Significance of Jirga system

Jalal Tariq Khan

In Afghanistan - the home of Aryans and the land of lofty mountains, barren plains and land-locked terrain, tribes of ethnically different origins live. For centuries, the land has echoed with the sound of barrage of bullets as warring tribes have fought a never-ending battle for power and influence. These tribes have altered allegiance, betrayed each other and disputed over power, gold, and women. Sometimes, they were dubbed as valiant to exploit their military potentials while at others; they were tagged as extremists to achieve major powers regional goals. The country comprises various ethnic tribes, like Hazaras, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Pakhtuns etc., whose political, social and even religious affiliation could equally have been with their neighboring countries as with their ostensibly unified nation state. But collectively, they are called Afghans, with their own cultural traits and values. Traditions matter. According to David Hume, a Scottish Philosopher, “Custom, then, is the great guide of human life.” Customs are widely revered. Afghans love their traditions and their culture uniquely. To respect their traditions and customs is to respect them. Locally integrated, traditional conflict resolution institutions suit those societal circumstances in which they function because they satisfy the aspirations of the people of those societies. Therefore, these traditional institutions work more effectively than the formal institutions, borrowed from outside. These indigenous institutions are sometimes more useful than the modern systems, yet we know little about them. Many of these institutions are undocumented with no written constitution. Similar is the case with the Jirga system that prevails in Afghanistan and Pakhtun areas of Pakistan and has a long historical background. Its origin is obscure but traces can be found in BCs. It may well be compared to the British Constitution, which remains unwritten and still effective and organic. Also, Jirga is probably the closest approach to Athenian democracy that has existed since times immemorial because its every member has a direct say in shaping the course of things. The building of this institution has been erected on the strong basis of Pakhtoonwali - the Afghans code of conduct, due to which the system has been alive in the Afghan society for centuries. It is a general maxim that what is not decided through Jirga is decided by bloodshed and opposing its decisions provokes rage and leads to annihilation. Jirga is an informal institution, having flexible, transparent and effective processes. From local to national level, it exists; therefore, it is responsible for maintaining order in every frame of life. It settles all disputes concerning land, property, blood and other social issues. It exercises both executive and judicial powers. It enjoys confidence of the community; therefore, it has been a most effective institution for sorting out internal political, economic and social issues. In the current modern judicial system, quick, simple, affordable and true justice seem impossible. In under-developed countries, like Afghanistan, the official red-tapism, corrupt officials, lengthy procedures and expensive system make these formal institutions virtually futile. Against this backdrop, Jirga system provides a suitable alternative that extends even handed justice in a more transparent manner with more or less no expenses. Various social evils that cannot be sorted out through modern judicial system are resolved through the native conflict resolving institutions like the Jirga system. Therefore, ignoring its importance and labelling it as feudal Saviour is unjustifiable. Ironically, it is sometimes sounded off as an undemocratic and unjust institution that only decides cases according to the wish of a powerful party. Some factions of the society also regard it as a male chauvinist institution, particularly by feminists and human rights watchdogs. But their assertions do not hold much water. To set the record straight, it has a long history of delivering even handed justice in all circumstances and has served positively in the Afghan tribal society. Declaring it against a certain sect of masses or biased in favor of some groups of people on the basis of very few wrong decisions is not correct. Those, who criticize it, should think twice before pointing their fingers at this sacred institution. After thorough examination, one can find hundreds of drawbacks in the formal institutions. For example, a case regarding land possession takes years even decades to decide in the British implemented court system. But Jirga has the potential to decide such cases in few sittings. If these formal institutions, with so many technical and procedural faults do not pinch them, then why the Jirga system is embarrassing one in their eyes? Talking about its abolition is juvenile. Criticism for the sake of criticism is not praise worthy rather it must be constructive. In short, the Jirga system is a dynamic conventional institution that has rendered great service to the Afghan society for centuries. It has the capacity to resolve all social, economic and political issues in intra and inter tribal and national settings. Criticizing it without any sound reasons is unjust. Rather positive steps should be taken to bring reforms to make it more efficient and attractive. Besides this, print and electronic media, which have the capacity to shape public opinion, must also play its positive role to facilitate the people in knowing the ropes of this system. Otherwise, future will vanish off our names from the pages of history.