NEW YORK - A leading international aid organization has released a new study concluding that efforts to bring peace and security to Afghanistan are more likely to succeed if they build on the work of traditional councils and focus on the threats Afghans face in their everyday lives.
Land, water, and family disagreements are the major causes of disputes in the country, according to Oxfam International, whose researchers went door-to-door across Afghanistan's barren and tough terrain to conduct a survey in six different provinces.
Nearly half of the Afghans surveyed said land and water access are major causes of family and tribal disputes, which often escalate into bloody conflicts because weapons are so widely available in the country.
When asked about the "greatest threats to their security," only 16 percent named the Taliban and 14 percent cited warlords. Some 13 percent said they feel threatened by "criminals" while 11 percent pointed to the presence of foreign forces.
Oxfam officials criticized the Afghan government and its international backers for focusing primarily on military efforts and political initiatives to create a collective sense of security among the populace, arguing that peace building at the local level will have longer lasting impacts and be more relevant to the lives of the Afghan people.
"Existing high-level measures to promote peace in Afghanistan are not succeeding," noted Matt Waldman, the organization's international policy adviser in Afghanistan. "This is not only due to the revival of the Taliban, but because insecurity often has local causes."
"Whilst local disputes don't attract the same headlines as the Taliban, they cause insecurity, undermine quality of life, and hinder development efforts," said Waldman. "Militants and criminal groups also exploit local conflicts and rivalries to strengthen their positions."
Landlocked and mountainous, Afghanistan has been suffering from bloody conflicts since 1979 when Soviet forces entered its territory to defend the Communist government from the Mujahedeen Islamist forces backed by Pakistan and the United States.
As the proxy war between Moscow and Washington continued for well over a decade, millions of Afghans were killed, wounded, or forced from their homes. The armed conflict in Afghanistan continued even after the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the subsequent overthrow of the Communist government in Kabul.
In the following years, the outside world, including the United States, largely turned its attention elsewhere. In the mid-90s, the Taliban captured power and restored relative stability to the country along with an extreme Islamic ideology. Their rule came to an end in 2001 when the United States launched what its political leaders call the "war on terror."
Since then an international force has been present in Afghanistan with the aim to restore peace and stability.
Many analysts agree that there has been little progress towards peace and development in Afghanistan despite the continued presence of the United States and its allied forces, which entered Afghanistan more than five years ago.
Mindful that most Afghans turn to traditional community and tribal councils, known as "shuras," to resolve their disputes, Oxfam officials say there is an urgent need to establish a national network of peace-building projects to work with local people, administrators, and shuras.
Waldman believes that such projects would help develop trust and cohesion between families, communities, and tribes -- the building blocks of Afghan society -- and help them to improve their relationships with one another.
"Afghans most often turn to tribal or communal shuras to resolve local problems, but little has been done to help them," Waldman said. "Local peace building has had excellent results but benefits only a fraction of Afghans."
In his view, the need to create local projects for peace building remains an "essential part" of achieving peace and stability in that country, but it has been neglected by the international community for too long.
Oxfam says in some parts of Afghanistan peace-building groups have already started and positive results are becoming increasingly visible. In some cases, peace-building projects have succeeded in stopping violence against women and forced marriages, the group says.
It also cites a project in Farah province that helped locals put an end to a decades-old dispute that had resulted in eight deaths.
© 2008 One World