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Opinion: Role of traditional leadership in Afghanistan

By Mohamad Mosa Ahmadzai-Afghanistan is a historical country which has a glorious history, traditions and civilization—the Aryans who settled in the current Afghan geography have created tribal governments and thus tribal leadership has emerged. The tribal leaders led the people and shouldered responsibility to solve their problems and brought changes in their life. Various tribes chose a king for themselves, the king in return used to choose his own representatives for the administration of every area, the  representatives not only helped the king financially, but also they supported the king during war times militarily. Thus the traditional leadership was a solution for the problems, countering enemy and leading the people though there was no governmental system as present, but all the affairs of a community were led and administered by traditional leadership.

The governmental system in Afghanistan was established in 1747 when the grand assembly (Loya Jirga) in Qandahar chose Ahmad Shah Abdali as the king of Afghanistan and he brought important changes in the social and political fields, making Loya Jirga was not a difficult task at that time socially. Tribal leaders were known by the subjects of their particular tribe, they mostly focused on the interests, requirements and affairs of their own people so their decisions had the full endorsement of the people and were considered important. Ahmad Shah BaBa who was a national, farsighted, honorable, political and social personality maintained amicable ties between people and their tribal leaders, therefore he took their opinions in all the important issues and decisions as it was mentioned earlier that the tribal leaders played important role in bringing changes in the country so Ahmad Shah BaBa would maintain relations between his own tribes and other tribes. He was a bridge between the people and their leaders, traditional leadership and traditional values of that time helped in bringing social changes and maintaining of political stability. Tribal leaders used to lead their tribes and people in a very difficult time, they bolstered and defended the central government and led the war for independence for their people against foreign occupiers. From the time of Ahmad Shah BaBa till the collapse of Mohammad Daoud Khan’s republic, tribal leaders had been playing an indispensable role in creating rapport between the people and central government. But the three decades of conflict in Afghanistan and the coup of Khalq Democratic Party against the Mohammad Daoud’s republic has diminished and weakened the role and influence of traditional leadership and values. Tribal leaders were either killed or fled at the end of war and Jirga has lost its previous value and importance. Ties between central government and tribal leaders have ended in dichotomous parts of the country which weakened and diminished the role, authority and influence of tribal leaders, Khans and Maliks. The role of ideological oriented people has increased in the political spectrum of Afghanistan, the penetration of warlords and jihadi commanders has vehemently decreased the role and influence of tribal leaders, Maliks and as well as Khans. Warlords and Jihadi Commanders overwhelmingly emerged in the political scenario as the sole repository of power and authority and their role was so detrimental for traditional leadership and values which was not inevitable for tribal leaders to lead people and solve their problems through traditional leadership and customary doctrines. Afghanistan’s neighbors, the Soviets and the indulged parties in the Afghan war against the Soviet Union has diminished and weakened the historical, traditional, cultural, tribal and national values of the people of Afghanistan, the role of traditional leadership has declined drastically in bringing social trends and political mobilization at the end of three decades of war and thus political turmoil and social instability has increased. But still tribal leaders play an important role in leading people and the resolution of their disputes apply traditional mechanisms rather than governmental mechanisms for the resolution of their confrontations, even people in cities apply traditional laws as the most viable technic for the resolution of their private disputes, traditional leadership derive it’s source from traditional and historical values.

Max Weber idea is important for knowing the types of traditional leadership, he classified it into three types such as charismatic leadership a good instance is Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela in charismatic leadership. Leaders lead people through their charismatic attributes, the  second type is legally rational leadership and it refers to disciplined groups and a good instance is modern states and the third type is traditional leadership.

Max Weber was of the opinion that traditional leadership is prevalent in those societies, in which formal governmental system is weak; in this type of leadership the decisions are taken by tribal leaders. Tribal leaders lead society through various path or mechanisms, important examples of traditional leadership are Jirga and Maraka in Afghanistan.

Jirga has a longer history in Afghanistan and it does not depend on a particular tribe or region. Historically Jirga played important role in the resolution of family feuds, regional and national contentions and currently it does as well. Jirga is an important part of our social life historically and culturally besides the resolution of disputes Jirga is also important in the establishment and maintenance of relations among people, it brings social cohesiveness. Jirga has been held in worsen and critical situations in Afghanistan and put an end to the problems of people peacefully on regional and national levels and it still kept its relevance as an important tool in the resolution of major disputes in various regions of the country.

Jirga is incompatible with international norms and it does not belong only to Pashtuns but also it has a united national value and a mechanism for the resolution of disputes in the long course of history people benefited from Jirga in the resolution of their disputes, in non-Pashtun areas Jirga is named as Shura and it can also be applied for the resolution of disputes. Tribes are divided into small portions in Afghanistan and each portion is named after family, in every area and village several families live together, elder of a family or village has the responsibility for leading family and village, elders of the family and village resolved the disputes of their people and increased their influence. Family feuds such as inheritance, contention in relation to marriages are resolved by elders within a family, families do not want outside intervention in their contentious affairs by any forces such as tribe and government that’s why a lot of feuds and disputes within a family are resolved by the families themselves. Jirga is the valuable solution for regional, tribal and national contentions but there is difference between Maraka and Jirga. Jirga consist of prominent tribal leaders for huge and important disputes or problems but Maraka is held for the resolution of smaller issues and disputes, in the long course of history people have been benefiting from Jirga or Maraka for the resolution of their disputes. Jirgas are divided into various types such as national Jirga, tribal Jirga, and Loya Jirga. Jirga are occasionally made for important issues   and tribal leaders represented their people in Jirga, that’s why the decisions of Loya Jirga is considered legal and important, Loya Jirga has an important place in the history of Afghanistan.

The ministry of Tribal and border affairs of Afghanistan and the international community has to make plans and policies for the security and as well as safety of tribal leaders, help them in the upholding of their role and influence, and make the Afghan youth familiar with the traditions of their past and it has to preserve the traditions, customs and values of the people. Warlords and fundamentalist groups has also weakened traditional leadership and decreased its role, the ministry of tribal and border affairs has to facilitate coordination and relations between government and tribal leaders. Support of tribal leaders and the increase of their role, will lead to peace and stability in Afghanistan. Moreover, it will decrease the distance between government and the people, will decrease the role of warlords and fundamentalists and will provide conditions for political, economic and social stability. Today tribal leaders are facing persecution by warlords and fundamentalist groups that is why the relations of public with government has been unbalanced and the Afghan society has lost it’s real path towards peace, stability and development.


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