From Violence to Dialogue: Youth-led dispute resolution in Pakistan



The Newly Merged Districts in Pakistan are predominantly home to the Pashtun tribes. For centuries, society in these areas has been organised around tribal affiliation with tribal elders responsible for the administration of justice and dispute resolution. Serious disputes within and between tribes were managed by the traditional Jirga (council of tribal elders), however this was not always very successful or effective with tribal elders sometimes accused of corruption, bias, or simply lacking in skill or knowledge. As a result, inter-tribal relations became marked by cycles of violence and aggressive pursuits of power. Outside actors took advantage of this animosity in the 1990s and 2000s to build their own power bases, which drastically increased violence and insecurity in the area, resulting in war with the Pakistan Army.

The war in north-west Pakistan caused great social, political and economic upheaval, including the temporary displacement of over 5 million people from 2008 for almost ten years, and eventually led to the merger of the tribal areas into the full governance system of Pakistan. Although the formal Pakistani justice system and alternative dispute resolution system are being rolled out across the newly merged districts,traditional systems of conflict management and dispute resolution in Pashtun society remain the cheapest and most accessible to local communities. Most people believe it is undignified to air their grievances outside the Pashtun community and prefer to settle their differences using the traditional Pashtun system, the Pakhtunwali. However, a baseline study for Islamic Relief found that problems with the Jirga continue and inter-tribal relations are still characterised by mistrust, suspicion and aggression as a result of the war and tensions over ownership of water, land and forest resources.