Afghanistan: Peace Shuras
The different wars in Afghanistan since 1978 have resulted in some 3 million people killed.
However, compared to other countries of similar size and political and economic instability, Afghanistan's peace structure is surprisingly strong. Harnessing a long tradition of tribal mechanisms for dispute resolution involving councils of the traditional elders of the villages, Jirgas or Shuras are now important mechanisms for peacebuilding in Afghanistan. Jirgas are usually a temporary or ad-hoc group of respected elders that convenes when necessary to resolve disputes. A Shura is a group of local elders or recognized leaders who convene regularly to make decisions on behalf of their community.
Afghanistan's formal justice system has traditionally been very weak and has limited presence outside of the major urban areas. These formal institutions, including police and court systems, suffer from limited capacity and widespread perceptions of corruption and inefficiency. As a result, it is estimated that 80 to 90 per cent of Afghans, particularly those living in rural areas, continue to look to informal, non-state institutions to provide justice. These institutions or Peace Shuras are often preferred to the formal court system because they are generally led by respected elders who have earned a reputation for fairness, who understand the local community, reach decisions on locally accepted values and norms, and focus less on punishment and more on maintaining community relations. They practice ‘restorative justice'.
Two important NGOs aiming for community peacebuilding, among others by establishing Peace Shuras, are CPAU and SDO. They have established several hundreds of Peace Shuras in Afghanistan. CPAU mentions to have established some 500 Peace Shuras in their reports. CPAU (Cooperation for Peace and Unity) was established in 1996 and works for the promotion of knowledge and awareness of peace, social justice and human rights as the foundation upon which the nation-building efforts in Afghanistan should be based. Through its ongoing training and coaching programs, CPAU works at district and local level to build up the skills and capacities of local community leaders and representatives from diverse ethnic backgrounds, strengthening the role of community institutions.
SDO (Sanayee Development Organization) was established in 1990. The community-based peacebuilding programs of SDO aim to strengthen the social structures that can enable the constructive transformation of conflicts. By addressing the root causes of conflict, they promote stability, justice, goodwill and cooperation among members of the community. SDO has established some 530 LPCs within 13 provinces.
CPAU reaches out in villages to local elders and Community Development Council (CDC) members to begin the process of forming Peace Shuras. All community members are invited to participate in selecting the members of the new Peace Shuras. The villagers elect some 25 male elders to join the new Peace Shura. Membership of the Peace Shura tends to overlap with that of CDCs, a government-supported shura that makes decisions about local development projects. Continuity and overlap with other existing institutions positively affects the local legitimacy of the Peace Shuras. Most disputes are over land/property; access to water, inheritance, family, marriage and financial compensation.
Where male Peace Shuras were created, some 25 women were also selected by female community members to participate in a women's Peace Shura, addressing family disputes especially when they involve female disputants.
Interviewed Peace Shura members estimated that they resolved 80 to 90 per cent of their cases. Consensus has emerged within the development community that non-state/local justice and security networks are often more accountable, efficient, legitimate and accessible providers of justice than the agencies and institutions of the post-colonial state.
Peace Shuras do not solve the overall conflict, but are important in solving many day to day conflicts and stop them from escalating into violence in this volatile country. Peace Shuras, well trained in conflict resolution and peacebuilding, seem to be able to reduce the gap between communities and formal governance structures. [I]
A National Solidarity Program (NSP), operated out of Afghanistan's Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, helps identify, manage and monitor development projects and resources. The NSP provides direct block-grant transfers to democratically elected Community Development Councils (CDCs) at 200 dollars per family. The CDCs improve local governance, making it more accountable and inclusive; they alleviate poverty and provide jobs. There are some 34,000 CDCs in existence, covering 80 to 90 per cent of rural Afghanistan. Many of these CDCs, especially those that are well established, have taken on conflict resolution and peacebuilding tasks. Many observers describe this program as a success. At the national level, a High Peace Council has been established.
[i] - Opportunities and Challenges for Justice Linkages; Case Studies from Kunduz & Takhar; (2010), by CPAU, Cooperation for Peace and Unity, Afghanistan
- Strategic Conflict Analysis of Afghanistan; by Bjorn Holmberg et all; (2012); Swede.peace and CPAU.
- TLO Local Peace Infrastructure Afghanistan