Jirga: A silver lining in an intolerant milieu

Create: 05/13/2015 - 11:06

JALALABAD: The misfortunes befalling Afghanistan in recent decades have brought a whole host of many complex social problems, including widespread intolerance, to the war-devastated country. As a corollary, people have lost their patience and tend to fight on trivial issues.
But the continued ability of tribal jirgas to sort out such spats represents a silver lining. By employing this time-tested mechanism, proponents of peace and non-violence keep a lid on local problems. In the countryside, peace-loving individuals use jirgas to sort out local issues.
This last solar year, the families of Haji Hanif and Syedur Rahman lost one member and had 11 other wounded in a clash over a minor dispute in the Angorbagh neighbourhood of Jalalabad the capital of eastern Nangarhar province. The households were once known for good neighbourly ties.
Eruption of the spat
The ugly episode surfaced just before sundown in 2014 when Syedur Rahman was repairing his mud-house roof ahead of winter rains. Workers on the roof ask their counterparts on the ground to move swiftly to finish the task in time. The youth speed up, exchanging pleasantries. Hanif’s nephew, meanwhile, disembarks from his car and tell the workers in a lighter vein: Look, don’t get my car dirty; otherwise I will make you wash it.”
The workers on roof respond with broad smiles, but the smiles turn into grief all of a sudden. Standing in his home, Syedur Rahman occasionally uses harsh words to get the job done. As Hanif’s nephew came out of home, he saw a little bit of mud on his car and got into a fit of rage. “Harsh exchanges triggered a brawl, with my sons and nephews coming down from the roof a little while later. We came to blows and some were wounded. Thanks to people’s intervention, we were pacified,” Syedur Rahman recalls.
But angry sentiments do not go away that soon and each side continues to harbour hatred for the other. Hours later, youths once again clashed, landing their families in enmity. “At 7:30pm, we returned to confrontation. No punches and slaps this time. Knives and sticks came to replace blows. Two of my sons and as many nephews were severely wounded. One boy from Hanif’s family was killed and seven others were wounded,” he says.
Haji Qismat, a nephew of Hanif, says the clash site was littered with blood. “Although the cause of the second round of confrontation was minor, the outcome was so horrific. We suffered grievous injuries. Haji Mukhtar was critically injured.” In the evening, recognising people was difficult. For this reason, the injured bled for quite some time. Yet again, residents intervened and the wounded were evacuated to hospital.
He adds: “We took eight of our injured people to the Nangarhar Civil Hospital, where doctors suggested Haji Mukhtar should be shifted to Pakistan. We moved quickly but Mukhtar lost a lot of blood on the way. As we reached the Jamrud sub-district of Khyber Agency, he succumbed to his injuries.”
In the wake of Mukhtar’s death, relations between the families deteriorated to the point of all-out enmity. Fears of a third showdown grew. However, residents teamed up with security officials to keep the situation in check. A delegation from the governor’s house urges Hanif’s family to leave the case to judicial institutions. 
Fear of protracted hostilities
Before preliminary reconciliation endeavours began, there were concerns the enmity might engulf tribes and provinces, according to Syedur Rehman. His foe Haji Qismat agrees: “Absent a mediation struggle, there was a strong possibility of the feud morphing into a war between Nangarhar and Laghman provinces.”
Malik Nazir, who headed the jirga, holds an identical view. Had mediation been delayed, the crisis could have taken an uglier turn. Another member of the tribal forum, Haji Gul Murad, says: “It’s no ordinary issue and there were genuine fears of the enmity pitting one province against another.”
Peace endeavours
Intervention by the governor’s office and others tried to ensure the remaining part of the night passed without more clashes. Haji Qismat sys they were assured by the delegation from the governor’s house of an equitable solution.
Subsequently, the governor’s office attempted an out-of-court settlement by appointing a commission -- headed by Haji Nazir -- to deal with the case. Additionally, influential local elders also mounted pressures on the parties to bury the hatchet. And their efforts came to fruition.
Nazir says: “Initially we formed a committee including elders and traders to investigate the case on a fast-track and find a fair solution on a fast-track basis. Haji Abas, Haji Raees, Haji Gul Murad and Abdur Rahman Haddawal joined us in our sincere efforts to resolve the feud.
The negotiators convinced the parties that talks were the best solution. “We repeatedly asked them to visualise the horrible consequences of enmity and make peace as soon as possible. The two tribes and provinces will eventually jump into the confrontation,” he continues.
Syedur Rahman’s gave the jirga a blank cheque, pledging to accept any decision by the mediators.  After lengthy consultations, the rival family named its tribal chieftain Mullah Tarakhel Mohammadi as a peace negotiator. 
A jirga member, Haji Gul Murad, says he had paid the jirga’s cost solely for the pleasure of Allah. They approached a number of individuals who could persuade the victim’s family into entering mediation talks. “We thrice visited Kabul to meet Mullah Tarakhel, who spared no effort to hasten a patch-up.”
Also a parliamentarian, Tarakhel says he concluded after meeting the jirga members that resolving the case was urgent priority. “I called both sides and told them that peace was in their best interest. I also referred to Quranic teachings regarding the value of -making.”     
Jirga decision
Following a flurry of initiatives for 53 days at a stretch, the two sides agreed to end their enmity. The jirga subsequently announce a patch-up between the families. Tarakhel, a representative of Kuchis in the Wolesi Jirga, says the jirga verdict was based on consent from the two households.
“I reminded them of the Islamic law on the payment of Diyat (blood money)to the victim’s family could their enmity. At the same time, I explained, forgiveness is regarded as the best of all choices,” he says, adding everyone could not arrange for the required amount. Tarakhel reduced the Diyat amount to Rs3 million. Another sum of Rs1.5 million was paid to two of the injured. Subsequently, both sides accepted the decision and signed the peace deal.
Renewal of old friendship
After inking the agreement, the families are once again living in peace and cordiality. Malik Nazir insists the former foes have returned to the same old friendship. “With the revival of their family terms, their children have also started playing together.”
Gul Murad, who encouraged the two sides after the jirga decision to host each other, says: “The mediators have done a huge favour not only to the two families, but to their tribes and provinces as well. Both families are so happy that we didn’t allow their enmity to drag on and on.”
By arrangement with the Killid Group.