By Hira Nafees Shah
With anguish in his voice, Adnan Rehman narrates his story. It is a tale of heartbreak and loss, in which three generations of the same bloodline were affected, spanning a period of 45 years.
It all started when a rival faction of Rehman’s family allegedly killed their dog. Eventually things escalated to such an extent that seven members of each family were slaughtered. The dispute over a dead animal ultimately resulted in the death of 14.
While the narrative sounds incredible, it is not unusual in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), where interpersonal conflicts can sometimes escalate into violence. Rehman hails from Mohmand Agency which is also a part of FATA.
Having experienced firsthand the havoc that internecine disputes can wreak in people’s lives, Rehman decided to take part in an Alternate Dispute Resolution training spearheaded by local human rights lawyer Rasheed Mohmand.
An alternative dispute resolution expert, Mohmand serves as Executive Director of the Tribal Reforms and Development Agency (TRDO), a non-profit organization that empowers FATA’s marginalized communities. In 2011, U.S. Embassy Islamabad selected Mohmand to participate in an International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) on “Community Dialogue and Alternative Dispute Resolution.”
During his exchange, Mohmand met with conflict resolution organizations working for community empowerment across the United States. Combining his local expertise with knowledge gained during his U.S. experience, Mohmand applied for an Alumni Small Grant to fund a Conflict Resolution Training Workshop that would serve as an alternative to the region’s Jirga system.
The Jirga, an assembly of tribal elders who resolve conflicts, has been in place in FATA for centuries, and is officially recognized under a Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR). The system is known for sometimes handing out unjust decisions. So when the Taliban militants set up their own courts, promising speedy and fair justice, many area residents initially saw them as a viable alternative. But ultimately the Taliban courts only resulted in further injustices, Mohmand explains.
“I arranged the conflict resolution training because I wanted to establish durable peace in Mohmand Agency and put a stop to the inclination towards militancy,” Mohmand said.
Mohmand’s project consisted of three trainings for 20 participants, all under the age of 40. Participants learned about the Frontier Crimes Regulation, the Jirga system, how to resolve disputes through peaceful negotiation, and how to create win-win solutions.
“The conflict resolution workshop taught us that it was useful to resolve our problems ourselves,” said student Moghul Ali, one of the training participants. “By developing skills in alternate dispute resolution, we were able to resolve such conflicts in which the clans were ready to kill each other, but after our intervention, peace was restored.”
Two local residents Gul Khan and Usman Ali illustrated how the trainees were able to help out the locals, giving an example of a dispute between them that erupted over equitable use of power supply. (Since the government does not provide electricity to the people in the tribal areas, they have to purchase their own power transformers.)
Soon the row took a deadly turn, resulting in an exchange of gunfire between the nephew and his uncle. But, loss of life was thankfully averted through the timely intervention of the workshop participants.
Khan complimented the way Moghul Ali resolved the dispute through thoughtful negotiation.
“Ali and his friends resolved our conflict in a way in which we recognized that their decision was right and were also ready to accept it without grudges,” he said. He added that it is unlikely the Taliban courts would have been able to resolve the dispute so that both parties would feel their needs had been met. “The verdicts that the Taliban issue are based on the use of force, which take away rights of the locals. People have to accept the decisions, but their hearts are not in them.”
Usman Ali added that the alternative dispute resolution process was preferable to the tribal Jirga, because “the Jirga involves giving bribes to powerful people in order to get a resolution in one’s favor.”
Mohammad Badar, another participant of the workshop, said the gratitude of residents like Gul Khan, was the highlight of the dispute resolution training and proof that the workshop was meeting an important community need.
“I feel very good when I resolve their disputes, and thank God for giving us so much respect, that the locals are willing to listen to us and accept our verdicts,” he said.
For the main organizer Rasheed Mohmand, his proudest moment was when his trainees resolved a particular case where the in-laws of a young woman were trying to take over her assets. She appealed to the alumnus’ team to provide support. With their meditation, the issue was peacefully resolved and the lady ended up keeping her possessions.
“Before, no one used to listen to women, but now the lady’s problem was resolved and the young participants made the elders realize that women also have religious rights,” Mohmand said.
The IVLP alumnus feels passionate about upholding the rights of the disenfranchised, due in part to his personal experiences. As a boy, he underwent several traumatic experiences when family conflicts escalated into violence. He was kidnapped twice and imprisoned for months by a rival faction.
Mohmand is proud of having conducted his workshop in the tribal areas, which are known for their inaccessibility.
“People don’t have courage to enter FATA, but we were able to work effectively for our tribal people and proved to be excellent implementers,” he said.
In order to make the project sustainable, the next step for the alumnus is to set up a conflict resolution center in Mohmand Agency, so the residents of the area can access a peaceful way to resolve disputes.
Mohmand hopes the center will pave the way for ensuring harmony and progress for the agency in the future.
DISCLAIMER: Names have been changed to protect the identities of the sources.