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Traditional Conflict Resolution Institutions in Afghanistan

Afghanistan is located in one of the world’s historically and geopolitically perplexing areas. Its location in what could be described as the cross road of civilisations has always turned the country into a geopolitical hotspot.  For many centuries, Afghanistan has been a natural corridor for conquerors and traders that moved troops or goods from West to East, and the other way around.1From Alexander the Great, 328 BC, to the current turmoil in the country, Afghans have learned to live with conflicts of a complex nature. The coercions of foreign incursions tied with benefits of traveling traders and caravans, to the cruelty of a hostile climate and scarce resources have made Afghans adopt measures to match the challenges of living in this part of the world over the past centuries.

Afghan history is a landslide of conflicts, many imposed by foreign intrusions, and some originating within. These conflicts have often paralleled with the absence of a strong and effective state, resulting in Afghans developing traditional non-state institutions to deal with the recurrent social, economic, political, and military upheavals. These institutions have guaranteed the nation’s security in the absence of state.

The following is an outline of a number of traditional conflict resolution institutions and approaches used by Afghans for many centuries in Afghanistan. This is not a comprehensive list, but an outline of some conflict resolution measures widely used by Afghans. These traditions are still practised, and some of them commissioned by the state to deliver the services that the state has failed to deliver.



Jirga has centuries-old presence in Afghan history, from the days of mythical Afghan king, the great Yama. In contemporary Afghanistan the term Jirga is a constitutional term used for both houses of the parliament, the wolesi Jirga and De Mushrano Jirga. However, more traditionally, Jirgas are extensively used for conflict resolution all over the country.

The Jirgas have historically attempted resolving conflicts of varying magnitudes, ranging from negotiating small disputes between families to resolving enormous state conflicts.

The Jirgas are unique in that they actually have created states and governments in order to resolve the conflicts arising from absence of state. In 1709, and 1747, twice the Jirgas actually created new states in Afghanistan, and assigned heads of state. The later example led to one of the most successful governments of modern Afghanistan, which managed a vast empire in the Central Asia and the Subcontinent.2

The traditional Jirgas are the gatherings of elders of all parties involved in a conflict. The opposing parties in a Jirga declare at the beginning of the Jirga meeting their willingness to hand over their decision making rights to the Jirga. At the end of long periods of negotiations, whatever decision the Jirga makes, the parties involved in the conflict are bound to accept the decision.

If any of the affected parties refuse to accept the Jirga decision, they must pay an agreed fine, which tends to be quite significant in amount. In some instances, Jirgas have handed down ruthless punishments to those not obeying a Jirga’s decision.



Shuraa is similar to Jirga, but the term has been more often used to replace Jirga in parts of Afghanistan, mainly after the arrival of Islam to Afghanistan. It is therefore believed that Shuraa’s decisions are based on the Sharia, while Jirga’s decisions are not necessarily in line with Sharia.



The Maraka has similar proceedings to Jirga, but it tends to be smaller in scale, and has little national recognition. Marakas tend to take place between families and small tribes. One party to a conflict who accepts its wrongdoing in a dispute sends a delegation of independent elders and tribal chiefs to the affected party, and seeks a peaceful resolution. The Maraka tend to pass offers of fine and Tawan (see below) from the accused party to the affected party. The affected party negotiates the terms of agreement and the amount and type of the fine payable by the opposing party.



Hojra has two meanings in the context of conflict resolution in Afghanistan; Hojra can refer to the complex or the building in an area where most traditional meetings and Jirgas are held. Hojras are either the property of the entire community, and everybody in the community contributes to its maintenance, or it can be the property of the chief of the community, the Malik. The Hojra hosts the jirgas, and announce its verdict to the community.

Hojra can also refer to the concept of the meetings and gatherings held to propose solutions to problems faced by the community.


Jomat (Masjid)

The Jomat, or the mosque, is the place of worship, with the Mullah in the centre of it. The Hojra and the Jirga, from time to time, recourse to the Mullah for an Islamic opinion on disputes and conflicts, but the final decision tends to lie with the Hojra. In recent years, however, this balance has tilted in many parts of Afghanistan, and the Jomat has prevailed over the Hojra, often leading to conflict between the two institutions.



