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A jirga (occasionally jarga or jargah; Pashto: جرګه) is a tribal assembly of elders which takes decisions by consensus. It is common among the Pashtun people and, to a lesser extent, other nearby ethnic groups. Most jirgas are found in Afghanistan and among Pashtuns in Pakistan, especially near its border with Afghanistan.
The community council meaning is often found in circumstances involving a dispute between two individuals; a jirga may be part of the dispute resolution mechanism in such cases. The disputants would usually begin by finding a mediator, choosing someone such as a senior religious leader, a local notable, or a mediation specialist (a khan or malik). The mediator hears from the two sides and then forms a jirga of community elders, taking care to include supporters of both sides. The jirga then considers the case and, after discussing the matter, comes to a decision about how to handle it, which the mediator then announces. The jirga's conclusion is binding.
The jirga was also used as a court in cases of criminal conduct, but this usage is being replaced by formal courts in some settled areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan, elsewhere it is still used as courts in tribal regions.
The jirga holds the prestige of a court in the tribal areas of Pakistan. Although a political agent appointed by the national government maintains law and order through Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), the actual power lies in the jirga. The political agent maintains law and order in his tribal region with the help of jirgas. The jirga can award capital punishment, such as stoning to death in case of adultery, or expulsion from the community.
The Sindh High Court imposed a ban on the holding of jirgas in April 2004 because of the sometimes inhumane sentences awarded to people, especially women and men who marry of their own free will. The ban, however, has been ignored.
In the recent military operations against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan's restive southern tribal agencies bordering Afghanistan, jirgas played a key role of moderator between the government and the militants. The tradition of jirga has also been adopted by Muslims in the Kashmir valley of Indian-administered Kashmir.
The first all-female jirga in Pakistan, Khwaindo Tolana ("sister's group"), is held in Saidu Sharif and has 25 members. It is headed by Tabbassum Adnan and according to her has helped 11 women get justice as of 2013.
In some cases, elders holding a jirga have been influenced with money or other favours. One such report was: “I had to send my son as a bonded labourer with a jirga head for three months after he favoured me in a decision,’’ says a resident of Hari Ganwan. “Sometimes they seek money, which we cannot afford but have to pay.’’