzai was able to successfully lead one of the largest tribes in southern Afghanistan in an uprising against the draconian rule of the Taliban. The loya jirga was organized by the interim administration of Hamid Karzai, with about 1,600 delegates, some of the delegates were selected during elections which were held in various regions of the country, and other delegates were selected by members of various political, cultural, and religious groups. It was held in a large tent on the grounds of the Kabul Polytechnic on June 11 and it was scheduled to last about a week. It formed a new Transitional Administration that took office shortly thereafter.

More than 1,000 of the participants were elected in a two-stage procedure. Each district elected 20 members, who then elected one person who would represent the entire district in a secret vote. At least one member was allocated to each of the country's 362 districts, with an additional seat being allocated for every 22,000 people. No one was barred from the meeting with the exception of people who were accused of engaging in terrorism, people who were suspected of being involved in the illegal drug trade, people who committed human rights abuses, people who committed war crimes, people who committed pillage, and people who committed theft of public property. Additionally, nomads, refugees, intellectuals, representatives of cultural institutions, representatives of social organizations, and religious scholars were all in attendance. Of the remaining seats, a total of 160 seats were allocated to women.[1]

2003 loya jirga

Main article: 2003 loya jirga

On 14 December 2003, a 502-delegate loya jirga was convened in Kabul to consider the proposed Afghan Constitution. Originally planned to last ten days, the assembly endorsed the charter by January 4, 2004.

Other historical jirgas

Some other historical jirgas in the history of Afghanistan are:


1947 Bannu jirga

Main article: Bannu Resolution

On June 21, 1947, in Bannu, a loya jirga was held consisting of Bacha Khan, his brother Chief Minister Dr Khan Sahib, the Khudai Khidmatgars, members of the Provincial Assembly, Mirzali Khan (Faqir of Ipi), and other tribal chiefs, just seven weeks before the Partition of India. The loya jirga declared the Bannu Resolution, which demanded that the Pashtuns be given a choice to have an independent state of Pashtunistan composing all Pashtun territories of British India, instead of being made to join either India or Pakistan. However, the British Raj refused to comply with the demand of this resolution, in response to which the Khudai Khidmatgars boycotted the 1947 North-West Frontier Province referendum for merging the province into Pakistan.[13][14]

2006 loya jirga for Balochistan

In April 2006, former Balochistan Chief Minister Taj Muhammad Jamali offered to arrange a meeting between President Pervez Musharraf and a loya jirga for peace in Balochistan.[15] A loya jirga was held at Kalat in September 2006 to announce that a case would be filed in the International Court of Justice regarding the sovereignty and rights of the Baloch people.[16][17][18][19]

Quasi-legal function

The jirga was also used as a court in cases of criminal conduct, but this usage is being replaced by formal courts in some settled areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan, elsewhere it is still used as courts in tribal regions.

The jirga holds the prestige of a court in the tribal areas of Pakistan. Although a political agent appointed by the national government maintains law and order through the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), the actual power lies in the jirga. The political agent maintains law and order in his tribal region with the help of jirgas. The jirga can award capital punishment, such as stoning to death in case of adultery, or expulsion from the community.

In the recent military operations against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan's restive southern tribal agencies bordering Afghanistan, jirgas played a key role of moderator between the government and the militants. The tradition of jirga has also been adopted by Muslims in the Kashmir valley of Indian-administered Kashmir.[20]

Alternative Dispute Resolution Act 2017

As per 2017 political dispensation in Government, unofficial Jirga and Panchayats are very popular among masses, so formal recognition of the same will help make the system more transparent and responsible, while left leaning political dispensations in opposition expressed their apprehension that weaker sections will suffer while feudalism will benefit.[21] The Alternative Dispute Resolution Act, 2017 of Pakistan makes provision for selection of neutral observing arbitrator from Government approved panel agreed by parties. If a dispute is resolved amicably the court will formalize judgement, and if not parties can choose to opt-in further formal judicial administration for their grievances.[21] Basit Mahmood criticizes the bill's provisions allowing the government to appoint "neutrals" to each jirga not being sufficient since the so-called "neutrals", who must approve their verdicts would most likely be consisting of retired judges and religious scholars of conservative nature and that will put principle of neutrality upside down and with a substantially effect on the lives of women across the Pakistan.[22] Basit Mahmood also criticizes United Kingdom's donor agency Department for International Development for funding of misogyny protecting ADR tribunals.[22]

