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Locals forge a peace deal in a sign of hope for Afghanistan

MEHTARLAM – For nearly four years, opposing clans pointed weapons at each across an almond grove set in the foothills of the Hindu Kush mountain range. Nearby elementary schools were shuttered, and waterlines were riddled with bullet holes. When the snows began to melt early this spring, locals expected more clashes to erupt, but then something unusual happened: everyone agreed to talk.

Results were notable: After years of conflict, a UN-backed peace initiative ended a longstanding land and social dispute, demonstrating the power of local communities to determine their fate through consensus-building, even against the backdrop of the broader conflict playing out across the country. The ceasefire, forged between the Shekho and Waleshani subgroups of the Pashaee minority, also demonstrates how local peacemaking can be inclusive and impactful, particularly when Afghan women, who are often sidelined, are given a voice at the table.

The Shekho and Waleshani clans have had disputes over the years. But in 2014, when clashes left two women and two children dead, surrounding orchards became a battleground. A larger armed conflict being fought in the mountains to the north fueled the intensity of the local feud.

To facilitate a ceasefire and move toward a formal peace accord, officials from the United Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) met repeatedly with the Waleshani and Shekho clans, helping to channel the expertise of elders and peace activists. After several months, Laghman’s Provincial Peace Committee agreed on the basic ground rules of a jirga, a traditional form of mediation used across Afghanistan.

“What happened in the Alishang district of Laghman is inspiring because it pushed the boundaries of what we thought we could do, particularly as pertains to the role of women at the table,” said Primrose Oteng, a UNAMA political affairs officer. “We hope to see a ripple effect in eastern Afghanistan.”

Although Mehtarlam, Laghman’s provincial capital, is controlled by the government, the region in and around the feuding villages had borne witness to Afghanistan’s long-running conflict, pitting large anti-government groups against the government, and against each other.

Laghman’s religious scholars and other community leaders, along with provincial peace activists, already had been talking with the Waleshani and Shekho. And as consensus was building toward peace, all outsiders were asked to stand down and allow locals to forge their own peace deal. In the end, external groups decided not to oppose the clans’ decision to talk.

Final consent for the three-day event was given by Laghman’s provincial governor, Mohammad Asif Nang. The Shekho authorized eight men and six women to attend, as did the Waleshani. Altogether, there were 21 Afghan peace mediators, including a representative from every district across the province. The three-day event in May resulted in a peace deal that provided both clans with the benefit of a ceasefire.

UN officials present at the jirga praised local mediators and called the deal an example of how local peacebuilding, given the right approach, could, in theory, alter the dynamics of regional stability by creating pockets of peace that are resilient to outside interference.

In an unprecedented development, Pashaee women from both clans not only participated in the three-day jirga, but also set up parallel meetings to collaborate on the best way forward. “I had not left my village for 45 years, nor my home for the last four years,” said a Woleshani mother, Bibi. “Attending this peace gathering opened my eyes, and I’ve been inspired by exchanges with other women on how to make a better world for our children.”

In the room, as the agreement at the end of three-day jirga took hold, clan members from either side reached out to embrace their former foes.

“Our enmity led to what everyone considers a complete disaster for four years,” said Shir Agha, a member of the Waleshani clan. “The jirga has – I hope – finally put an end to this catastrophe.”

A member of the Shekho clan, a school teacher, expressed similar sentiments, saying that women had been the worst victims of the clashes. “We have gained freedom for our children, but also as mothers,” she said.

As part of the accord, the two formerly feuding clans agreed to set up a lasting reminder of their good will: a neutral “green space” established between their villages to replenish a forest decimated during their conflict.

One local elder, Qamaruddin, said the peace accord already was having a broader regional effect. “This agreement will impact nearly 20 local villages, especially as this local conflict had left hundreds of children without a chance to go to school,” he said. “This deal is a small sign of hope for all of Afghanistan.”

About this Feature Story: The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has a mandate to support the Government of Afghanistan and its citizens in a shared goal of becoming a stable, open, and peaceful nation. The following news feature is meant to tell a human interest story related to how Afghanistan and the UN are working together to overcome the many challenges to achieving this goal.

1-099…. KarimaShirzad, a UNAMA political affairs officer, speaks with women from both clans, whose voices were raised at the peace table.

1-2014…..Afghan women in Mihterlam met to air their concerns and desire for a peaceful resolution to a four year conflict.

Shalagal1….Waleshani and Shekho men hug one another after they ink a permanent cease fire after four years of conflict.

Shalagal9….Waleshani and Shekho elders at a jirga facilitated by the United Nations help secure a peace accord between two clans in northern Laghman province.

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