Nanawati is similar to Maraka, with one fundamental difference that one party has accepted accusation of a major wrongdoing that they’ve carried out either deliberately or accidentally, that has affected the opposing party significantly. The accused party sends a delegation of influential and impartial figures for Nanawati to the affected party, and seeks forgiveness and offers compensation and Tawan.



Tawan is the amount of money, the number animals (usually cows, camels, sheep etc.), and land given as a fine from one party to other in order to resolve a conflict. Tawan is usually facilitated by Jirgas, Marakas, and Nanawati, and takes into consideration affordability and the paying party’s ability to pay.


Bado Ki

Bado Ki is one of the more controversial conflict resolution tools in Afghanistan. It is still practiced in Afghanistan, and despite its controversial features, it remains one of the effective conflict resolution practices between families. It is mainly used where a party to a conflict cannot afford to pay a fine decided by Jirgas and Nanawati.

The practice involves marrying one or several women from one family – who is deemed guilty of a crime – into the victim family.  The crime involved in such disputes is usually murder that has affected one of the families. The cruellest aspect of this practice is the fact that it is usually, not always, done without the consent of the women. The women who are married Bado Ki tend to have a hard and abusive marriage life, usually in polygamy with elderly spouses. The woman’s family has no say in who will marry the woman.

The Practice of Bado Ki marriages is one of the most prominent women rights abuses in Afghanistan. The government, civil society and women rights groups have long campaigned against the practice and have, to much extent, discredited it among Afghans. It is, however, believed that Bado Ki marriages have saved many lives.



Ashar is where the community comes together to offer labour in building or completing a project that in the short term only benefits one family, but in the long term lends stability to the wider community, and reduces the likelihood of conflicts among people.  Ashars are called by an individual or a family, and the community is obliged to provide the necessary labour required to assist the family to complete the project in a specified length of time.

A family or individual that repeatedly does not contribute to Ashars risks isolation from the community.



The Bespena is a financial tool that aids families and individuals going through financial hardships. In the absence of state lending institutions and banks, Bespena ensures that those in need of a lump sum for a project or a plan, for example marriage or funeral, do not suffer.

Marriages that prolong for many years due to financial hardship of the groom tend to turn into a conflict between families. The Bespena prevents such conflicts from forming.

Bespena involves the entire community granting a small amount of money that sums up to a considerable amount for the family in need, so that it can pay for a particular disbursement, for example marriage. Bespenas are not repayable, but recipients are expected to contribute to community Bespenas in the future.



The Arbaki force is the traditional military institution in Afghanistan formed by tribes and communities to defend the public and the country, often against foreign aggression.  The other terms used to describe Arabakis are the Alijari, and Qawmi Kandakona, with minor differences between them.

The Arbakis are usually facilitated and sometimes funded by the state, where it fails to provide security and defence to its territories. In fact, all Afghan Armies before the 20th century were Alijari. Even today, the current Afghan Government have commissioned a vast number of Arbaki brigades throughout the country to fight Taliban insurgents. The Arbakis have repeatedly proved effective in restoring security in the absence of the state.

While Arbaki forces could be an effective resolution tool for military conflicts, there are also examples in recent Afghan history where, if not managed optimally, such forces have actually created and fuelled internal conflicts.

In addition to the above, there must be other traditional conflict resolution tools used in various parts of the country, which we will document and share as we learn about them.3


1-    The Spanish Institute for Strategic Studies (IEEE).  Geopolitical Analysis of Afghanistan. April 2011. Available on line at

2-    Sangarwal S. Afghanistan De JirgoWatan Dai. [Pashto] November 2013. Available on line at

3-    Tariq MO. Tribal Security Syatem (Arbakai)in Southeast Afghanistan. Occasional Paper. December 2008. Crisis States research Center. Available on line at

4-    Kacsó Z, Decean  A, Sabawoon S, Sharizfai S. Conley M. Contributing to piece consolidation in Afghanistan: Needs Assessments Country Report.  Romanian Ministry of ForignAffairs, May 2014.

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