Thursday, August 16, 2007

First Impressions

I've been on the ground in Afghanistan for about two weeks and after taking care of a bit of training and administrative details, I am finally starting to get settled into my job. I am the only legal mentor in the southern part of Afghanistan and the task ahead is no small one. I am responsible to mentor military judges, military prosecutors, military defence counsel, military criminal investigators and operational legal advisors at various levels of command located throughout southern Afghanistan.

Within a few days of landing in Afghanistan I was introduced to the Afghan legal advisors that I will be mentoring over the next six months. Although they were very inquisitive when we first met, I noticed that they were very hospitable and did their best to make me feel welcome. As is custom in Afghanistan, they offered me a cup of chai, which is a type of green tea, and served it with a compliment of raisins, nuts and candy. Also, on a second occasion I accompanied one of the lawyers to lunch with a number of his comrades. Immediately, I was ushered to the front of the line and was served the best of the food that was available. Although my stomach wasn't much for Afghan cuisine, to be treated with such honor is something that sets the Afghan culture apart from western standards.

The Afghan culture is guided on an ancient code of honor referred to as Pashtunwali. This code is a set of rules that guides individual and communal behavior and contains a number of core beliefs including justice, hospitality, tolerance, forgiveness and revenge. Insofar as hospitality is concerned, Afghans are taught to welcome all including friends, strangers and even enemies that are seeking refuge, so long as they are not there to take advantage. As well, Afghans are taught that if you are intentionally wronged, you have the right to avenge the injustice in equal proportion. If instead of revenge, that injustice is forgiven, then he who forgives is owed a debt. However, should the injustice continue, then you are required to seek revenge lest you appear weak and invite your enemies to commit further injustices upon you.

It is this code of honor that has guided the justice system in Afghanistan for thousands of years and only now are we trying to introduce the western concepts of our understanding of justice. These values are pervasive in the mindset of many tribal elders and military leaders. Although the goal is not to replace their system of justice with our own western values, we are trying to promote fairness and the rule of law. The question is whether these concepts will be accepted by a culture that has lived for thousands of years on concepts such as forgiveness and revenge.

I hope that everyone is doing well back in Canada, and remember my e-mail address while I am away is See you next week.

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