In the Pashtunwali, a code of laws of the Pashtun peoples living in areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan and neighboring countries, loya jirga (Pashto: لويه جرګه, "grand assembly") is a special type of jirga that is mainly organized for choosing a new head of state in case of sudden death, adopting a new constitution, or to settle national or regional issue such as war. It predates modern-day written or fixed laws and is mostly favored by the Pashtun people but to a lesser extent by other nearby groups that have been influenced by Pashtuns (historically known as Afghans).
History and Terminology
'Jirga' itself is a well-known term of Mongolian origin. It referred historically 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. Similarly the word 'louy' seems to be the Pashtunised form of the Mongolian 'dai' or 'daai' meaning 'large' or'grand'. Frequently the Pashto tongue converts a 'd' to 'l' as in 'jalaa' and 'pelaar' which are actually the Persian 'Jadaa' and 'Pedar' (i.e., 'separate' and 'father'). In another understandable phonological twist, the word 'Laay' has been changed into 'louy', the same as the Persian 'taar' and 'naam' (i.e. 'dark, black' and 'name'), have become 'tour' and noum' in Pashto.
There is another myth in the sense that the ancient Aryan tribes, who are hypothesized to have spoken Proto-Indo-Iranian, came down in intermittent waves from Central Asia and Afghanistan. They practiced a sort of jirga-system with two types of councils – simite and sabhā. The simite (the summit) comprised elders and tribal chiefs. The king also joined sessions of the simite. Sabhā was a sort of rural council. In India it is referred to as Samiti and Sabha.
It was used over time for the selection of rulers and headmen and the airing of matters of principle. From the time of the great Kushan ruler Kanishka to the 1970s, there were sixteen national loya jirgas and hundreds of smaller ones. The institution, which is centuries old, is a similar idea to the Islamic "shura", or consultative assembly.
In the Afghan society, the loya 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, however they were little more than observers. 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 Loya 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.
Some of the historical loya jirgas in the history of Afghanistan are:
- 1707–1709 – Loya jirga was gathered by Mir Wais Hotak at Kandahar in 1707, but according to Ghulam Mohammad Ghobar it was gathered in Manja in 1709.
- October 1747 – A jirga at Kandahar was attended by Afghan representatives who appointed Ahmad Shah Durrani as their new leader.
- September 1928 – A jirga at Paghman, called by King Amanullah, the third loya jirga of his reign (1919–1929) to discuss reforms.
- September 1930 – A jirga a meeting of 286 called by Mohammed Nadir Shah to confirm his accession to the throne.
- 1941 – Called by Mohammed Zahir Shah to approve neutrality in World War II.
- 1947 – Held by Pashtuns in the Tribal Agencies to choose between joining India or Pakistan.
- July 26, 1949 – Afghanistan-Pakistan relations rapidly deteriorated over a dispute, officially declared that it did not recognize the 1893 Durand Line border any longer between the two countries.
- September 1964 – A meeting of 452 called by Mohammed Zahir Shah to approve a new constitution.
- July 1974 – A meeting with Pakistan over the Durand Line.
- January 1977 – Approved the new constitution of Mohammed Daoud Khan establishing one-party rule in the Republic of Afghanistan.
- April 1985 – To ratify the new constitution of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan.
- September 2001 – Four different loya jirga movements anticipating the end of Taliban rule. Little communication took place between each of them.
- The first was based in Rome around Mohammed Zahir Shah, and it reflected the interests of moderate Pashtuns from Afghanistan. The Rome initiative called for fair elections, support for Islam as the foundation of the Afghan state, and respect for human rights.
- The second was based in Cyprus and led by Homayoun Jarir, a member of the Islamic Party of his father-in-law, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Critics of the Cyprus initiative suspected that it served the interests of Iran. The members of the Cyprus initiative, however, considered themselves closer to the Afghan people and regard the Rome group as too close to the long-isolated nobility.
- The most significant was based in Germany, which resulted in the Bonn Agreement (Afghanistan). This agreement was made under United Nations auspices, established the Afghan Interim Authority and paved the way for the later jirgas that established the Constitution of Afghanistan.
- A lesser initiative based in Pakistan.
- June 13, 2002 – July 13, 2002, The 2002 loya jirga of Afghanistan elected Hamid Karzai to oversee it. This was possible only because in the fall of 2001, Karzai was able to successfully lead one of the largest southern Afghanistan tribes against the draconian rule of the Taliban. The Loya Jirga was organized by the interim administration of Hamid Karzai, with about 1600 delegates, either selected through elections in various regions of the country or allocated to various political, cultural, and religious groups. It was held in a large tent in the grounds of Kabul Polytechnic from June 11 and was scheduled to last about a week. It formed a new Transitional Administration that took office shortly thereafter.
- December 2003 – To consider the proposed Afghan Constitution. See 2003 Loya jirga.
- 2006 – Afghan president Hamid Karzai said that he and the Pakistani president will jointly lead a loya jirga to end a dispute over border attacks.
- December 2009, after his disputed re-election, President Hamid Karzai announced to move ahead with a plan for a loya jirga to discuss the Taliban insurgency. The Taliban was invited to take part in this Jirga.
- June 2010, at Kabul, in which around 1,600 delegates of all ethnic groups attended for a peace talks with the Taliban.
- 17 November 2013, at Kabul, in which around 2,500 Afghan elders approved the presence of a limited number of US forces beyond 2014.
British India and Pakistan
On June 21, 1947, in Bannu, a loya jirga was held consisting of Bacha Khan, 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, and the Pashtun territories eventually joined Pakistan during the partition.
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. 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.
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- This article contains material from the Library of Congress Country Studies, which are United States government publications in the public domain. ()
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