Pashtun jirga needed to combat growing militancy

Some Pashtun scholars believe the jirga is the only forum that can isolate militants and religious extremists in society

Hassan Khan


PAKISTAN, Islamabad – A jirga – historically the most effective instrument of conflict resolution in Pashtun society – is being considered by some as the last option capable of addressing the prevailing state of unrest in the Pashtun areas across the Durand Line.

The visible failure of formal state institutions in harnessing the growing militancy and lawlessness in Pakistan’s northwest and tribal areas is paving the way for a revival of the informal but socially effective institution of jirga to address growing militancy and extremism.

Besides addressing inter-tribal disputes, Pashtun jirgas historically were convened to rally tribes against external threats and common enemies.

“The present situation direly needs a grand Pashtun jirga”, said Afzal Khan Lala, a leading nationalist politician who convened the November 2000, Pashtun loya jirga in Peshawar.

The two-day Peshawar-jirga was attended by a large number of Pashtun political leaders, tribal elders, writers and professionals from all walks of life from Pakistan, Afghanistan and other countries.

“If I was not in virtual house confinement, I would have, by now, arranged this jirga”, Khan Lala said. Because he is a high value target for Swat militants who have already tried once to assassinate him, security forces have restricted Khan Lala’s movements, and he remains at his home in Dureshkhela, upper Swat.

The first task for the jirga is to contemplate how terrorism and militancy gripped the Pashtun lands. “But the vital challenge for the jirga will be formulation of a strategy to get rid of this menace and secure the future generation”, Khan Lala said.

Roedad Khan, a former civil servant and leading columnist, said an emergency Pashtun jirga must be convened without wasting more time.

“We have lost too much. Lost our lands, culture -- even the future is bleak”, Roedad said.

Roedad said state and government institutions have thrown the Pashtuns to the wolves.

“It is time for the Pashtun now to sort it out through their qaumi (national) jirga”, he said.

Roedad also said he opposes the inclusion of political leaders in the jirga process.

“In a Pashtun jirga, you have to express your mind freely, but politicians, in any case, always follow the party line”, he said. Iqbal Zafar Jaghra, Secretary General of the leading opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), also wants to convene the jirga, but disagrees with Roedad and Khan Lala about its representation.

“The jirga I have in my mind is a type of mini APC (all Parties Conference) of Pashtun political leaders representing all political outfits of country”, Jaghra said.

He added he thinks this jirga must deliberate about how to end militancy in the Pashtun areas.

The veteran league leader said decisions made in jirga through consensus have a built-in implementation mechanism due to their moral authority and weight.

“Consensus decisions of jirga have the backing of (the) whole nation”, Jaghra said, adding that even the government honours such decisions.

However, keeping the complexity of the conflict in mind, Jaghra believes the jirga needs to be broad-based.

“This is not only the Pashtun problem. We need to include others in the process also”, Jaghra said, referring to nationalities such as Punjabis, Sindis and Balochis.

Talking about the need for a grand jirga, noted religious scholar Dr. Farooq Khan said it is the only forum that can isolate militants and religious extremists in society.

He believes jirga represents the collective approach of Pashtun to any external threat. Once militants and extremists are declared as the enemy then Pashtuns, as a nation, will view them as the enemy. Only through a jirga can these elements be isolated.

Salim Saifullah Khan, President of Pakistan Muslim League (PML) and a senior Pashtun politician, said he has considered organising a jirga for some time.

Salim’s family has successfully organised a local lashkar (private army) through a jirga in his home district Lakki Marwat. Lakki Marwat, in the southern NWFP and bordering tribal areas, is successfully secured by the local lashkar from the militants.

“The lashkar is formed by our own jirga and is supported by segments of society”, Salim said, adding that the Lakki Marwat model can be replicated in other areas that need a grand jirga.

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