KHOST, Afghanistan – A tribal posse in southeast Afghanistan burned down the houses of four families whose male members are accused of murdering seven members of a rival family.
On June 16, hundreds of members of Mangal, a large Pashtun tribe, burned houses in Manduzai, a district in the southeastern Afghan province of Khost, which borders Pakistan.
“Everyone who commits an atrocity will meet the same fate,” Toor Mangal, one of the participants in the mob, told Radio Mashaal.
Participants said the act was part of an ancient tribal custom in which members of a tribe collectively move against anyone seen as committing a grave atrocity.
The burnings took days after local officials said that gunmen killed seven members of a family and injured three others inside a house in Manduzai’s Dehgan region late on June 14.
Adil Haider, a spokesman for Khost’s police, said the killings were the result of a land dispute. He said the police know the perpetrators but did not identify them by name. Authorities have also not identified the victims by name.
The accused men had fled their houses before setting the fires. Women and children in their families were protected by the villagers. It was not possible to reach the accused in the remote region.
Hazratullah, another participant, said members from all clans of the Mangal tribe had gathered to take part.
“We will not let anyone else commit such atrocities within the Mangal tribe,” he told Radio Mashaal. He called on members of neighboring Pashtun tribes to hand over the accused to their tribe or government.
Shamal Khan Managal, a tribal leader, said they burned down the houses after establishing that the accused were involved in the recent murders of a family. Killing all members of a family is locally called Mirat – a Pashto word indicating the status of a family as heirless.
“We burned down four or five houses after asking around and establishing that they were involved in the killings,” he said.
The burnings took place after a jirga or council of Mangal tribal leaders met. They invoked an ancient custom to mobilize a Cheegha or tribal posse against a real or perceived atrocity.
The burnings, however, have raised questions over the role of the Afghan government. On June 16, scores of Afghan troops were present in Manduzai, but instead of preventing the mob from burning houses, they focused on preventing a clash between local residents and the crowd. Manduzai abuts the provincial capital, also called Khost, a major city in the region.
When contacted, security officials in Khost said they had successfully rescued the women and children of the accused families. But all refused to comment on whether invoking tribal customs was appropriate.
Zahid Shah Angar, a local journalist, justified the burnings.
“Until we can pave the way for imposing the rule of law in our society, implementing ancient tribal customs can contribute to strengthening social cohesion,” he said.
The incident and the larger issue about the role of local communities in today’s Afghanistan is expected to rekindle a debate over the role of tribes in the country facing a major transition. Kabul is expected to soon begin peace talks with the Taliban after the hard-line movement concluded an agreement with the United States in February that paves the way for a complete withdrawal of international forces.
Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on Radio Mashaal correspondent Najibullah Alokhel’s reporting from Khost, Afghanistan. With reporting by the BBC’s Pashto Service.