Peacebuilding Manual/Major Causes of Conflicts

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Major Causes of Conflicts

Land and water. As revealed by project activities, land and water are the major causes of conflicts. This is due to a range of factors: multiple systems of land ownership, incoherent attempts at land reform, the seizure of private and public land by successive power-holders, the destruction of legal records, population expansion, forced migrations, and waves of displacement and returnees. The situation has been exacerbated by the impact of war and drought in causing a steady contraction in the supply of cultivable land, sometimes by as much as 80–90 per cent for a given district. Water is the second biggest cause of disputes. This is due to water’s importance both domestically and agriculturally, and the disruption of established patterns of supply and demand caused by conflict. The situation has been exacerbated by poor water management, insufficient irrigation, and environmental degradation. Frequent natural disasters compound existing hardship.

Poverty and unemployment Poverty and unemployment are considered the biggest factors in causing local insecurity. Given that those who are unemployed receive no social benefits, and many have large families to support, its impact is severe and can drive people to desperate measures. As one young man from Bamyan out it, ‘I have four family members who depend on me. Usually, I can only find work two days a week. I am not always able to bring home bread for my family; twice I decided to commit suicide’. An elder of the same district explained, ‘when people have no means of surviving they commit robbery’. Others link unemployment to criminality, disputes, and violence, particularly over resources. OHW's programme experience in southern Afghanistan also suggests that difficult social and economic circumstances can be a significant factor in the decision of ordinary Afghans to grow poppy or join anti-government groups.

Family disagreements. Another major source of conflict is disagreements within or between families. Such disputes can easily spread to tribes or communities, and in a significant number of cases relate to women, marriage, forced marriage or sexual relations. Violence can result from the transgression of traditional conjugal norms, such as the provision of dowries, arranged marriage, the custom of a family providing a girl for marriage as compensation for a crime (baad), or to resolve a dispute (badal), or the practice whereby a widow is expected to marry her deceased husband’s brother. Domestic violence against women or severely discriminatory treatment is also often a cause and consequence of family, tribal, or community disputes.

Tribal and ethnic disputes. Afghanistan’s people are a patchwork of different ethnicities and in some areas these differences hinder social cohesion. Despite a strong sense of national identity, ethnic and tribal affiliations have long been of significance.

Displacement. Waves of displacement, both internally and beyond, have placed additional pressure on communities that have been forced to accommodate large numbers of newcomers or returnees. Disputes arise when returnees seek to reclaim their land or other property, and social and cultural difficulties can be caused by the fact that many returnees acquire different attitudes or mindsets as a result of their experiences overseas.

Local government capacity The lack of effective institutions in local government and accepted processes for the management of civil affairs is inherently de-stabilising. This is compounded by the fact that Afghan civil society is not yet well established. This, and the lack of both physical and human resources, has rendered local government open to exploitation. Thus, the abuse of power at a local level, for personal, criminal, or other illicit purposes, is also one of the causes for local disputes.