Rule of Law, The Afghan Springer Show

First, apologies for dropping off the blog for the past 2 months. I went on vacation and it’s taken a minute to get going again. Rest assured, there are plenty of things to discuss.

Rule of Law is one of the key aspects to “fixing” Afghanistan. When the Taliban dominated the country, they controlled the “courts.” As Taliban influence waned, the US and partner nations have sought to create a more traditional court system. I can’t speak intelligently on why “WE” decided to create a more western form of law in Afghanistan, but I can say, it’s not the correct approach.

I work in a remote district. It’s over an hour to the main provincial (think state) government center. The difference between the two places is about as extreme as possible. The villages, even the district center (think country govt) lack ANY essential services. There are no plumbing systems, no electricity, no garbage service…nothing. Yet, the people here survive; and dare I say? Thrive.

Like most farming folks, the people here like to be left alone. The people appreciate the Govt–Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan aka “GIRoA”–but they only want so much help. Rule of Law doesn’t fit into their needs.

So, how do rural locals settle disputes?

I just recently worked with a local governor as he negotiated the resolution of a 25 year dispute. Dispute doesn’t really describe what happened…feud is more appropriate. Each side had multiple murders, one family had 1300 fig trees destroyed. Decades of money in dispute. The feud was complicated enough that the Taliban failed to resolve the issue in nearly seven years of negotiations. Negotiations require buy-in from many parties…I could go on about this, but I doubt I can make it any clearer…

I’ll try…Group your family whackos…I’ll get mine…let’s mix in another family’s crazies..add guns and grudges…NOW get them all to agree on who they all trust to lead them through a binding negotiation. Did that help?

Finally, our district (county govt) governor is called upon to start the process of reconciliation. This BTW is MAJOR progress for the legitimacy of GIRoA. It means the people trust this man to handle this dispute. It might become national news (for Afghanistan) though you will never hear this story on any US network or .com site (except After weeks of massaging each side, pulling out their story, commitments (commitment to settle is vital in these things) and “evidence.”

An aside about evidence…in a society that is mostly verbal and illiterate, nearly anything written can become something that it is not…WTF are you talking about Pietro? What I mean is, give someone who can’t read a document. That paper is written in a foreign language, with foreign letters. Tell him its a deed to a piece of land…wait 35 years. Now, tell that man’s grandson that the land he’s been farming for 10 years; that his family has worked for generations, isn’t actually his.

Now he has nothing; he can’t provide for his family. Tell him, his paper is a receipt for a Persian rug, not a deed…explain that he owes the real land owner for the use of that property and revenues generated. Let me know how that goes…if you smell cordite it probably didn’t go to well.

Back to our story…The governor calls in Sharia/Islamic law experts and elders from both tribes and other community elders. Mix that group into a bunch of small rooms and start shifting groups from room to room…hours of discussions (which looks like arguing to me). Don’t forget, this thing hasn’t been settled before, it’s serious business, and here serious business is settled with an AK. At anytime the whole ordeal can melt into violence.

Success is fleeting. I have a gun, no fooling…I’m armed….

Have you noticed that I’ve not mentioned the county courthouse or lawyers and judges? Ya, no thanks, the proper way to handle this dispute is in a 10×12 mud walled room, no power, no running water, no cell phones…just a bunch of old men sitting on the floor.
Yes there are advocates and yes there are legal experts, but there’s no bench, or government intimidation…no confusing legal mumbo jumbo…it’s a law they all understand.

Then before I even comprehend what’s happened…it’s settled. I’ll have to explain the settlement when I better understand it…but the agreement is binding. It happened in front of my eyes and I never even saw it.

Dozens of finger prints (a man signs with a print instead of writing his name; remember these folks are mostly illiterate) the deal is done. The feud is done. The biggest thing to do now is feed the crowd, 60 plus people were involved. The elders hash out who owes what for the costs of the negotiation, nobody earns personal profit from working the settlement (lawyers you may shudder now).

It’s not how we define Rule of Law, but it works. If we as a coalition of forces can learn to accept this, Rule of Law might actually be a success in Afghanistan.

I need to post a picture…but it won’t make this any clearer…just a cool visual.

Did that make any sense?

10 thoughts on “Rule of Law, The Afghan Springer Show

  1. When you think about conflict resolution, sometimes it should all be settled in this type of way. Too many lawyers, too many politicians and too many others involved, besides a mediator makes a mess of a lot of problems. Glad to see that the situation got resolved in a way that was acceptable to everyone, and that it ended a 25 year dispute….. That is progress!

  2. I’m in favor of any settlement that doesn’t involve lawyers, and endless appeals by those that have more money. Maybe it’s time to move to A-stan… do they get DirecTV there?

  3. I would have liked to see my crazy family get involved. Just for entertainment purposes. I’m sure that if we/they were to get involved that it would have ended in gun fire, Us getting laid out and the two families realizeing that it wasn’t so bad to start with, and there you go, settlement and tribe unity from there on out. That could very well be the begining stratagy to world peace.

  4. Im all for a solution that doesn’t include a lawyer! Maybe they are onto something…

    America, we can be quite arrogant, assuming that our way is the right way. What works for one may not work for another.

  5. If it works, that should be the only thing that matters…BTW…Pete Riley would be proud of you…he planted the seed whether you realized it or not…your prose has exceeded his wildest dream…

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