Contested justice and human rights violations

In a January 2019 on petition from National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) judgement Supreme Court of Pakistan ruled that, beyond permissible limits of the law to the extent of acting as arbitration, mediation, negotiation or reconciliation forums between parties involved in a civil dispute who willingly consent to the same; rest of practices and attempts by Jirgas to adjudicate on civil or criminal matters is not lawful, and that unlawful practices of Jirgas are violate Articles 4, 8, 10-A, 25 and 175(3) of the Constitution of Pakistan, and also that "operation of jirgas/ panchayats, etc violates Pakistan's international commitments under the UDHR, ICCPR and CEDAW, which place a responsibility on the state of Pakistan to ensure that everyone has access to courts or tribunals, (and all people) are treated equally before the law and in all stages of procedure in courts and tribunals".[23]

According to correspondent I.A. Rehman, In January 2019 Pakistani government law officials from provinces and federal confirmed governments-made commitments to Supreme Court of Pakistan to not to allow Panchayat and Jirga platforms for illegal practices of violating fundamental constitutional rights of women by honour killings, wani, swara, karo kari, and that the governments are committed to CEDAW[23]

Instances of jirga judicial overreach

In January 2018, Basit Mahmood criticized 2017 Pakistan act for Alternative Dispute Resolution saying that it creates scope for a parallel justice system which eventually can undermine states' authority.[22] As per Dilawar Wazir's June 2020 news report in Pakistani news daily Dawn and subsequent editorial, district administration in Pakistan's tribal area was struggling to see one Ahmadzai Wazir tribe avoids to implement its jirga ruling of raising a parallel armed force (lashkar) of around 2,400 people to demolish houses of left-leaning political opponents.[24] To make the tribal jirga to submit to a financial compromise, the district administration had to call in elite security force, and make victim submit to demand of 1 million rupees plus four rams as reparation from victim and his clan.[25]

As per a June 2020 Tribune Pakistan report, a jirga (a type of quasi kangaroo court) attempted ruling to give up a 13-year-old minor girl in marriage to a 41-year-old married man as Swara (punishment) for her brother's alleged disliked relation with his cousin, the Jirga's attempt was foiled by a close relative of the boy with help of police.[26]

In another 2020 June incident in Sindh Pakistan, police struggled to clamp down on a jirga which declared two sisters to be ignoble 'Karis' fined father of the girls for one million rupees plus ordered killing of the sisters (an outlawed but prevalent practice of declaring 'Kari's-literal black spot on honour of the family or community – subjectable to severe punishments including honour killing many times for alleged compromising on expectations of modesty and chastity out of suspicions).[27]

Historic jirgas and women

The Sindh High Court imposed a ban on the holding of jirgas in April 2004[28] because of the sometimes inhumane sentences which were imposed on people, especially on women and men who married of their own free will. The ban, however, has been ignored.[29]

An all-female jirga or a Khwaindo jirga (a "sister's council") was held in Pakistan, and it had a total of 25 members.[30] It was headed by Tabassum Adnan which helped 11 women get justice as of 2013.[30][31]

2022 Pashtun National Jirga

Main article: Pashtun National Jirga

On 11–14 March 2022, the Pashtun National Jirga, or Bannu Jirga, was held at Mirakhel in Bannu, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in order to defend the rights of the Pashtuns in the country. The critical issues which were faced by the Pashtuns were discussed during the jirga in a bid to suggest solutions to them.[32] The Bannu Jirga endorsed the declarations of two earlier Pashtun Jirgas, one of which was organized on 10 March 2020 at Bacha Khan Markaz, Peshawar by Asfandyar Wali Khan of the Awami National Party (ANP),[33][34] while the other was hosted on 7 August 2021 in Hashtnagar, Charsadda by Afzal Khamosh of the Mazdoor Kisan Party (MKP).[35][36]

