The "Grand Assembly
" or "Great Council
" of Afghanistan
, convened from time to time in order to settle matters of grave
Etymologically, "jirga" refers to a circle, implying a general gathering of people sitting down to discuss and settle disputes. Jirgas are often held at the local level to discuss matters of import to families of communities. This process seems to be related to the pre-Islamic concept of shura, or "consultation."
There have been several important Loya Jirgas in the region's history, including:
- In 1709, the tribal chief of the Ghilzai, Mir Ways Hotaki, called a Jirga involving the peoples of Kandahar, Farah, and Sistan to discuss an insurrection against the ruling Persian Safavid dynasty. The Jirga chose Mir Ways as leader, who helped throw off Persian rule.
- Similarly, Jirgas were held in Herat in 1717 and 1719 to choose leaders following successful anti-Persian rebellions in those regions.
- A Jirga at Kandahar in 1747 helped propel Ahmad Shah Durrani to rulership, sparking the creation of the Afghan Empire.
- Amir Amanullah Khan convened a Jirga in 1924 in Kabul, consisting of some 1,054 delegates, in order to adopt a national constitution. Subsequent Jirgas in 1928 resulted in the passage of reforms, including statements in favor of women's' rights. A new constitution was passed by a 1930 Jirga.
- The current king-in-exile of Afghanistan, Zahir Shah, opened a Jirga in 1941, in which the country's policy of neutrality was ratified. Another one was held in 1964 to pass yet another constitution.
- The pro-Soviet government that came to power in the coup of 1973 held a Jirga in 1977 to formulate a new, Marxist-flavored constitution. The Soviets made even more use of the Jirga in the 1980s in an attempt to create sympathy for their occupation].
Since the coup of 1973, Zahir Shah has been making periodic calls (from his home away from home in Rome) for the institution of a new Jirga to decide the country's future. This call has fallen on deaf ears within the Taliban camp, though the Northern Alliance (and the official Afghan president in exile, Burhanuddin Rabbani) has given the idea some grudging approval. It remains to be seen what form, if any, the Jirga process will take, but it is seen by some in the West as the best process by which a post-Taliban government may be formed.