“It is negotiations and dialogue that have been the dominant tool of conflict resolution, not force”

by Joshua Foust on 5/30/2008

One of the most insightful posts on the much-lamented Afghanistanica was where he tried to dispel the tendency amongst westerners to filter everything a Pashtun does through the lens of Pashtunwali.

What those journalists are leaving out are the concepts of Nanawatay, Rogha, Nagha and Jirga. All these concepts are, in some form or another, tools for reconciliation, forgiveness, compensation, punishment or justice. And guess what? They are included in Pashtunwali along with Badal [revenge]…

However, the Pashtunwali, local tradition, and public opinion do play a large role in structuring how, on whom, and where one may take revenge legitimately. It also lays out mechanisms for resolving such disputes through mediation or arbitration. Although lacking the power of adjudication that states take for granted, local communities can use social pressure to push for resolution of disruptive disputes, particularly in blood feuds where successive cycles of revenge attacks can only be brought to an end by the intervention of outside intermediaries.

He was partially quoting Thomas Barfield, an anthropologist with decades of experience studying the Pashtuns in Afghanistan and along the border with Pakistan. Why bring this up? The title of this post is a quote from an interview with Amir Haider Khan Hoti, ANP official who was recently made Chief Minister of the NWFP (HT: Grand Trunk Road). This was momentous news at the time, as Hoti is the great grandson of Bacha Khan, a legendary Gandhi-like figure in Pakistani Pashtun lore who led a successful and non-violent resistance movement against the British during Partition. And what does Hoti have to say?

If we look at the culture and tradition of our region, it is negotiations and dialogue that have been the dominant tool of conflict resolution, not force. When the conflict in Waziristan first started, our party’s stance was very clear and unequivocal: use the jirga system, do the necessary bits of negotiations; if we don’t handle this situation well, this tension will spill out and spread to the rest of the province. That is exactly what has happened.

He also draws a distinction between Swat and the rest of the FATA. As I say again and again: history matters, context matters, and we would do well to understand this before making prognostications based upon little other than our own biases and desires. The Pashtun “tribals” there (a condescending term; I prefer to avoid it) have many methods of conflict resolution other than war. And more has changed in the region beyond the presence of, by all counts, a few hundred to a few thousand extra foreign militants/criminals (let’s not forget the pervasive presence of drug and timber smugglers, and the transportation cartels, which have also had a nasty effect on both government control and perceptions of security).

Understanding the fundamental changes that have sparked the speed-up in conflict cycles is, I feel, the key to understanding the relationship of the various Taliban groups to the current conflict. And we would be foolish not to let the local secularists try to settle the dispute in the way they feel would be most effective. There will be more on this in the future.

This is part of a series examining the fundamentals of conflict around the Durand Line.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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