“Jirga” The World’s oldest Common

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images 2On hearing the word “Jirga”, the first question that comes to mind is what is Jirga? Well to a common person, Jirga is a “Common” unofficial institution comprised of local, elderly, and influential men in Pukhtoon communities, who undertake dispute resolution, primarily through the process of arbitration. These Pukhtoon communities exist in, north western and western, Federally Administrated Tribal Areas FATA (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and Balochistan in Pakistan and in Afghanistan.

To discuss “Jirga System” in Commons blog appeared imperative to me after having an insight to Alinor Ostrom’s principles of Common design. Although these principles lack in their arguments against Enclosures, but provide fair grounds to analyze the characteristic of a community towards its Common pool Recourses (CPR).
– “The term ‘common-pool resource’ refers to a natural or man made resource system that is sufficiently large as to make it costly (but not impossible) to exclude potential beneficiaries from obtaining benefits from its use.” (Ostrom 1990: 30)

In this scenario, Justice Provider or conflict resolution entity, “Jirga”, is complicated to refer as Common pool resource, as one individual’s access to call for justice does not subtract from the right of another person’s access to justice. However, the community safeguards the “Jirga” in the same manner as Ostrom defines the principles for a community to care for its CPR.

I consider “Jirga” as Common. A common, that existed, when there was no government and no state, the people had to develop some sort of ethics to regulate their life. These ethics were born by necessity and turned into traditions, Jirga has sustained in itself for centuries but leaving its history, structure and activities unwritten for outside world.

The basis for Jirga is considered the teachings of Holy Quran, which commands Muslims to Shura (consultation), in the matter of resolving issues of special importance to a community, however this political gathering stems back from times prior to Afghanistan embracing Islam. Jirga has been practiced in Afghanistan for centuries.

The operation of Jirga involves a public session where male members of the community gather to deliberate upon an important issue concerning the whole community. It is social frame of life, to undertake issues between individuals, between communities, and sometimes to address the concern of national and international affairs through verbal communication (Loya Jirga deals with national and international affairs). The Jirga may or may not result in an agreement on the issue, but the process itself leads the parties, including the interveners, to maintain a certain level of formal communication, thus ensuring peace.

Another aspect of Jirga, in compliance to its existent as Common, is the inclusivity of all the members from every social layer of the community. There is very little hierarchy evident in its structure. “Sitting in a circle, Jirga has no president, no secretary or convener. There are no hierarchical positions and required status of the participants. All are equal and everyone has the right to speak and argue, although, regard for the elders is always there without any authoritarianism or privileged rights attached to it. (www.khyber.org/pashtoculture/Jirga/Jirgas.shtml (by Dr. Mumtaz Bangash)

These proceedings of Jirga evidently demonstrate the Ostrom principles of “Clearly defined boundaries- for users,” “Congruence between appropriation and provision rules and local conditions” and “Collective-choice arrangements” By the community for the cause of commons.

The principles of “Efficient Monitoring and Graduated sanctions-punishment, fines and sanctions” have also been practiced. when The Jirga passes a judgment after necessary investigation into the dispute. No effort is spared to reconcile the disputing parties. However, if a party declines its verdict, the jirga may resort to punitive measures such as a fine in cash to punish those who violate the decision.

Then the principle of “Nesting of small-scale governance systems within larger governance systems when localized CPRs are part of larger systems” (Layering of governance structures equals the inter-reliance and density of CPR organism) also exist in Jirga. If one of the parties is not satisfied with the verdict and feels that the Jirga has not done justice, they can quote precedents and rules to plead their point and reject the decision. In this scenario, the aggrieved party has the right to bring another Jirga to re-examine the issue. In doing so, the decision given on the third occasion is usually considered final.

Consequently, I believe that the Jirga is “Common” and has ever been the Common resource for quick and inexpensive justice, for the people In Afghanistan and Pakistan, living in the tribal areas, Surrounded by mountains with low government’s influence.

Some argue about whether it is in the interest of Pakistan to have two parallel judicial systems, while others take it as having state within a state challenging the writ of the government. Answers to these questions are far more complicated then they seem. The tribal groups – particularly Pukhtun and Baloch over the years, have been reluctant and sensitive to adopting the western judicial system in practice at the local courts – They also had defied the British writ for almost a century and compelled, that world power to accept in this region, the shariat (Islamic law/code of conduct) and traditions, beside their laws. The tribal territories in Pakistan are still administered under a complex political system.

Beside that there are some general human rights concerns about the use of Jirga, there are some specific issues relating to women’s rights which primarily focus on issues of access, participation, representation, fairness and the use of punishments and practices. The reality is that local leadership in tribal Areas is almost entirely dominated by men. As a result, the Jirga is the main social system which regulates all facets of Pakhtun community-those who control the Jirga control society.
In actuality, it is not the jirga system that allows for abusive practices, but some elders who in recent times have exploited the system either to forcefully impose the Shariah(islamic law), speaking loosely, or to side with a particular party for political gains.

Following the news on bbc, (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-23453243) I believe, new “Common”is emerging as “Pakistani women use Jirga to fight for rights”

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2 Responses to ““Jirga” The World’s oldest Common”

  1. u1059279 Says:

    Are women isolated in this community.Seems as if power and decision making lies in the hands of the men.Where are the rest of the community;women and children are they not part of this communing.

  2. maryyamghani Says:

    Yes, you can say that; although women and children are integral part of this community but unfortunately they are not direct participants of this ‘Jirga Commoning.’
    But I think the link that I have provided to BBC news, can be beneficial in understanding that how women from that community respond, to the idea of being isolated from Jirga process of dispute resolution.
    They have realized that their absence from jirga, results into more complexed social behaviours leading towards discrimination on the basis of Gender.
    That’s why, in the men dominant society of khyber Pakhtunha, they came up with the idea of ‘women Jirga’ to fight for their own rights.

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