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LOYA JIRGA. Councils summoned by Afghan rulers over the past century to consolidate their authority and nationalist programs have been called by this term,

which means “grand assembly” in Pashtu. Modernist Afghans and historians have attempted to trace loya jirga into the distant past and indigenous tribal custom, but loya jirga differ from tribal jirga in fundamental ways. Tribal jirga are a Pashtun custom of communal assembly for deciding on collective undertakings or settling internal conflicts. Decisions are reached by a consensus of those attending. Loya jirga are bodies of delegates summoned by the ruler and limited to his initiatives; they include religious leaders, who have only ratifying roles in tribal jirga. A more proximate model would be the majlis, for loya jirga belong to the history and centralization of government in modern Afghanistan.



The format was set by Amir `Abd al-Rahman Khan (188o-1901), who initiated several consultative bodies to check the quasifeudal jagir system of titleholders adopted by previous amirs and to assert power over officeholders and local leaders. His arrangement of loya jirga as “national” assemblies alongside assemblies of titleholders (darbari shahi) and of local leaders (khawdnin mulki) was formalized in the first constitution of Afghanistan proclaimed by Amir Amanullah (1919-1929) in 1923.

Boundaries of the nation and the ruler’s authority have been the constants of loya jirga. `Abd al-Rahman held three, according to Hasan Kakar, to affirm his negotiations of Afghanistan’s modern borders and his paramount authority within them. Amanullah summoned a loya jirga in 1921 to ratify his treaty with Britain recognizing Afghanistan’s independence, again in 1924 after a rebellion against his efforts to modernize Afghanistan, and in 1928 to press reforms; the last provoked a civil war. After its conclusion, Nadir Shah (1930-1933) called a loya jirga in 1930 to affirm his proclamation as ruler by a jirga of tribal militia; another was summoned in 1941 to accept British demands (to expel Axis nationals) that infringed Afghan sovereignty. Loya jirga were convened again in 1949 and 1955 to press nationalist claims to tribal territories in Pakistan; these were reaffirmed by a loya jirga summoned in 1964 to ratify a new constitution.

The last provides a picture of loya jirga at work. Of more than 45o delegates, 176 were elected for the event, to offset 176 who were members of the National Assembly, with the balance drawn from appointed legislators, officials, and the committees that had drafted the constitution. Although the delegates were not “king’s men,” it was the ruler’s assembly; it was composed to check entrenched interests and to establish the authority of the center.

Whatever loya jirgas employ of regional traditions and techniques, their specific features belong to the history of modern Afghan government, not to tribal models. Loya jirga have never assembled to settle conflicts or to decide a course of collective action, but only on a ruler’s initiative, and then more for communication than for consultation between the ruler and constitutent communities. Apparently formulated by Amir Abd al-Rahman as a check on title-holders and local leaders, the loya jirga has been a device for nationalizing the boundaries of the country and authority within it.

[See also Afghanistan; Majlis.]


Gregorian, Vartan. The Emergence of Modern Afghanistan. Stanford, Calif., 1969. The most comprehensive and balanced political history of Afghanistan.

Kakar, M. Hasan. Government and Society in Afghanistan. Austin, 1979. Provides a detailed study of Emir `Abd al-Rahman’s government.

Poullada, Leon B. Reform and Rebellion in Afghanistan, 1919-1929. Ithaca, N.Y., 1973. Places the Amanullah period in a tribal context.

Dupree, Louis. Afghanistan. Princeton, 1978. Contains a lively account of the 1964 loya jirga.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/loya-jirga/

  • writerPosted On: July 28, 2014
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