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Jirgas History

The genius of Afghanistan’s ancient culture has endowed the Nation with historic and invaluable traditions of social and political importance. Particularly precious and deeply ingrained is the tradition of holding Jirga. The basis for Jirga is the Holy Quran which commands Muslims to Shura (consultation), however this political gathering stems back from times prior to Afghanistan embracing Islam.[1] As has been practiced in Afghanistan for centuries, Loya Jirga is held when there is an issue of special importance concerning the community’s vital national and international interests. Jirga is a reliable and honorable process of decision making within the Afghan societies where after serious discussions decisions are made by involving all layers of the society. It is an unprejudiced and impartial body that takes decisions based on facts and logic. Indeed, evolution of political systems in different countries demonstrates that governments and institutions are built as a result of local gatherings and councils. Therefore, it is proclaimed that Jirga is an important political pillar of the civil system practiced and evolved in Afghan societies for many years.


In Jirgas comprehensive collective discussion and examination of the issues enable in-depth understanding, development and formulation of a common view or consensus that leads to a cohesive approach dealing with the concerning issue.  This remarkable traditional process of mutual consultation also assists developing a commitment shared by the community to implement the resolution that has been resolved. In the presence of a proper mechanism and the way Jirgas are held, the consequent broad based understanding and the consensus reached facilitate to surmount fundamental issues threatening the Afghan Society.

The head of the state – in the pasts Kings – calls a Jirga by inviting the tribal leaders, scholars, professionals and prominent religious figures to take part in the process of dialogues and decision makings. Through a process of collective and deliberative consultation, the issue under consideration gets thoroughly examined and discussed by the Jirga members. Overall, a Jirga principally undertakes the following essential procedures.

General Procedures of a Jirga;

  • By observing the need for a Jirga the head of the state invites tribal leaders, Afghan representatives, scholars, religious clergies, and governmental individuals to attend the Jirga
  • The Jirga agrees on a Framework for communication with the parties involved
  • The Jirga comprehensively discusses and understand the issue under-analysis
  • The Jirga establishes a mechanism helping to reach the final decision
  • The Jirga, finally, sets up a committee to implement and oversight the decision made by the Jirga members

Jirgas in Afghanistan Political Literature

Jirgas have been called in different epochs of time in Afghanistan, and fortunately, each Jirga has extremely been successful in its assessment and judgments.  For the same reason, Jirgas are understood and uphold as a positive character of the socio-political system of the Afghan societies throughout the history. The historical roots of Jirga can be traced from the times of the ancient Arians and Kanishka the Great, however, some of the most recent decisive Jirgas commencing from early 18th century start with the Mirwais Neeka Jirga in Kandahar.

Kandahar Loya Jirga 1707; headed by Mirwais Neeka ( the Afghan Emperor) this Jirga was held in Kandahar, where the tribal leaders decided to give and end to the Gurgeen occupation of the Afghan land by vowing their support to Mirwais Neeka.

Kandahar Loya Jirga 1747;following the murder of Nader Afshar, a Jirga was held to opt for the next leader; representatives from all around Afghanistan took part  in a Jirga that lasted nine days and as a result throned Ahmedsha Durani the next Afghan King. Usually, western scholars perceive this era a political success for the Afghan Polity, where Ahmedsha Durani successfully used to rule the region from Mashhad to Delhi.

Kabul Loya Jirga 1915; was held during the reign of Amir Habibullah Khan and shortly after the First World War, when tri-party representatives of the Austrians, Turks and the Germans arrived in Kabul discussing the support of the Afghan nation against the British Empire in the region. This Jirga was organized in the presence of 540 afghan tribal leaders and public representatives, where majority of the representatives decided Afghanistan must remain neutral and impartial. Fortunately, later on this was appreciated as a significant decision by the Afghan representatives.

Kabul Loya Jirga 1930; during the reign of King Nader Khan a Jirga was held to discuss the operational structure of a National Assembly, MPs duties, and color of the Afghan Flag. This era is studied as the beginning of constitutional democracy in the country.

Kabul Loya Jirga 1941; discussing on the causes and origins of the Second World War, the 1941 Loya Jirga again maintained and kept the foreign policy and status of the Afghan state neutral and impartial.

Kabul Loya Jirga 1955; Prior to 1960s when the issue of strategic partnership and weapons of strategic reach had brought the U.S and Ex-Russia closer to the doors of war than ever before,the 1955 Loya Jirga was called to discussed the balance of power and Afghanistan’s status in the region, particularly, when Pakistan and Iran joined CENTO and CETO (1955).

Kabul Loya Jirga 1964; is a historic Jirga in Afghan political arena, this Jirga passed the 1964 constitution and set apart the (doctrine) executive, legislative and juridical forces. It is also perceived as the beginning of democracy in Afghanistan, where political parties and media was granted unprecedented freedom of speech.

KabulEmergency Loya Jirga 2002; one of the most crucial and decisive Jirgas after the collapse of the Taliban Regime. In the aftermath of the 2001 Bonn Agreement, 1600 politically prominent Afghans were brought together to discuss the future of Afghanistan, leading to the selection of H.E. President Karzai as the interim president.

