Clout of the Loya Jirga

Afghan parliamentarians have be­gun to ex­press their mis­giv­ings about the govern­ment’s sup­port for the Loya Jirga’s ex­tra-con­sti­tu­tional de­ci­sion-mak­ing author­ity.

Southasia - - TRADITION AFGHANISTAN - By Ha­roon Jan­jua

Tribal so­ci­eties have al­ways func­tioned through the pow­ers of clan chiefs and their lo­cal group of elders. At a higher level, be­yond a sin­gle vil­lage or tribe, it is a coun­cil of chiefs and elders that de­cides mat­ters. The pan­chayat sys­tem un­der the Bri­tish was a vari­a­tion of this con­cept. An­other ex­am­ple is that of the Is­lamic shura. Among the Pakhtun tribes in the north­west­ern part of the sub­con­ti­nent – north­ern ar­eas of Balochis­tan, Khy­ber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA in Pak­istan and in Afghanistan – this con­cept is known as the Loya Jirga.

The tribal chief­tains have al­ways been fiercely in­de­pen­dent about their ter­ri­tory as well as their lo­cal cul­ture and cus­toms. They have never ac­cepted the suzerainty of a king or a sov­er­eign monarch. Their so­ci­ety has al­ways been a maze of clans and kin­ships gov­erned by these coun­cils at the lo­cal as well as re­gional lev­els.

The Loya Jirga is not a mod­ern phe­nom­e­non. Ac­cord­ing to the ac­counts of early Aryan set­tlers, some 5,000 years ago, when it was time to se­lect a king for the tribes, a grand coun­cil of pas­toral herds­men and nobles would con­vene in open air. As leg­ends has it, it was be­lieved that dur­ing one of those meet­ings, an ea­gle swooped down from the heav­ens to place a crown on the head of the first king of the first ur­ban cen­ter that the Aryans had built south of the River Oxus (Amu Darya).

There are records go­ing as far back as some two mil­len­nia that sug­gest that the Kushan em­peror Kan­ishka had held a jirga of some 500 tribes­men and spir­i­tual lead­ers in the re­gion now known as Afghanistan. The agenda was to de­bate and de­cide re­forms to Bud­dhism which was preva­lent in the area at that time. The Kushan kings were them­selves mi­grants from what be­came Per­sia in the Mid­dle Ages and then con­tem­po­rary Iran. Sim­i­larly, there are records of Genghis Khan hold­ing large coun­cils much akin to the Loya Jirga, in Sa­markand.

There are two types of Loya Jirga. The first is called on by the people them­selves in times of na­tional cri­sis to de­bate and de­cide is­sues such as war and peace, the elec­tion of an emir or monarch and mat­ters of na­tional sovereignty and in­de­pen­dence. The sec­ond type of jirga con­venes when the pre­vail­ing sit­u­a­tion obliges the ex­ist­ing ruler or chief to con­sult his people on is­sues like the for­mu­la­tion and en­act­ment of ba­sic laws, rat­i­fi­ca­tion of treaties or agree­ments reached with out­side pow­ers and de­fence of ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity and sovereignty. In Afghanistan, three jir­gas were held in the be­gin­ning of the 18th century un­der Mir­wais Khan Ho­tak, which helped the Afghans in lib­er­at­ing western Afghanistan from the despotic Saf­favid ruler, Gur­gin.

Ac­cord­ing to afghan­land.com, the Loya Jirga of Nadir Khan was held in Septem­ber 1930 to ap­prove the rules of busi­ness for a milli shura (na­tional coun­cil). In July 1941, Zahir Shah con­vened a Loya Jirga to de­lib­er­ate upon the coun­try’s po­si­tion vis.-à-vis. the Sec­ond World War. An­other Loya Jirga was con­vened dur­ing the prime min­is­ter­ship of Sar­dar Daoud Khan in Novem­ber 1955, which raised the is­sue of Pakhtunistan un­der the con­di­tions that Pak­istan had come into be­ing as the in­her­i­tor of all Bri­tish rights and obli­ga­tions in the area. Daoud Khan also called a Loya Jirga in Fe­bru­ary 1977 to le­git­imize his rule, pass the new con­sti­tu­tion, elect a new pres­i­dent, get ap­proval for launch­ing his Na­tional Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Party and rat­ify some laws and agree­ments reached with other coun­tries.

