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A jirga (occasionally jarga or jargah) (Pashto: جرګه) is a tribal assembly of elders which takes decisions by consensus, particularly among the Pashtun people but also in other ethnic groups near them; they are most common in Afghanistan and among the Pashtuns in Pakistan near its border with Afghanistan.
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 of stature such as a senior religious leader, a local notable, or one of the mediation specialists (known as khans or maliks). The mediator hears from the two sides, and then forms a jirga of community elders, taking care to include supporters of both sides. The jirga then considers the case, and after discussing the matter comes to a decision about how to handle the matter, which the mediator then announces. The jirga's conclusion in the matter has to be accepted.
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 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, stoning to death in case of adultery, or expulsion from the community.
The Sindh High Court imposed a ban on the holding of jirgas in April 2004 because of the sometimes inhumane sentences awarded to people, especially the women and men who marry of their own free will. But the ban has been blatantly ignored and nothing has been done about it so far.
In the recent military operation against al Qaeda and 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.
Abuse of power by Jirga Elders
In some cases the elders holding the jirga have been influenced with money or other favours.
One victim of this medieval system of justice says “I had to send my son as a bonded labourer with a jirga head for three months after he favoured me in a decision,’’ says a resident of Hari Ganwan. “Sometimes they seek money, which we cannot afford but have to pay.’’
- Loya jirga — "grand jirga", a large congress called to discuss a particularly important event
- Wolesi Jirga — "people's jirga", the lower house of the Afghan legislature
- Meshrano Jirga — "elders' jirga", the upper house of the Afghan legislature
- Afghan Peace Jirga 2010
- Shura, its Arabic equivalent