Loya Jirga (Grand Assembly)

Loya Jirga is literally "a grand assembly" a phrase taken from the name of large meetings held among certain central Asian peoples. The words loya (great/grand) and jirga ("council", "assembly", "dispute" or "meeting") are of Turco-Mongolian origin and originally it means in the Mongolian and Turkic language "great tent" (Ger, meaning tent).

In contemporary Afghanistan Loya Jirga is a national council of notables, tribal chiefs, religious leaders, which may be called to assemble in order to address a major issue, problem or reform considered important to the nation. Originally called upon by Ahmad Shah Durrani in 1747, it was time-honored tradition to gather members of all ethnic groups to support the establishment of modern Afghanistan. Uniquely Afghan in nature, it is a consensus-building mechanism based on the Pashtun institution of Jirgah, which in tribal structure refers to the council of elders, tribal leaders, lineages, clans, qaums or heads of families.

During Amir Abdul Rahman Khan’s rule (1880-1901), the Loya Jirga included certain Sardars (princes), important khans (rural elites) and religious leaders. That tradition was maintained until the Communist coup in 1978.

In June of 2002, after the Taliban was driven from power, the new Interim Administration was chosen by a Loya Jirga, comprised of roughly 1,500 delegates from around the country which gathered in Kabul. Each of Afghanistan’s 362 districts had at least one seat, with a further seat allotted for every 22,000 people. 160 seats were also given to women. No group was excluded, except for those alleged to have committed acts of terrorism or suspected of crimes. In January of 2004, a second Loya Jirga ratified the newly-drafted Constitution of Afghanistan. The Taliban was not represented, though groups sharing some their views participated.