Promoting non-violent resolution of conflict at all local levels will be essential to bringing, and sustaining, peace and stability to Afghanistan.  In Afghanistan's recent history, the most effective agents in advancing peace and security at the local level have been indigenous structures such as shura and jirga councils, as well as Maliks.

By Nina Sughrue

Promoting non-violent resolution of conflict at all local levels will be essential to bringing, and sustaining, peace and stability to Afghanistan. In Afghanistan’s recent history, the most effective agents in advancing peace and security at the local level have been indigenous structures such as shura and jirga councils, as well as Maliks. Maliks are key local power brokers throughout Afghanistan who serve as traditional arbiters in local conflicts, interlocutors in state policy-making, tax-collectors, heads of village and town councils, and delegates to provincial and national jirgas, as well as to Parliament. In Afghanistan’s predominantly rural society, these structures and individuals provide critical avenues through which citizens’ rights may be protected and views effectively represented in the political decision making processes.

Given the important role that Maliks play in Afghan politics and society it is critical to support and encourage democratic practices among Maliks, so that they may realize their potential as a driving force for institutionalizing democracy and advancing security at the local level.

In order to continue to build USIP’s Network of Afghan Facilitators (NAF), USIP Senior Program Officers Nina Sughrue and Keith Bowen conducted a three-day training workshop on conflict resolution techniques for approximately 40 Afghan Maliks on October 4-6, 2009. The Maliks hailed from Badakhshan, Bamiyan, Farah, Ghazni, Heart, Kabul, Khost, Logar, Nangarhar, Nimruz, Nurestan, Oruzgan, Paktika, and Zabul provinces. The program was conducted in conjunction with local partner the Welfare Association for the Development of Afghanistan (WADAN). WADAN has an extensive program training Maliks from all over Afghanistan in human rights, democracy, elections, and social justice. As such, WADAN suggested that USIP conduct an in-depth training on conflict resolution theory and practice for a group of their most influential Maliks. These Maliks have been resolving conflicts for many years; WADAN felt that they could and should increase their conflict resolution knowledge and strategies in order for them to make better decisions in their communities. USIP trainers saw this as a perfect opportunity to incorporate our NAF in this training program. As such, five facilitators from our NAF were chosen based on their previous experience working and interacting with Maliks to co-train with Sughrue and Bowen.

WADAN and USIP were in agreement that out of the five facilitators from the NAF, two women should be included. This subtle but significant development advances women’s participation and sends an important message about women’s rights in Afghanistan. For many of these Maliks, this was the first time they had left their villages and the first time for them to see Afghan women in roles of authority. As one of our senior women from the NAF told Sughrue, "I am actively engaged in this training by writing the notes in Dari on the flipcharts, facilitating groups etc. so they see that I am a member of the NAF and that I have something to contribute. The Maliks are now coming to me asking questions. This is a wonderful development."

USIP trainers conducted a one-day preparation session before the workshop with our five facilitators going over the agenda and defining the roles of the facilitators and the USIP trainers. USIP trainers and the facilitators after the prep meeting went to the workshop hall and arranged the room together -- ensuring that everything was set up properly before the workshop was to commence. This allowed USIP trainers and facilitators to work together collaboratively to design the workshop content as well as arrangements. This created a collaborative atmosphere at the outset, which only increased as the workshop continued.

The workshop included extensive instruction on conflict analysis and resolution as well as skills in communication, negotiation, and mediation skills. The workshop incorporated intense group work analyzing and designing conflict resolution strategies for ongoing conflict in the Maliks’ communities. The workshop was also a forum for the Maliks to share how conflicts are resolved in their villages, which was highly appreciated by the Maliks. One Malik was so impressed with the way one conflict was resolved in a village far from his Zarbol province he suggested that USIP and WADAN document all of the ‘lessons learned’ from the workshop and prepare them in a manual and/or publication so they can take these cases back to their communities to share with others. USIP will follow up with WADAN on this excellent suggestion to prepare case studies from the conflict shared during the October workshop.

The October 4-6 training was significant on several levels:

  • First: It was the forth training with our NAF and the first time co-training with several of our facilitators. This continues to build the capacity of the NAF, who will eventually conduct their own conflict resolution training programs. This was the first step towards achieving this goal.
  • Second: Although subtly, the program also exposed the Maliks to Afghan women in roles of responsibility. This was demonstrated by having two Afghan women as active facilitators in the workshop.
  • Third: The program also exposed the Maliks to a more structured way of analyzing and resolving conflicts, and provided a forum for them to learn from their fellow Maliks in different provinces. The Maliks were so enthusiastic about the training they urged USIP to bring this workshop to the remote parts of Afghanistan. One Malik told USIP trainers that we should be proud of ourselves because although there were only 40 Maliks in the room the influence of these Maliks is significant, and it was as if we trained about 2000 people.

USIP will continue to build the capacity of our NAF, and plans to provide additional conflict resolution training to the Maliks though WADAN's extensive Malik training program. USIP trainers saw this workshop as the first of many targeting such an influential segment of Afghan society. Their overwhelming enthusiasm for the program emphasized how much this type of training is needed and welcomed by the Maliks themselves.

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