Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Afghans Turn to Taleban Justice

People lose faith in inefficient and dishonest state judicial system.
By IWPR

Afghans are increasingly turning to Taleban courts to help them resolve legal disputes rather than engage with the often corrupt official justice system, according to participants in debates which IWPR held in three different provinces in May.

In Zabul in the west of the country, civil society activist Abdul Razaq Qaisarkhel said the justice system there was hugely corrupt.

“It’s undeniable that legal institutions in Zabul have many problems,” he said. “Judges and prosecutors take bribes from people, so members of the public resent them and turn to the Taleban to get their disputes resolved.”

Qaisarkhel said the province’s legal system was incapable of impartiality due to pressure it was under from local powerbrokers, members of parliament and officials.

Nasir Ahmad Saqib, a member of the Zabul journalists’ association, said the formal legal system was impossibly slow-moving.

“A central factor leading people to go to the Taleban and seek rulings from them is that cases are not dealt with in a timely manner,” he said.

In addition, there were no judges or prosecutors working outside the main towns, and officials were unable to go to the more remote areas when disputes arose. Under the circumstances, ordinary people had no alternative but to turn to Taleban courts, Saqib said.

Ahmad Khan Ahmadi, the head of Zabul’s justice department, admitted that corruption existed but said it was not unique to the legal system.

“Corruption exists not just in legal and judicial agencies, but also in all other government agencies,” he said. “However, people are very quick to complain about the legal and judicial organisations, because underprivileged people use them so much.”

Ahmadi added that the authorities were cracking down on corruption and a number of individuals had already been prosecuted.

Tribal elder Faqirullah Darwesh said that the vast majority of ordinary people were dissatisfied with the state system.

“It is very difficult to get access to judges and lawyers here,” he said. “You have to go through ten [body] searches before you get to the judge. Once you are with the judge, he won’t even look at you unless you put something in his pocket. People get disheartened by this.”

Gul Islam Syal, spokesman for the governor of Zabul, agreed that there was a problem with corruption across various agencies including the judiciary, but insisted action was being taken to combat it.

“The governor’s office is working to reduce the level of corruption,” he said. “The governor meets legal and judicial officials every two weeks and discusses how to prevent administrative corruption.”

In Kunar in the east of Afghanistan, speakers similarly argued that corruption was endemic in the justice system.

“Corruption has increased so that it is extensive in this country’s legal and judicial institutions,” Hamish Gulab Shinwari, the local government chief in Kunar’s Marawara district, said. “Without reform, the people will be forced into revolt.”

Civil society activist Sayed Jahan Asir said people needed to know their constitutional rights.

“Public awareness [campaigns] can inform people what rights they have under the law, what powers officials have, and what their responsibilities to the public are. People should be told what constitutes an abuse of power on the part of officials, and what action they can take to combat it,” Asir said.

In Nuristan, Afghanistan’s easternmost province, audience at the debate heard that the legal system was under-resourced.

Omar Faruq, deputy chairman of the provincial council, said, “There are many problems with the courts in Nuristan. They have never managed to fully resolve any case. Our judges aren’t very professional, either. They need to study at academic seminars.”

However, a prosecution lawyer with the court of appeals rejected this.

“If someone says the prosecutor’s office hasn’t treated them correctly or that the judiciary isn’t working, that is not true,” Mohammad Anwar said. “We function according to the powers we have.”

He added that local prosecutors were currently processing six embezzlement cases, some of which had been referred to the central authorities and the rest of which were very near completion.

One young man attending the debate asked how justice could be delivered in areas where security was poor.

Hafez Sultan, a civil society activist, answered that the two were closely linked.

“Justice is ensured where security is ensured, and it is very difficult to ensure justice where security does not exist,” he said.

This report is based on an ongoing series of debates conducted as part of the IWPR programme Afghan Reconciliation: Promoting Peace and Building Trust by Engaging Civil Society.