Jirga: Pashtun Participatory Governance

Intro Continued

combine ‘traditional authority’ (based on personal qualities, social status, and leadership skills) as well as “competent authority’ (based on the individual’s recognized expertise and skills), which play a central part in achieving a prikra (ruling) that is satisfactory to both parties.”    

     Dr. Idris studied, observed, and documented a series of Jirga deliberations among the Yusufzai Pashtun tribe of northwest Pakistan in the following study.  Pashtuns rely on their jirga system, but the qualifications to attend the tribal council tend to vary depending upon the tribe.  Much of the reason for the use of councils developing consensus for decisions arise from the independence and honor-bound culture of the Pashtuns.  Lacking the consensus-making councils, any tribal justice system would create obvious “winners and losers” in a culture in which the loser’s “honor” would be impacted and he could be expected to resort to violence in order to recover his lost honor.  Jirgas are extremely important in conflict prevention and resolution.

     Perhaps the one tribe that views the jirga differently than the Yusufzai is the Mahsud tribe.  Fortunately, Hugh Beattie studied them closely:

     “Mahsuds … Pashtunwali stressed the autonomy of the adult male.  He was supposed to be as independent as possible, and not subject to another’s will, and this was reflected in the emphasis given to arriving at decisions on matters of common concern by consensus in the jirga, or assembly of elders.  At the same time, a high value as placed on the political independence of the tribe as a whole….upholding the tribe’s honor depended on its ability to defend its homeland and its seclusion.

     “…Mahsud social organization … possessed some segmentary characteristics.  Patrilineal descent was critical, in that only those men whose names appeared in the tribal genealogies had the right to own land, and share in tribal loss and gain.  Only male landowners could speak in the jirgas or councils, in which …rather than decisions being made by putting issues to vote, discussion and negotiations continued until there was no longer any open disagreement, so that no-one had to defer publicly to another’s opinion.