Why many Afghans opt for Taliban justice

Chapa Dara in Afghanistan The Taliban have been making their influence felt in Chapa Dara district

Large swathes of rural Afghanistan still have little or no trace of government 12 years after President Hamid Karzai assumed power in Kabul. In many areas, the Taliban operate a shadow government and judiciary.

In Chapa Dara district in the eastern province of Kunar, Bilal Sarwary met two men - one who went to a government-appointed judge for justice and the other who went to the Taliban.

Deep inside the Pech Valley in Chapa Dara district lies the village of Barkanday. Here I met Gul Zaman, a 57-year-old farmer who has lived through two personal tragedies in the past three years.

"Some people shot dead my brother Mohammad Zaman over a trivial dispute," says Mr Zaman.

"Over the next three years, I knocked on the doors of every judge, judicial official available in the district. But they all asked for bribes to even listen to my complaint. Since I couldn't pay, I was hounded out of the courts like a stray animal by security guards."

Mr Zaman says all this took place while the killers of his brothers roamed free in the district.

"Three years later, one of the killers came back and shot dead another of my brothers. But this time he was at least arrested. This raised our hopes, we thought we will get justice at last," he says.

Gul Zaman Gul Zaman says the courts have failed him

Mr Zaman says he reached the court on the date of the hearing.

"The judge, through his brother, who was a watchman at the court, asked me what I was offering?" When I said 'I have nothing to give', the judge asked the same question to the accused," Mr Zaman says.

"The accused gave the judge an ox, a cow and 10kg of walnuts. The judge ruled in his favour. And the killer of my brothers walked free."

One of the accused has since joined the Taliban, he adds.

"People are fed up of the judges and the entire judicial system. As a last resort, I am calling on President Hamid Karzai and the Taliban for justice," Mr Zaman says.

'Months wasted'

Sitting in Mr Zaman's garden, I met another villager, Fazel Mohammad.

Mr Mohammad tells me that four of his family members were killed in a clash that originated from a land dispute.

He says he too went to the government-appointed judges for justice but was harassed for bribes.

"After wasting months running after judicial officials, I decided to approach the Taliban," Mr Mohammed says.

"I went to the Taliban centre [in the district]. There were Taliban judges and mullahs. They produced the accused on the second day of hearing," Mr Mohammed said.

He said the Taliban judges invoked the Koran and Sharia (Islamic religious law) to decide his case.

"They told the accused to return our land immediately. Although the accused were not happy with the decision, the Taliban forced them to accept. The case was solved within a week," Mr Mohammed said.

"The Taliban judges even gave me a letter stating that the disputed land belonged to me and anyone trying to encroach upon it will have to face the Taliban's wrath," Mr Mohammed said, adding that no one now even dares to graze their sheep on his land.

The governor of Chapa Dara, Khan Mohammad Safi, admits that the judicial system is almost non-existent in the area.

"In our district, we don't have a judge, a prosecutor, they work from the capital. So if people complain, they are right. The cases couldn't be solved on time. No government-appointed judge wants to work in the district because of the frequent Taliban attacks and lack of security here," he said.

In Asadabad, the capital of Kunar province, government prosecutors refused to talk about allegations of corruption in the judiciary.

But privately they admit that there is no judge or prosecutor in at least four districts of Kunar.

"If Gul Zaman feels that injustice has been committed against him, he should immediately go to the second and third court, or come to Kabul with evidence and documents," said Mohammad Sedeq Zhobal, director of information for the Supreme Court in Kabul.

"We need evidence or witnesses. Judges can't make decisions bases on stories - even if they are emotional," Mr Zhobal told the BBC.

The villagers I met in Kunar are by no means an exception.

The lack of basic government services has created a crisis of governance in rural Afghanistan, forcing thousands of people to seek refuge in the Taliban's judicial system - which they see as harsh but effective.

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