Conflict resolution through fair mediation

In Chitral, the largest district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan, the unforgiving landscape and limited economy have left local communities feeling frustrated and prone to conflict. Through fair mediation, local civil society organisations (CSOs) have managed to bring two rival groups together to resolve a conflict over grazing lands and forests.

A dispute that has lasted decades

Chitral district consists mainly of mountains and barren lands, which has left the local population with very few livelihood choices – they are mostly involved in farming and livestock rearing. With the recent increase in population and subsequent infrastructure development, land for farming and grazing is being quickly depleted. This has also resulted in an unfair distribution of natural resources such as water and grazing land, and has given rise to conflicts among the local communities. The recent floods have further escalated these tensions.

One particular conflict was identified between the villagers and goat herders of three villages – Jughoor, Reshun and Uchusht – about grazing lands and forests. The local community blamed goat herders for the devastation of land in the area and argued that over-grazing was resulting in environmental degradation and floods. On the other hand, goat herders were adamant that they had been involved in harvesting and keeping goats since their forefathers’ time, and had no other source of income.

This conflict has been ongoing since 1902, and is a potential threat to peace in the whole area. Over the decades there have been many individual and collective fights among the parties from the three villages. In some instances weapons were used and the parties have sued each other multiple times. Many attempts to resolve the issue have been made by the local administration, but they have made little progress.

A new approach

Community Appraisal and Motivation Programme (CAMP) and Saferworld engaged with the local communities to resolve the conflict using a new approach. A cluster of local CSOs was brought together including Shandur Women Forum (SWF), Integrated Chitral Development Program (ICDP) and Legal Aid Forum for Human Rights (LAFH). Representatives from these CSOs attended training led by CAMP and Saferworld to enhance their skills in conflict analysis, mediation and dialogue, advocacy, and community-driven initiatives for peace. A particularly useful skill for the conflict in question, and a new approach for resolving it, was mediation:

Mediation is a process in which an independent person/group assists parties in a dispute to address their differences, and work towards a resolution. For any mediation process to be successful it is very important that mediator(s) remain neutral and impartial and treat all parties on an equal footing.

CSOs play an active role as mediators

The CSOs decided to use the mediation and negotiation techniques they had learned to resolve this long-standing conflict, with additional support from a small grant provided by CAMP. From each village, neutral notables were selected as mediators so that they could convince the conflicting parties to negotiate. Together these notables formed Community Action Groups (CAGs) including local activists, civil society members, religious leaders, and judiciary and forest representatives.

The CSOs and CAGs met with the conflicting parties in all three villages and worked to assure them of a just and peaceful solution to the problem – winning the confidence of conflicting parties. In each village a stakeholders meeting was organised in which representatives from all three villages participated and were given the chance to explain their concerns to the neutral CSOs and CAG members. As an outcome of these meetings, committees were formed in Jughoor and Uchusht to resolve the conflict, while in Reshun the conflicting parties agreed to remove all types of cattle from the forest area for ten years.

These village-level meetings even led to a district-level stakeholders’ conference, in which community members from the three villages participated. In addition, an advocacy session was held, where a draft resolution was developed to resolve the matter peacefully and end cattle grazing on the disputed land. The resolution was agreed upon by all stakeholders. This process demonstrates that through impartial mediation, local CSOs were able to facilitate a useful dialogue and resolve a long-standing conflict.

Saferworld and local partner CAMP's project ‘Promoting Participatory Approaches to Peacebuilding in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’ started in January 2012, and is funded by the European Union Delegation to Pakistan under its Instrument for Stability component.

Find out more about Saferworld's work in Pakistan.