UN-backed peace initiatives foster community cohesion in Afghanistan’s east

6 Jan 2019

UN-backed peace initiatives foster community cohesion in Afghanistan’s east

JALALABAD - In Afghanistan’s eastern region, two UN-backed peace initiatives in 2018 ended longstanding disputes and are continuing to demonstrate the power of local communities to determine their fate through consensus-building, even against the backdrop of the broader conflict playing out across the country.

The first initiative was set up early last year to address a dispute between the Shekho and Waleshani clans living in Laghman province, after clashes between the communities had left two women and two children dead, turning the fields around the area into a battleground.

As a result of coordination efforts by UNAMA’s Jalalabad regional office, the ceasefire forged between the Shekho and Waleshani subgroups of the Pashaee minority demonstrated how local peace-making can be inclusive and impactful, particularly when Afghan women, who are often side-lined, are given a voice at the table.

To facilitate the ceasefire, officials from UNAMA met repeatedly with the Waleshani and Shekho clans, helping to channel the expertise of elders and peace activists. After several months, influential local elders and members of the Laghman Provincial Peace Committee agreed on the ground rules of a jirga, a traditional form of mediation used across Afghanistan.

Final consent for the three-day event was given by Laghman’s provincial governor. The event in May 2018 resulted in a peace deal that provided both clans with the benefit of a ceasefire.

In an unprecedented development, women from both clans not only participated in the three-day jirga but also set up parallel meetings to collaborate on the best way forward. “I had not left my village for 45 years, nor my home for the last four years,” said a Waleshani mother, Bibi. “Attending this peace gathering opened my eyes, and I’ve been inspired by exchanges with other women on how to make a better world for our children.”

As part of the accord, the two formerly feuding clans agreed to set up a lasting reminder of their good will: a neutral ‘green space’ established between their villages to replenish a forest decimated during their conflict.

In a recent follow-up interview, Shiragha, the Waleshani clan’s elder, told UNAMA the peace agreement has remained intact. “We have been living peacefully, with schools and clinics operational and people living normal lives,” he said, adding that the formally feuding clans have been sharing expenses on rehabilitating community infrastructure.

For his part, Qamaruddin, the Shekho clan’s elder, expressed gratitude and satisfaction about the peace agreement remaining in place. As a result, he told UNAMA, people from his tribe have been able to work to support their families. “We can work here without any fear because there is peace,” he said.

The second local peace initiative in Afghanistan’s east took place in Jalalabad to address a land dispute last year between two tribes – the Khogyani and Kharoti. The dispute had escalated into a deadly conflict that disrupted the lives of more than 750 families, creating problems for neighbouring communities, forcing many relocations and preventing children from attending school.

Several families that relocated to other parts of Nangarhar faced the economic consequences of setting up new homes and new business and establishing new community relationships.

“I left my job because of the fighting,” said Shakila, a teacher from the Khogyani tribe, who, along with many others, was forced to stop going to work due to the risk of violence breaking out.

In August 2018, to facilitate a peaceful resolution to the Khogyani-Kharoti dispute, officials from UNAMA’s Jalalabad regional office met repeatedly over several weeks with leaders from the Khogyani and Kharoti, in coordination with Nangarhar’s Provincial Peace Committee, the Department of Women’s Affairs and prominent religious leaders.

The two tribes ultimately agreed to a three-day jirga, which took place in September 2018 and was led by a 21-member mediation team that met with representatives from both tribes. The jirga resulted in a jointly written resolution to end the dispute, with representatives of both tribes announcing that they would return to their communities and organize and implement the decision.

Notably, representatives from both tribes at the jirga included women.

“In the past several months, following the peace agreement, all the girls of our families have been able to go to school without any fear, and I am continuing my work as a teacher with special enthusiasm, without any worry,” Shakila told UNAMA.

An engineer named Hazrat said that, immediately after the jirga, all the families that had been displaced returned to their original communities, with many them taking up their original vocations.

Zarghona Naimi, a member of Nangarhar’s Provincial Peace Committee present at the jirga, noted at the time that women from both tribes actively participated and provided contributions. “Women played a vital role in peacefully resolving this conflict,” she told UNAMA recently. “I hope, in the future, women will be given more opportunities to do so.”

UN officials present at the jirga praised the local mediators and called the deal an example of how local peacebuilding can bring positive results.

Abdul Hadi, a member of the Kharoti clan, told UNAMA that if there had been no jirga, the situation would have become even more volatile. “The dispute could have led to more negative consequences for our families and our children,” he said. “Now, after some months have passed since the jirga, I have become hopeful that the agreement will foster a lasting peace between our two communities and enable us to work together on economic development.”

In other areas of the country, UNAMA has been working on similar community-level initiatives with provincial authorities and community leaders, including Department of Women’s Affairs officials, religious scholars and media partners, to support peaceful resolutions to local conflicts.

In accordance with its mandate as a political mission, UNAMA supports the Afghan people and government to achieve peace and stability. UNAMA backs conflict prevention and resolution, promoting inclusion and social cohesion, as well as strengthening regional cooperation. The Mission supports effective governance, promoting national ownership and accountable institutions that are built on respect for human rights.

UNAMA provides 'good offices' and other key services, including diplomatic steps that draw on the organization’s independence, impartiality and integrity to prevent disputes from arising, escalating or spreading. The Mission coordinates international support for Afghan development and humanitarian priorities.