Af­ter the Com­mu­nist Revo­lu­tion of 1978 and, es­pe­cially af­ter the in­va­sion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union in De­cem­ber 1979, Cold War ri­val­ries en­tered Afghanistan and both sides, rulers as well as the op­po­si­tion forces, re­sorted to this tra­di­tion. Dr M. Halim

Tan­wir writes in his book ‘Afghanistan: His­tory, Diplo­macy and Jour­nal­ism’ that jir­gas held by mod­er­ate el­e­ments were op­posed by the mu­jahideen. Since the jir­gas by the Kar­mal regime in 1985 and by Pres­i­dent Na­jibul­lah in 1987 were held un­der the shadow of for­eign pow­ers, their in­flu­ence on the course of events was limited. The same was the fate of the Shura-e-Al-oAqd held in Herat in 1992 to le­git­imize and pro­long the rule of Burhanud­din Rab­bani. This jirga did not have any rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the op­po­si­tion.

Ques­tions are of­ten raised about the fair­ness, uni­form rep­re­sen­ta­tion, com­mon in­ter­ests and over­all ef­fi­cacy of the grand tribal coun­cils such as the Loya Jir­gas and the de­bate continues to rage in cur­rent day Afghanistan. Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai was him­self nom­i­nated as an in­terim head of state in 2002 in a Loya Jirga con­vened at

that time. It was af­ter a full quar­ter century that so many heads and chiefs of Afghanistan had con­vened at one place.

Since then, Afghanistan has gone through the process of be­com­ing a mod­ern state. It now has a con­sti­tu­tion and a par­lia­ment in ac­cor­dance with reg­u­lar demo­cratic prac­tices. So, tech­ni­cally, the Loya Jir­gas held dur­ing the last few years may, at best, be viewed as no more than ad­vi­sory bod­ies. They cer­tainly do not have the pow­ers to leg­is­late and in­ter­vene in the mat­ters of na­tional im­por­tance. The 2011 Loya Jirga was meant to de­bate the sit­u­a­tion that would pre­vail af­ter the with­drawal of U.S. troops and was ex­pected to have a gath­er­ing of some 2000 tribal chiefs and nobles. Parliamentarians had at that time ex­pressed their mis­giv­ings about the govern­ment’s sup­port for ex­tra-con­sti­tu­tional de­ci­sion-mak­ing author­ity against the con­sti­tu­tion­ally laid-down mech­a­nisms of the state.

Three fac­tors pre­vent the con­sti­tu­tional state from us­ing its full pow­ers and con­tinue to give the tra­di­tional Loya Jir­gas more im­por­tance than they prob­a­bly have un­der the con­sti­tu­tion. The first is the con­tin­ued pres­ence of for­eign forces in the re­gion. The sec­ond is the volatile sit­u­a­tion that arises due to the in­fight­ing be­tween fun­da­men­tal­ist fac­tions such as the Hezb-ul-Is­lami and the Tal­iban and the mod­er­ate fac­tions that still pre­vail. The third is the di­vided and frag­mented iden­tity of the Afghan people. The abysmally low reach of ed­u­ca­tion in the re­gion, the gen­eral ab­sence of law and or­der, wide­spread poverty and mi­gra­tions across the por­ous borders fur­ther com­pli­cate the sit­u­a­tion. As Ten­nyson said in the Mort’d

Arthur: Old or­der changeth, yield­ing place to new; and God ful­fils him­self in many ways, lest one good cus­tom should cor­rupt the world.

The mod­ern state of Afghanistan can­not sus­tain it­self un­less the people unite be­hind a com­mon iden­tity and pur­pose. It is also prag­matic to say that this can­not hap­pen eas­ily.The in­tractable prob­lem can only be solved by first elim­i­nat­ing or at least marginal­iz­ing the law­less fun­da­men­tal­ist fac­tions and then launch­ing a mas­sive drive for ed­u­ca­tion. It is equally cer­tain that no for­eign power can do this. Only the people of Afghanistan can. How they should do it, given their present re­source-de­pleted sit­u­a­tion, is the big ques­tion.

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