Pastures & Pluralism: Forum Shopping & Community-based Dispute Resolution on Afghanistan's Rangelands
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For over a decade, news stories have despairingly cataloged the American-led foreign forces’ failure to stabilize Afghanistan. From afar, the impoverished country may seem awash with eternal struggles between unreasonable extremists. A closer look, however, reveals that the country’s general insecurity is constituted by particular struggles that, although complicated by the region’s diversity and years of violent conflict and foreign intervention, are nonetheless explicable and hopefully tractable. A stable Afghanistan requires attention to not just large-scale political processes but also widespread, small-scale conflicts. In this thesis, I focus on small-scale conflicts over rangeland resources in northern and central Afghanistan. These conflicts are by no means the primary source of instability in the country, but they are manifestations of tumult emerging from the broader environment of ethnic tension and political upheaval and feedbacks contributing to both. By looking at the dynamics of rangeland conflict resolution, this research will help those employees of Afghan and international governments and organizations who are trying to improve Afghanistan’s pastoral economy and foster stability in rural areas. The Afghan case adds texture to extant literature on pastoral development both by adding regional diversity and because of the unique situation of nomads’ rights sometimes being privileged by the government at the expense of settled populations. For legal anthropologists and scholars of environmental governance, this research illuminates the importance of analyzing legal pluralism not only through the lens of institutions but also by examining which rules and norms a given institution uses when adjudicating disputes. Lastly, the specific case of rangeland conflicts shows researchers of Afghan legal culture that the relative importance of governmental and customary laws varies across types of disputes and, at least within this sub-type of dispute, can diverge considerably from more general characterizations of the legal landscape.