Struggle to unite Afghan tribes, one by one
On a recent day, a US Army officer offered to build a school if two embattled tribes would make peace.
(Page 2 of 2)
"I can guarantee safety from my tribe, but not others," declares Khan. "If the Taliban is going to kill the kids, first they will have to kill me."Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The Piraangei lead the Americans to another place, but Maligul insists on a deal-breaker: If the school is built on the disputed turf, there must be an official document saying it is Piraangei land.
"This land is useless!" says an exasperated Afghan US military translator, stepping through dusty knee-high scrub. "Why are they fighting over this useless land?"
That question dominates the second elder pow-wow, convened by Afghan officers in the afternoon. In the shade of the only tree left standing, the Piraangei state that documents in the provincial capital, Gardez, will prove their case. They want all Sultan Khel families moved away until it is settled.
The American offer of the school appears not to be a factor.
"Even if you fight and fight and fight, in the end you must solve this problem by talking," lectures Lt. Col. Fazel Rahman, an Afghan battalion commander who says the government aim is to ensure "no more dead."
With no agreement in sight an hour into the confab, the officers point to another reason for peace. "If you don't come down [from the mountains], fighting will start, and the BBC and Washington Post will not say there were two tribes, but Taliban fighters and the government couldn't stop them," says Colonel Rahman.
Amid threats of firefights and funerals, the Afghan officers draft a written agreement for both parties to sign, pledging not to resume fighting and to cease any harvest of trees from the disputed land.
"This is awesome," says US Army Lt. Col. Dave Woods of Denbo, Pa. The commander of the 4th Squadron 73rd Cavalry, he's sitting a few feet back, up the stony hillside. "Think about it. I ain't down there. And no one is shooting at each other on the mountain." Instead, his Afghan counterparts are mediating, putting Afghanistan one step closer to establishing order and security themselves.
But elders here are reluctant to sign anything, despite the added school inducement. Running out of patience, Rahman makes a dramatic gesture. He literally tears up the agreement, and warns: "All of you go to the mountains, and we'll send artillery strikes onto all of you!"
At last, an agreement
Finally the bickering men reach a verbal agreement. There will be no fire fights. The Sultan Khel families can stay, but there can be no more "taking from the trees." And four representatives from each tribe will journey to Gardez the following Sunday, to get documents and face a judge. If a single representative fails to show up, that side automatically forfeits the dispute.
While the results of the meeting with the judge were unknown at press time, the day's events were a small step towards peace in this corner of Afghanistan. "I call that progress" said Woods diplomatically, giving an assessment of the proceedings.
"Right now they brought us together," acknowledged Maligul, the Piraangei elder. "Otherwise we would be separate."