Tribal elders, not top officials, may be key to Afghan peace

In a province in Eastern Afghanistan that has been hit hard by violence, tribal elders have managed to secure a cease-fire between the Taliban and the Afghan government – something international leaders have been unable to do. 

Parwiz/Reuters
Afghan men greet each other outside a mosque after prayers during Eid al-Fitr, a Muslim festival marking the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan in Laghman province, Afghanistan on May 24, 2020.

Tribal elders in eastern Afghanistan have achieved something that has long eluded world leaders – a cease-fire between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

The month-long stoppage in hostilities in the Alingar district of Laghman province, one of the hardest hit by violence, was called to allow local farmers to harvest their wheat crop and students to sit annual examinations.

“A cease-fire has been something the world’s most powerful countries were trying to establish in Afghanistan, but unfortunately, couldn’t,” Jaber Alkozai, resident of Alingar, told Reuters on Wednesday.

Tribal elders drafted a demand letter, known locally as an “Ariza,” which was then signed by two local officials of each the Taliban and the government.

Reuters has reviewed a copy of the letter. There have been no reports of fighting in Alinger since the cease-fire began on Tuesday, despite heavy clashes elsewhere in Laghman.

The cease-fire, which will last until June 21, is not the first such agreement during the war, but it comes at a critical time. Fighting has intensified across the country in the wake of Washington’s announcement that it would unconditionally pull out all United States troops by September.

Washington-led Western capitals and other influential regional countries have so far been unable to convince the Taliban to halt fighting against Afghan forces for an extended period, despite protracted attempts and talks.

Qari Nabi Sarwar, a tribal elder of Alingar, said farmers had been facing another year of the loss of ready-to-harvest wheat due to fighting. Dozens of stacks of wheat were burned to ashes in previous years after being hit in crossfire by ammunition, including rocket launchers.

“Farmers were preparing to get the result of their toil, and the Taliban and Afghan forces were fingers-on-triggers, looking for a small excuse to fire at each other,” Mr. Sarwar told Reuters by phone.

Farmers in the region plan to begin their wheat harvest on May 22, which marks the first day of the third Afghan solar month of Jawza, traditionally the start of harvest across the country.

Haji Abdul Waris, a member of the delegation that approached both sides, told Reuters the cease-fire would also prevent thousands of students from missing their exams “as their schools are turned into trenches.”

Locals are happy with the development because they believe it serves as an important example that a cease-fire across Afghanistan can be achieved by “true and honest” tribal elders, Mr. Alkozai said.

Asadullah Dawlatzai, a spokesman for the Laghman provincial governor, said the government was working with local tribal elders and religious scholars to expand the cease-fire into other areas.

“Through this, the local government is trying to reach a permanent cease-fire even if it is on a village, district or provincial level,” he said, adding that it was also in force in Laghman’s provincial capital, Mehtarlam.

A spokesman for the Taliban did not respond to requests for comment. A source in the insurgent group confirmed the Taliban had agreed to the arrangement, which they described as an agreement with locals, not the government.

The one-page demand letter, signed by local government officials, the military, and the Taliban, stipulates both sides will remain limited to areas already held and will undertake no movement or operations during the cease-fire.

“Both sides must take tribes’ problems into consideration and help them in solving them; whichever side violates the above mentioned items will be guilty before the tribe,” the letter said. 

This article was reported by Reuters. 

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