18 year dispute over piece of land resolved

Create: 07/14/2015 - 13:21

Residents of two villages on the periphery of Gardez, the capital of southeastern Paktia province, reached reconciliation after an 18-year dispute over a piece of land. The dwellers of Khitabi and Arjaal villages resolve their long-running spat, but not before more money on cases than the land’s value. Ironically, none of the parties could win the case despite their long legal battle.
The row became so intense that the opponents took to trenches, but sincere efforts by tribal leaders eventually dowsed the flames of hostilities. Thanks to consistent settlement endeavours by influential figures, the rift was resolved before it turned into a flow-blown conflict between the villages. Extremely happy with the settlement of the dispute, residents say people should steer clear of such knotty issues. 
Four honest individuals Malem Sher Ahmad, Haji Gula Din, Malik Nooruddin and Haji Afaq, backed tribal leaders, measured up to the challenge of striking a patch-up between the communities. Eighteen years back, the dispute over 70-acre of land erupted, recalled an inhabitant of Khitabi village, which is located five kilometres west of Gardez.
Haji Habibullah says the area is dotted with mud compound and most of its land is agricultural, producing fodder, wheat, apples, grapes, apricots and other fleshy fruits. Neither side could make use of this land tract over the past 18 years, with sides selling part of it to fund their court cases. As a result of elders’ decision, 52.5 acres of the land went to Arjaal residents and 17.5 acres to their rival. 
Dispute settlement:
Gardez elders say they were able to settle the issue peacefully in a short span of time. Sher Ahmad, one of the four mediators, explains: “Initially, we received a guarantee of 5 million afghanis in guarantees from both sides. When the jirga decision was accepted by the rivals, they were reimbursed the amount.”
Both sides are happy with the elders’ ability to sort out their protracted quarrel sooner rather than later. Arjaal tribal chieftains acknowledge government institutions had been unsuccessful in dealing with the rift despite the passage of so many years. One of them, Haji Ghulam Mohammad, remarked: “Our elders take effective decisions on ending disputes in a little while. We are glad they have addressed our issue only in 20 days, as the two parties endorsed their decision by putting our thumb impressions on it.”
By the same token, an elder from Khitabi village also expressed his pleasure with the jirga decision. Haji Habib observed: “We fought for 18 years, but the dispute was ultimately addressed by our elders.”
Another jirga member, Afaq, agrees the villagers had become fed up with the tiff before they approached the mediators for an amicable solution. “The opposing parties sold as much land to win the case as they had been fighting over…but we sought assurances from them and handed down a verdict based on ownership documents…”
While seeking credit for defusing the tension on a pleasant note, he claimed doing justice to both parties by demarcating the disputed land.
Government’s efforts:
Tribal jirgas alone do not suffice to decide land disputes. The government, too, has a central responsibility for disposing of such wrangles.  Prof. Noor Ahmad Shaheem, head of the human rights commission’s regional office in the southeast, blames large-scale land-grab incidents on governmental weakness.
In most instances, ownership issues are referred to local authorities. He laments: “Regrettably, we learn from the media that the state’s fragility has been the cause of encroachments on public and private properties. Under the law, the government is responsible for protecting these lands.”
But Paktia Prosecutor Azizullah Sahak insists they are paying greater heed than before to resolving people’s problems. Within the framework of law, the authorities are doing their best to address issues of public interest.
In the same breath, he elaborates: “Problems are resolved in accordance with the law and meeting legal formalities does take time and hence somewhat delay. However, we minutely look at all aspects of the law while dealing with land disputes.” More than 300 such cases were decided last week to the satisfaction of the parties involved.
For his part, tribal elder Sher Ahmad claims most of such issues in Gardez have been tackled by jirgas, which have also resolved problems that judicial organs could not decide in years.
Deputy Governor Abdul Wali Sahi says they are trying to bridge the gulf between the government and the masses to pave the way for implementing the rule of law. “Our emphasis is on keeping the people happy. We have always directed police and justice sector organisations to ensure fair-play and transparency.”
Lesson to be learnt:
Gardez residents acknowledge suffering heavy losses over the past 18 years when they were asked for bribes by government officials. Each party had appointed four people to pursue the high-stakes case in government departments. They say the cost of litigation was higher than the value of the land tract.
Sher Ahmad agrees most people remain engaged in litigation until they lose everything because they have to pay bribes to government officials on a daily basis. Many of the parties assign small groups of people with tracking their cases, thereby multiplying their expenses.
They approach elders for a negotiated settlement after having suffered big losses. The mediator advises litigants to go for jirgas soon after such disputes arise to avoid spending fortunes on a losing legal battle. “Our people tend to be aggressive; they accept jirga’s decision only after losing it all.
Haji Ghulam Mohammad says they are tired of long-drawn litigation involving a staggering cost. An individual or a party taking such cases to courts loses more than the disputed property. “Happy with elders’ decision, I want others to take their cue from us. The longer a case becomes, the more expenses it causes.”
By courtesy of Killid Group.