Local peacebuilding urgently needed to reduce insecurity in Afghanistan, Oxfam says

By Oxfam

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — Land, water, and family disagreements are the major causes of local insecurity in Afghanistan, according to a report by Oxfam International, which calls for a new approach to bringing peace to the country.

An Oxfam survey in six provinces across Afghanistan shows 50% of Afghans consider land and 43% consider water as major causes of disputes. Given the importance of family and tribal affiliations, and with arms widely available, these disagreements can easily escalate and flare into violence.

Oxfam's survey shows that while Afghans see the Taliban, warlords, and criminals as their biggest external threats, disagreements over resources are the main causes of insecurity in their daily lives.

Despite the evident importance of building peace at the local level, so far national and international responses to insecurity have focused on military efforts and on high-level or political initiatives rather than grassroots work.

"Existing high-level measures to promote peace in Afghanistan are not succeeding, says Matt Waldman, Oxfam International's policy adviser in Afghanistan. “This is not only due to the revival of the Taliban, but because insecurity often has local causes, such as disputes over land, water, and family concerns. In many cases these local disputes can turn violent and escalate into factional conflict."

"Whilst local disputes don't attract the same headlines as the Taliban, they cause insecurity, undermine quality of life, and hinder development efforts. Militants and criminal groups also exploit local conflicts and rivalries to strengthen their positions," according to Waldman.

Oxfam's research shows that to resolve disputes most Afghans turn to traditional community and tribal councils, known as shuras. Oxfam is calling for a national network of peace-building projects to work with local people, officials, and shuras to build their capacity to resolve disputes through techniques such as mediation, negotiation, and conflict resolution.

The projects also seek to develop trust and cohesion between families, communities, and tribes—the building blocks of Afghan society—and help them to improve their relationships with one another.

"Oxfam's research shows that Afghans most often turn to tribal or communal shuras to resolve local problems, but little has been done to help shuras resolve disputes fairly and effectively,” says Waldman. "Local peace building has had excellent results but benefits only a fraction of Afghans because it has received so little international support. The country urgently needs a nationwide network of peace-building projects. It is a long-neglected but essential part of achieving peace and stability in Afghanistan."

In the Oxfam survey of 500 people in six provinces, Afghans were asked what were the major cause of disputes:

  • 50% said land;
  • 43% said water;
  • 34% said family concerns.

(Note: respondents could give more than one cause.)

When asked which were the greatest threats to their security:

  • 16% said the Taliban;
  • 14% said warlords;
  • 13% said criminals;
  • 11% said international forces.

To resolve a dispute:

  • 55% would go to a community or tribal shura;
  • 36% would go to the police;
  • 21% would go to the district governor or other official.

Some peace-building organizations have established "peace shuras" to promote more effective dispute resolution and to bring communities and factions together. In Farah province, a peace-building project helped to resolve a 25-year-old dispute that caused the deaths of eight people. Some peace-building projects have also ended forced marriages and the beating of women and children.

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