Mahmood Khan Achakzai, Nawab Ayaz Jogezai, Abdul Rahim Ziaratwal, Abdul Qahar Wadan, Obaidullah Babat, Nasrullah Zayrai and Arfa Siddiq of the Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PMAP), Manzoor Pashteen, Mir Kalam and Wranga Loni of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), Mohsin Dawar, Latif Afridi, Afrasiab Khattak, Bushra Gohar and Jamila Gilani of the National Democratic Movement (NDM), Khadim Hussain and Maulana Khanzeb of the Awami National Party (ANP), Afzal Khamosh of the Mazdoor Kisan Party (MKP), Farhatullah Babar and Ahmad Kundi of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Sardar Yaqoob Nasar of the Pakistan Muslim League (PMLN), Muhammad Khan Sherani of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), Chief of Waziristan Gul Alam Wazir, historian Parvesh Shaheen, and numerous other Pashtun, Baloch and Hazara leaders were part of the Bannu Jirga. The resolutions were also endorsed by several Afghan political leaders, including Hamid Karzai, Haneef Atmar and Amrullah Saleh.[37]


Further information: Pashtun National Jirga § The 25 points

Some of the most important demands of the Pashtun National Jirga, 11–14 March 2022, were:[38]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "Q&A: What is a loya jirga?". BBC News. July 1, 2002. Archived from the original on May 23, 2019. Retrieved May 11, 2010.
  2. ^ Jon Krakauer (September 11, 2009). "To Save Afghanistan, Look to Its Past". New York Times. Archived from the original on 2021-05-08. Retrieved 2014-10-29.
  3. ^ "Mirwais Neeka". Wolas.beepworld.de. Archived from the original on 2010-03-10. Retrieved 2013-04-15.
  4. ^ Agha Amin, "Resolving the Afghan-Pakistan Border Question" Archived October 12, 2008, at the Wayback Machine, Journal of Afghanistan Studies, Kabul, (accessed December 12, 2009).
  5. ^ "Musharraf, Karzai to lead Loya jirga" (PDF). Frontier Post. October 1, 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 27, 2007.
  6. ^ "Karzai To Unveil Afghan Cabinet In Days". Rferl.org. 2009-12-06. Archived from the original on 2016-03-03. Retrieved 2013-04-15.
  7. ^ "Afghan jirga seen as 'last hope' for peace".
  8. ^ "Afghan jirga to call for peace with Taliban".
  9. ^ "Loya jirga approves U.S.-Afghan security deal; asks Karzai to sign". CNN. 17 November 2013. Archived from the original on 2019-06-02. Retrieved 2016-12-27.
  10. ^ "Afghanistan Opens Loya Jirga To Discuss Peace Talks". RFE/RL. 29 April 2019. Retrieved 2019-07-14.
  11. ^ "Politicians Express Mixed Reactions to Loya Jirga". TOLO News. 7 August 2020. Archived from the original on 10 August 2020. Retrieved 10 August 2020.
  12. ^ "Loya Jirga Approves Release of 400 Taliban Prisoners". TOLO News. 9 August 2020. Retrieved 10 August 2020.
  13. ^ Ali Shah, Sayyid Vaqar (1993). Marwat, Fazal-ur-Rahim Khan (ed.). Afghanistan and the Frontier. University of Michigan: Emjay Books International. p. 256. Archived from the original on 2019-12-19. Retrieved 2019-08-18.
  14. ^ H Johnson, Thomas; Zellen, Barry (2014). Culture, Conflict, and Counterinsurgency. Stanford University Press. p. 154. ISBN 9780804789219. Archived from the original on 2019-12-19. Retrieved 2019-08-18.
  15. ^ "Leading News Resource of Pakistan". Daily Times. 2006-04-29. Archived from the original on 2012-01-12. Retrieved 2013-04-15.
