Academic journal article Pakistan Journal of Criminology

Jirga System in Pakhtun Society: An Informal Mechanism for Dispute Resolution

Academic journal article Pakistan Journal of Criminology

Jirga System in Pakhtun Society: An Informal Mechanism for Dispute Resolution

Article excerpt


Jirga means 'an assembly, meeting of a party for consultation, and a sort of democratic council.' According to the Pashto Descriptive Dictionary jirga is an original Pashto word, which in its common usage refers to the gathering of a few, or a large number of people; it also means consultation according to this source. The word jirga is also used in Persian, Turkish and Mongolian languages that appears to be related to the word 'circle', but is commonly used to refer to the gathering of people. But regardless of the origin of the word, y/Vga refers to "Pashtun traditional tribal jirga, local/tribal institution of decision-making and dispute settlement that incorporates the prevalent local customary law, institutionalized rituals, and a body of village elders whose collective decision about the resolution of a dispute (or a local problem) is binding on the parties involved.

Jirga, in Persian is called Majlis and in Punjabi and Hindi Panchayat. The Jirga exercises both judicial and executive roles to settle all disputes pertaining to the distribution of land, properties, blood feuds, blood money and other important intertribal affairs on the basis of tribal conventions, traditions and principles of justice. There are no hard and fast rules for the selection of Jirga members. All reputable elders - Speen Geeri (white-beards) - are considered eligible for its membership. However, for effective enforcement of the decision taken by the Jirga, the Jirga members should have social status with sound economic position and sufficient manpower at home. The Jirga assembles are normally held in a hujra or a village mosque or in an open field outside the village. The Jirga members usually sit in a circle without any presiding figure. This meeting, like the round-table conference, without a chairman, reflects their love of democracy and principle of equality.

In Pakhtun culture, most criminal cases are handled by a tribal Jirga rather than by laws or police. The jirga comprises of two or more persons, who are normally family elders or their representatives. Authority and competence of a jirga member depends upon the nature of the problems thejirga has to tackle.

If there is any dispute between two families, two individuals, two villages, or two tribes, such disputes are often resolved peacefully through a Jirga.

A Jirga consists of the most respected members of both parties and a third man (or party) as an arbitrator is selected by both the parties. The job of the arbitrator is to listen to the grievances of both the parties, and then provide a peaceful solution. Both the parties must agree on the solution in order for the Jirga to be completed. If any of the party is not agreeing, the Jirga has to look for other alternative solutions. However, once both the parties agree on the decision of the Jirga, none of them can deviate from the decision in the future. If they do, they lose their Nung (respect) in the society.

The Jirga System is not a new Phenomenon but Obscured by the Constitutional Way of Life.

In the present circumstances, the jirga system caught attention of the international community through media. Particularly in post 9/11 scenario when the U S gave ultimatum to the then Taliban government on Thursday September 20, 2001, to handover Osama to the US government, the Taliban called upon a Loya Jirga (Grand Jirga). However, in the most recent scenario, a few decisions of violence against woman were recorded through jirga that caught media's attention. As a result some doubts were created about this institution.

Tribal societies are normally reluctant to accept ordinary laws and formal judicial systems. The reasons are manifold. In Pakistan, the Pakhtun and Baloch tribes had resisted the British colonial rule for almost a century, and with their continued struggle compelled the then mighty power to surrender to their demands of making the rules of Shariah and their local customs as part of their laws. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.