Society and norms – Village Governance

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Afghanistan is an enormous network of isolated communities.  As a result, communities vary significantly from region to region. In the smaller villages there are no schools, no stores, nor any representative of the government.  Every village, regardless of its size, has three sources of authority within it: the malik [Mah-LIK] or khan [khan], the mishr [ME-shur], and the mullah [MUL-lah].village jirga

A Malik is the village headman, who may also be a Khan, a wealthy landowner.  The village elder is known as a Mishr.  The village elder or elders are held in high esteem.  They may not be the ultimate authority, but their input is highly respected in decision making.  The Mullah is the leader of Islamic values and teachings.  Because society is so firmly entrenched in Islam, a Mullah can hold great power.  Mullahs may well be closely connected to powerful religious networks within and outside the country. The Mirab [me-ROB] is one who controls water distribution in the village, but typically is not part of the authority structure. Commonly, a khan will exercise control over a whole village by assuming the role of both malik and mirab.

In rural settings, significant decisions are made via a council meeting known as a “jirga” [JIR-Guh].  The village authority structure will be seated prominently at the head of the assembly. Guests or visitors will typically sit close to them by seniority.  Village or tribe members will congregate around an open area in the center.  The centerpiece for the assembly may be a large rug, cloth or blanket.

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