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Commons at the Core of Conflict: Looking for Peace in Rural Afghanistan

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Wily, Liz Alden
Conference: The Commons in an Age of Global Transition: Challenges, Risks and Opportunities, the Tenth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property
Location: Oaxaca, Mexico
Conf. Date: August 9-13
Date: 2004
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/717
Sector: Land Tenure & Use
Region: Middle East & South Asia
Subject(s): IASC
common pool resources
land tenure and use--history
Abstract: "Afghanistan began its history as a modern state around 1880, bringing a complex of ethnic entities and territories under one umbrella, and, as it was to prove, mainly under the domination of one group. Social and territorial colonization ensued, aided and abetted by the great powers, and of which the war of the last quarter century has been but a watershed. Civil disturbance continues. This paper argues that a critical driver in past and continuing conflict is contested land rights, and especially those relating to common properties and pasture in particular. Interests and contestation overlap between nomadic and settled groups, arable and livestock farmers, and landowners and landless. The most potent conflict of all is ethnically expressed, deeply embedded in conflicting versions of historical injustice. Recent expansion of cultivation into pastures, often at the hand of warlords with a range of allegiances, has deepened tensions further and brought new issues of environmental degradation to bear. Underlying these conditions a complex conflict in ideas may be discerned, expressed in contradictory perceptions as what constitutes private and public property and local and national commons. The identification of pasture itself is contested. The insufficiencies and political manipulation of public policy and law have significantly fuelled contestation, exacerbated today by continuing limited rule of law or confidence in the courts. This paper argues that peace is unlikely to be achieved without resolution of these conflicts. It suggests however that conventional routes towards this will be unproductive, such as relying upon development of new national policy and law, launching cadastral entitlement or restoring landholding to patterns immediately existing prior to the war. Instead, in order to advance lasting resolution, local level reconciliation and decision-making will be necessary, and beginning, not ending, with the commons, and pastures in particular. Locally decided systems of access regulation and pasture management may be instituted at the same time. From such an incremental but grounded approach, acceptable and more acceptable and sustainable norms of tenure will arise, and upon which new land legislation may be more safely founded and enforced."

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