Jirgas: The Pashtun Way of Conflict Resolution


Dr. Khan Idris’ thought-provoking study, Jirgas: The Pashtun Way of Conflict Resolution, argues that central to understanding Pashtuns requires an understanding of how Pashtuns resolve their conflicts. The role of local leaders in resolving conflicts at different levels is equally important. 

This book makes a convincing argument that religious clerics (mullahs) unite tribes using Islam as a chiga (a common rallying cause) to raise a tribal lashkar, or war party, against real or perceived invasion, threat from “the infidels,” or an occupation force from an “un-Islamic regime.” However, the mullahs are incapable of restoring peace afterward.  Dr. Idris suggests that the young local leaders and the mullahs easily mobilize the tribes for war, but the local elites must come forward to restore peace through the jirga process. The influence and prestige of the young leaders and mullahs increase in time of war while those same characteristics of the tribal elites expand in time of peace.  He also explains that the mullahs benefit financially when the tribes are mobilized for religious cause, while the elites are either totally sidelined or are forced out of the decision-making process when a mullah unites a tribe for a religious cause.   

A series of case studies in a small village in a Pashtun area of Pakistan are used to make a point that the jirga is a complex process in which the role of Pashtun leaders is critical. A leader’s influence and stature normally defines the outcome of a jirga. The study also emphasizes the fact that local super elites, whose influence crosses the tribal boundaries, play a critical role in resolving conflicts involving multiple tribes or individuals from multiple tribes.