Kabul Loya Jirga on Constitution 2003; this Loya Jirga on Constitution indeed marked a political success in the history of Afghanistan heading rule of law and democracy. People from different layers of the society, such as Lawyers, Lecturers and historians gathered to ratify the new Afghan Constitution.

Kabul Afghan/Pak Joint Peace Jirga 2007; having recognized the problems and challenges that Afghanistan and Pakistan face together, this Jirga brought the two countries closer than ever before, the Jirga decided to address the problems of insurgency and political stability in the region. As a result, reached to a consensus that both countries by creating a joint strategic work plan will work together to tackle regional upheavals and promote peace and stability.

Kabul National Consultative Peace Jirga 2010; Following the teachings of Islam that urge it followers to keep peace and establish peace, Afghanistan as an Islamic country recognizes that it is only through peaceful meanings and negotiations that we can bring peace and stability to the country. In this regard the Islamic Government of Afghanistan took the initiative to organize a Jirga and invite the discontented brothers to join their government. So far this Jirga has been proved a fundamental step in the process of reconciliation and as a result many has put their weapons and joined the peace process in the country.

In retrospect, after the formation of the Interim Government, by holding the Emergency Loya Jirga and the Loya Jirga for the Constitution, the Afghan Interim Government was able to formulate and establish an organizational and structural framework for the new polity of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan that will address problems inherited from decades of war and conflict.  So at the present juncture, yet faced with many other challenges, the Afghan government strongly believes that Jirga still plays a vital and decisive role within the Afghan communities and political sphere.

Watch Image Gallery Of Traditional Loya Jirga


[1] Quran :Verse 38 in Surah Ash-Shura

Name: Salma Hosseini
Job Title: Taekwondo Teacher
Age: 28 years
Length of service: 7 years
Income: $150 month
Price: Lessons – 300 Afs month
Pupils: 50
Location: Khai Khana – District 15

“an aggressive face intimidates your opponent…But really I’m kind at heart.”

My name is Salma Hosseini

I was a member of the National Youth Team in Kabul, and I’m a volunteer at the Haidari Club and also the coach for the National Women’s Team in Kabul. My name was recorded as the first female trainer and medallist in Afghanistan. It gives me great pride.

Normally when you face your opponent you feel aggressive, but you can let off steam with each hit. But an aggressive face intimidates your opponent, so this is my professional policy. But really I’m kind at heart.
The Haidari Club is the only gym in Afghanistan where boys and girls train together. The uneducated and uncivilised people don’t approve of us. They say, ‘women shouldn’t be doing this, women should get married and have babies’.


I get sad, because the girls like it. They have the talent and they are brave enough to do it. They could have a future in it. But it’s their family, the father, the elder brother, or sometimes the elder sister, who makes the decision for them.

But my father and brothers support me so it’s OK for me. They are very good to me. I learnt Taekwondo in Iran from an Iranian trainer. I was a student there for 10 years. I’ve been told that when I was five years old, because my father was a political activist, and we were being followed, my father and family were forced to flee to Iran. We lived there for 20 years.

When I first put my foot back on Afghan soil, I felt so happy, I knelt down and kissed the ground. But when I saw the people and the ruins of war, it made me sad.

After 20 years when we heard that the Taliban regime had collapsed, my father’s friends asked him to come back.
My goal is to serve my people. I’ve been insulted but I haven’t been threatened yet. When I go outside I try to be modest, I just focus on what I am doing.

Once, after a training session when I was still wearing my tracksuit, I passed a guy who touched my shoulder inappropriately, and insulted me. I turned around and asked “Are you talking to me?”
He said “Yes, I’m talking to you. You’re a woman and you shouldn’t be like this,” and then tried to slap me, but I didn’t let him, because after all, I am used to defending myself in a sporting environment. I kicked him instead, not using all my force, but enough to stun him. He wanted to hit me back but I had my guard up, and while we were still arguing, the police came and took him away.
When I am at home or when I go out socially, I try to be like a woman. But when I am at work, I try to be like a man.
In spite of all the problems along the way, I have been resilient. I can’t think of any other woman who could do what I’ve done, in a place like Afghanistan with such a backwards culture

Looming over a potholed Kabul street is a giant billboard showing horsemen in tribal dress galloping across a vast plain at sunset and waving an Afghan flag. Sharing the same poster is an image of modern soldiers silhouetted against a sky bathed in the national colours of red, green and black. The message is clear to any local, the Dari and Pashtu text beneath is almost redundant: the Afghan National Army is carrying on the brave warrior traditions of Afghanistan. And you should respect them for this reason.

Whether it will convince the locals is another matter. As the war in Afghanistan rolls into its ninth year, with an apparently unstoppable insurgency, rampant corruption and surging narcotics production, this message of national pride and confidence is not an easy sell.

