Big cost of trivial tiffs and tribal council’s utility

Create: 05/18/2015 - 08:54

JALALABAD: In remote rural areas of Afghanistan, disputes over land ownership and water among cross-cousins and other relatives are common. Such clashes often lead to casualties and the parties involved bequeath a legacy of enmity to future generations.
Encouragingly, however, tribal elders and religious scholars are aware of their responsibility for dealing with these problems in the interest of peace and security. Five people were killed and wounded during a similar clash in the Surkhrod district of Nangarhar province a year and a half ago.
The firefight erupted over a garden between two the families in of Mohammad Roz and Abdul Ghaffar in Balabagh area in 2013. However, 22 days of frenetic endeavours by elders came to fruition and the dispute was resolved before it took an uglier turn.
Mohammadullah, who lost his father to the battle, says the garden belongs to a US-based Afghan named Mohammad Omar Khan. Both families are his tenants, but “Khan later authorised my father to find a buyer for it.”
Omar Khan’s family, during a recent visit to its home-town, tried to sell the garden. They offered a man, whose property is located close to the site, to buy the garden. But he did not respond to their repeated offers. Subsequently, Mohammadullah continues, Khan’s family allowed his father to dispose of the orchard. 
“With permission from the owner, we sold the garden to our cousin Haji Shah Lala. At that time, there was neither any objection to the transaction nor any expression of interest in the purchase of the plot,” he insists.
Lala, the buyer, echoes an identical view. “We asked Malik Ghaffar, who asserted his pre-emption right, at least 10 times to purchase the land of his relative. But he didn’t respond to our reminders.”
However, Malik Ghaffar denies receiving any sale offer. “I wanted to buy this orchard, lying cheek by jowl with my residence and hujra (drawing-room). But the other side opposed its sale to me.”
After sometime, Malik Ghaffar asked Shah Lala to sell him the garden. Mohammadullah, son of the late Mohammad Roz, agreed to hold a jirga with him in the Qargha Park of Kabul to sort out the issue. “A large number of people, including elders, gathered at the venue to discuss the matter. When the price issue came up for discussion, Malik Ghaffar disrupted the meeting, complaining the rate was too high.”
Eruption of dispute
After the jirga was scuttled, both sides returned home. It was on Friday (2013) that Mohammad Roz and his sons entered the garden to collect tangerines. “We were there to pick the fruit,” recalls Mohammadullah, who claims Ghaffar’s young nephew tried to stop them.
“The man said the Taliban have ordered both sides not to collect tangerines,” Mohammadullah recalls. His father retorts: “No matter who has issued whatever orders, I being an authorised agent of the owner have every right pick my crop.”
After an exchange of harsh words, the many went home and returned with armed relatives, according to Mohammadullah, who alleges: “Instead of talking out the issue, they opened fire at us. They shot dead one of their relatives (Naqibullah) and wounded another (Humayun). A year later, the injured also passed away.
“My brother and I were also wounded. Since we didn’t have weapons, we were beaten severely.” Haji Lala endorses his cousin’s account of the incident and says there are eyewitnesses to confirm they were without arms. “Contrarily, our armed opponents were ready for the quarrel, sitting behind the garden wall. They sent in a man before starting gunfire…”
On the other hand, Malik Ghaffar rejected the allegation they themselves had shot at their relatives. “Just think with a cool head if someone will kill their own people.” The fight, erupting at 10am, ended at 2pm as a result of intervention from local police. Several men from both sides were taken into custody.
Mohammadullah alleges Ghaffar’s men stormed their house after they were sent to prison. “Just before sundown, Ghaffar’s kin martyred my father, who was alone at home, and torched three of our compounds, as well as a 2006-model car.”
Jirga efforts
In a bid to prevent the situation spinning out of control, area people, elders and relatives of the warring parties swung into action. Nangarhar Dispute Resolution Commission head and jirga member, Haji Gul Murad, says he was in India when the spat surfaced. From abroad, he did all he could to ensure a settlement acceptable to both families.
“Along with my friends, I had been to India on a two-week visit. In the afternoon, I received a phone call about the incident. Initially, I didn’t take it seriously, but another call in the evening forced me to curtail my trip to eight days,” Gul Murad explains.  
On his return to Nangarhar, he earnestly explored all possible options of defusing the tension. “Immediately, I went to the provincial prison to meet the detainees. They gave me the green signal to sort out the dispute at all costs. Their families also gave me the go-ahead.”
With cooperation from the governor’s office, he managed to secure the release of some prisoners -- the first step toward an amicable settlement.
Appointed to bring about reconciliation between the rivals, Nangarhar Peace Committee Chairman Malik Haji Nazeer says the jirga received guarantees of compliance with its decision from the two sides. Later, the mediators visited the spot. “Although security was not satisfactory, we went there and found the root of the dispute.”  
Following the visit to the disputed land, he says, the rivals were convinced into observing a ceasefire. “The remaining prisoners were also set free, helping the mediators arrive at a decision.”
Mediators’ verdict
The dispute resolution process took 22 days, as mediators met at Haji Murad’s residence after hectic efforts. Prior to the crucial meeting, five mini-jirgas were held to iron out differences carefully. The decision was announced to both families.
Malik Nazeer says they saw to it their decision was fair and acceptable to all concerned. “The mediators and elders decided that Haji Lala, the garden buyer, would pay Malik Ghaffar’s family Rs3 million in Diyat (compensation) for the murder and Rs1.5 million to the injured.
“By the same token, Ghaffar’s family would pay as much money to heirs of Mohammad Roz. Another amount of Rs3 million would be paid to the two wounded men -- Rs6 million in all.”
Mohammadullah says the jirga members, in their absence, had imposed a fine of Rs4.5 million on Ghaffar’s family for torching their houses. But they have received only Rs600,000 so far. “The issue of garden’s sale has been left to the owner, who himself will take a decision after his return from the US.”
By courtesy of Killid Group.