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A regional jirga in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.

A jirga (originally jərga or jərgah; Pashto: جرګه) is a traditional assembly of leaders that supposed to make decisions by consensus and according to the teachings of Pashtunwali. A tribal cultural system that predates modern-day written or fixed-laws and is conducted to settle disputes among the Pashtun people but to a lesser extent among other nearby groups that have been influenced by Pashtuns (historically known as Afghans) in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Its primary purpose has been to prevent tribal war. Most jirgas are conducted in Afghanistan but also among the Pashtun tribes in neighboring Pakistan, especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK). In 2017, the Pakistani government passed The Alternative Dispute Resolution Act, 2017 of Pakistan aiming to integrate jirgas into the formal justice system.[1] In a January 2019 petition from National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW), Supreme Court of Pakistan restrained jirgas up to permissible limits of the law to the extent of acting as arbitration, mediation, negotiation or reconciliation forums between parties involved in a civil dispute, amidst continued reports of widespread flouting of constitutional norms and human rights.[2][3]

According to The Economist, “barbarism has become synonymous with jirgas” due to their use of punishments such as burning the house of a criminal, though others view such punishments as rare and originating from illiterate backwaters.[1] An early June 2020 editorial of Pakistani daily newspaper Dawn says that, unlawful jirgas are not limited to tribal district but do operate across Pakistan with impunity.[2]

While in January 2019 Supreme Court of Pakistan adjudicated against unlawful practices in Jirgas and Panchayats, in July 2019 Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan expressed his government's commitment on continuation of Jirga system.[3]

According to Sheikh Abdul Rasheed unofficial Jirgas are enormous source of human rights violations against women.[4] Rasheed says while men remain subject to continued threats to death out of tribal clan conflicts and their work gets affected and their women are reduced to hard labor and begging.[4] Rasheed says contrary to the perception benefits of speedy trials, Jirga verdicts persecute women, minorities and the economically weaker people.[4]

Terminology and function[edit]

Origin and historicity[edit]

Jirga might be cognate to Mongolian цирк (tsərk), 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 sport or for food. Probably, the Pashtun elders were also sitting initially in a circular formation when debating and hearing a given dispute.

Functioning methodology[edit]

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 to Parliament. 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 it, which the mediator then announces. The jirga's conclusion is binding.

Quasi-legal function[edit]

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.[5]

The Alternative Dispute Resolution Act, 2017, of Pakistan[edit]

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. [6] 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. [6] 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.[7] Basit Mahmood also criticizes United Kingdom's donor agency Department for International Development for funding of misogyny protecting ADR tribunals.[7]

Contested justice and human rights violations[edit]

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,[3] and that unlawful practices of Jirgas are violate Articles 4, 8, 10-A, 25 and 175(3) of the Constitution of Pakistan,[3] 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".[3]

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[3]

Instances of jirga judicial overreach[edit]

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.[7] 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 2400 people to demolish houses of left-leaning political opponents.[8] 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.[2]

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.[9]

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).[10]

Historic jirga and women[edit]

The Sindh High Court imposed a ban on the holding of jirgas in April 2004[11] because of the sometimes inhumane sentences awarded to people, especially women and men who marry of their own free will. The ban, however, has been ignored.[12]

An all-female jirga Khwaindo jirga ("sister's council") was held in Pakistan, and had 25 members.[13] It was headed by Tabassum Adnan which helped 11 women get justice as of 2013.[13][14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Pakistan is "mainstreaming" misogynist tribal justice". The Economist. 13 October 2017.
  2. ^ a b c Editorial (2020-06-08). "When jirgas abet crime". DAWN.COM. Retrieved 2020-06-27.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Rehman, I. A. (2019-07-11). "Jirga space slashed". DAWN.COM. Retrieved 2020-06-27.
  4. ^ a b c Rasheed, Sheikh Abdul (2021-02-22). "Jirga system and women rights". Pakistan Today. Retrieved 2021-02-23.
  5. ^ 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. Retrieved 2013-11-26.
  6. ^ a b Reporter, A. (2017-01-19). "Alternate Dispute Resolution Bill approved". DAWN.COM. Retrieved 2020-06-27.
  7. ^ a b c "Pakistan's Jirgas and Women's Rights". thediplomat.com. Retrieved 2020-06-27.
  8. ^ Wazir, Dilawar (2020-06-06). "Ahmadzai Wazir tribe convenes jirga to raise Lashkar". DAWN.COM. Retrieved 2020-06-27.
  9. ^ Khan, Ahtesham (13 June 2020). "Jirga's attempt to give young girl in Swara foiled". Tribune Pakistan.
  10. ^ "Karokari: Police order action against Jirga". www.thenews.com.pk. Retrieved 2020-06-27.
  11. ^ SBLR 2004 Sindh 918; excerpt
  12. ^ SHC seeks official version against jirgas (2012-12-08)
  13. ^ a b Khurram Shahzad (2013-07-11). "Women challenge men in Pakistan's first female jirga". Fox News. AFP. Retrieved 2013-11-26.
  14. ^ Jennifer Rowland; Bailey Cahall (2013-07-11). "President Asif Ali Zardari's security chief killed in bazaar attack". Foreign Policy: The AfPak Channel. Retrieved 2013-11-26.

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