  16. ^ "Grand jirga in Kalat decides to move ICJ". The Dawn Edition. September 22, 2006. Archived from the original on 2009-10-11. Retrieved 2007-07-11.
  17. ^ "Baloch chiefs to approach International Court of Justice" (PDF). India eNews. September 26, 2006. Archived from the original on 2012-06-07. Retrieved 2007-07-11.((cite web)): CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  18. ^ "Jirga rejects mega projects" (PDF). The Nation. October 3, 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 16, 2012. Retrieved November 21, 2013.
  19. ^ Akbar, Malik Siraj (October 4, 2006). "Baloch jirga to form supreme council to implement decisions". Daily Times. Archived from the original on August 18, 2021. Retrieved August 18, 2021.
  20. ^ Muzaffar Raina (2006-10-30). "Justice rolls in Kashmir, Afghan-style - Jilted, sheep stolen' Some people in the Valley never go to police but pin faith on a time-tested tribal system to settle disputes and redress grievances". The Telegraph - Calcutta, India. Archived from the original on June 23, 2007. Retrieved 2013-11-26.
  21. ^ a b Reporter, A. (2017-01-19). "Alternate Dispute Resolution Bill approved". DAWN.COM. Retrieved 2020-06-27.
  22. ^ a b c "Pakistan's Jirgas and Women's Rights". thediplomat.com. Retrieved 2020-06-27.
  23. ^ a b Rehman, I. A. (2019-07-11). "Jirga space slashed". DAWN.COM. Retrieved 2020-06-27.
  24. ^ Wazir, Dilawar (2020-06-06). "Ahmadzai Wazir tribe convenes jirga to raise Lashkar". DAWN.COM. Retrieved 2020-06-27.
  25. ^ Editorial (2020-06-08). "When jirgas abet crime". DAWN.COM. Retrieved 2020-06-27.
  26. ^ Khan, Ahtesham (13 June 2020). "Jirga's attempt to give young girl in Swara foiled". Tribune Pakistan.
  27. ^ "Karokari: Police order action against Jirga". www.thenews.com.pk. Retrieved 2020-06-27.
  28. ^ SBLR 2004 Sindh 918; excerpt
  29. ^ SHC seeks official version against jirgas (2012-12-08)
  30. ^ a b Khurram Shahzad (2013-07-11). "Women challenge men in Pakistan's first female jirga". Fox News. AFP. Retrieved 2013-11-26.
  31. ^ Jennifer Rowland; Bailey Cahall (2013-07-11). "President Asif Ali Zardari's security chief killed in bazaar attack". Foreign Policy: The AfPak Channel. Archived from the original on 2013-12-03. Retrieved 2013-11-26.
  32. ^ "Nationalist parties convene jirga on Pakhtun issues". The News International. March 12, 2022.
  33. ^ Report, Bureau (March 11, 2020). "Pakhtun jirga asks govt to take action against all terrorist networks". Dawn.
  34. ^ Kakar, Javed Hamim (March 11, 2020). "Pakhtun Qaumi Jirga seeks end to meddling in Afghanistan" – via Pajhwok Afghan News.
  35. ^ "Afghanistan's situation: Pakhtun Qaumi Jirga urges govt to revisit foreign policy". The News International. August 8, 2021.
  36. ^ Shah, S. Muddasir Ali (August 8, 2021). "Jirga blames neighbours for meddling in Afghanistan" – via Pajhwok Afghan News.
  37. ^ "Afghan leaders support Pashtun ethnic jirga in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa". Asian News International. March 17, 2022.
  38. ^ "Pashtun National Jirga Bannu Issues its 25 points charter of Demands". The Pakistan Daily. March 14, 2022.
  39. ^ a b "بنو کې د پښتنو قامي جرګه څلورمې ورځ ته وغځېده؛ پرېکړې او غوښتنې دوشنبې اعلانېږي". BBC Pashto (in Pashto).
  40. ^ "Parties convene Jirga to defend rights of Pashtuns in Pakistan". Asian News International.
  41. ^ "Jirga in Bannu discusses problems faced by Pashtuns". Mashriq TV. March 12, 2022.