Yet social marketing – using television, radio and print advertising – is booming in Afghanistan as the counter-insurgency strategy focuses on winning over the civilian population (while crushing the insurgents with military might). It’s big business too, with one Nato source calculating that Nato’s mission in Afghanistan, the International Security Assistance Force has a dedicated annual €17m budget to market its anti-drugs, anti-terrorism messages. Other interested parties, such as the US army and some foreign embassies, have also commissioned local agencies to carry out their own social marketing projects.
Most of the marketing relies on images alone as over than 70 per cent of the population are illiterate. A growing band of local media and advertising agencies are being recruited to deliver campaigns that get their messages across by using everything from kites decorated with anti-poppy motifs to comic books that spread the concept of good governance.

Agencies working to promote the ANA and counter local hostility towards ISAF include Wise Communications, which focuses on military issues, with others, such as Cetina, mixing social messages with military projects. Sayara’s current initiatives range from raising awareness of the upcoming parliamentary elections to counter-narcotics and civic education.

The Lapis agency, owned by media giants Moby Group, are the ones behind the latest romantic horsemen of the ANA ads, part of a year-long campaign which also covers social responsibility and governance.
“How do we get people to feel ownership of these issues?” asks Saad Mohseni, the chairman of the 700-employee Moby Group. Sitting in his cluttered office in the upscale Wazir Akhbar Khan neighbourhood, a bank of televisions beaming in programmes from around Afghanistan, Mohseni argues that the country needs to learn from other post-conflict societies and take charge of its own fate. And these advertisements, he says, are an attempt to create that sense of ownership, duty and responsibility. “It shouldn’t be all about the international community,” he says.

Mohseni’s Lapis agency is trying to further the ANA brand as an inclusive, truly national one. The army is currently dominated by troops with a Tajik background, thus feeding resentment from the Pashtuns, the country’s largest ethnic group, and hampering recruitment in the south and east of the country where they are concentrated. While never using the term Pashtun, the Lapis ads use excerpts from the Pashtunwalli, the tribal code of conduct, to reinforce the subtle message that not only does the army welcome those from the Pashtu ethnicity but also shares their ancient warrior values.

“We were trying to connect to people in an incredibly culturally relevant way,” adds Ali Bettencourt, director of communications for the US combined joint task force in eastern Afghanistan, which is funding the year-long Lapis campaign to the tune of $3.6m.

Development began in August last year and the television ads, radio spots and 440 billboard posters began rolling out earlier this year in 14 provinces around the country, with plans to take it to the rest of the country’s 34 provinces.

Alongside the ANA campaign is one entitled “The Future Is In Your Hands” featuring hands holding sticks of chalk, stalks of wheat or with a finger daubed in ink to signify casting a vote. Another strand presents the image of a cute baby with a tag-line ‘Massoud Sanjeer: suicide bomber. Or doctor?’

“The idea that a child could become a terrorist or a doctor; this is a very powerful message for anyone who has children, and especially in a country not certain of its future,” says Mohseni. “We live in denial here, and have done so for a long time. Violence makes you not think about the future.”

“You have to be very careful with what message you are sending and to whom,” notes Mustafa Babak, the sharply dressed 27-year-old country director of Sayara, another of the new crop of home-grown Kabul media agencies. “Branding is a main part of strategic communication anywhere, but it’s a bit different in Afghanistan.”

In Sayara’s office, a three-storey townhouse with its own video suite and recording studio, relics of past campaigns such as anti-poppy clocks and posters advertising election theatre workshops share space with traditional carved Afghan furniture and rugs.
Sipping green tea, Babak – who like many of those involved in Afghanistan’s creative industries grew up in Pakistan and only returned after the fall of the Taliban – explains the importance of highly localised messages in a country so geographically splintered and ethnically diverse.

Sayara’s test groups take in everyone from teachers and illiterate farmers to street peddlers and children and separate women-only focus groups.
In past anti-narcotics campaigns, Sayara has been at pains to focus on regional differences. Comabting poppy farming in Helmand, for instance, the agency pushed the idea of sowing cotton, for which the southern province used to be famous. In Kandahar, pomegranate-growing was promoted over poppy, and in Nangahar, orange and olive farming.

It’s not easy to gauge the impact of such campaigns. Mohseni says that ANA recruitment has gone up since the Lapis campaign started running, and Bettencourt notes that “where the posters have gone up, they’ve stayed up”. But in a country that still supplies more than 90 per cent of the world’s opium, Babak says that the counter-narcotics communications strategy remains stuck at the awareness-raising phase.
“In 2004 people didn’t care whether growing poppy was against the law or religion,” says Babak. “In 2008, people knew it was against the law and religion but felt they had no other option.” The situation has not yet noticeably improved.

“The message is that if you grow poppy you will go to jail – but no-one is jailed,” he adds, emphasising that it’s a lengthy process, and social marketing is not enough to change behaviour. “Communications campaigns arevery much linked to implementation.”
Mohseni is blunter. “If you can’t match words with deeds,” he says, “some campaigns are a waste of money.”

Daniella Peled – this article previously published in Monocle magazine

YOU MAY WISH TO FIND ABOUT ANOTHER BRAVE AFGHAN WOMEN GENERAL , KEEP READING.

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