Opportunities for Peace Making in Pakistan

Ms. Sherrie R. Abney JD
November 29, 2011 — 1,280 views  

Opportunities for Peace Making in Pakistan

"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his

 point of view –until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."

Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mocking bird


The American View

            Everyone was a little apprehensive.  It was May 7, 2011, and we were preparing to meet ten visitors from Pakistan that the U.S. State Department had brought to Dallas, Texas, to learn about peace keeping and conflict resolution.  Five days earlier the United States Navy Seals had killed Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan.  We were wondering how our visitors felt about the circumstances leading to Bin Laden’s death, and how they would feel about us telling them how to resolve conflict? 

            Several weeks earlier we had received information regarding the individuals that were coming.  They were all Muslims, and they were involved in various occupations in different areas of their country.  Among our guests were chiefs of police and other peace keeping officials, lawyers, several heads of NGOs (non-government organizations), a social worker, and a professor.  The information revealed that several of them had expressed hostile attitudes about the United States and the American people in the past.  This information had been delivered prior to May 2nd, so we wondered if their opinions about the United States might have changed for the worst since the report was compiled.  We had no idea of what to expect from them.

            A conference room at the Dallas Bar Association Headquarters had been reserved.  Our moderator was a retired judge and three attorneys trained and experienced in Collaborative Law, were ready to present a relatively new form of dispute resolution that employs interest-based negotiation to our visitors. 

            The group arrived and quietly filed into the room holding out their hands in greeting.  We all shook hands and seated ourselves around the conference table.  One of the men had purchased a “cowboy outfit” consisting of boots, levis, a belt with trophy buckle, a hat, and western shirt.  (That was encouraging maybe they all did not hate us.)  After introductions, we began explaining the collaborative process with PowerPoints and materials that we had prepared.  Our visitors had an interpreter with them, but they all spoke English and very few translations or explanations of terms were needed.  They were extremely attentive and polite, and they had many questions for us.

            Disputes in Pakistan often involve religious differences and quarrels between tribes over land.  Some of our visitors had witnessed bloodshed between religious groups and had risked their own lives to stop more killing.  They were very serious about any new ideas we could give them that would help them resolve conflict.  Few mediators in the United States put their lives on the line when attempting to settle a dispute, but some of these people were and are doing it on a regular basis.  In Pakistan, people doing this sort of work are killed, kidnapped, tortured, and their homes are burnt.  

What We Told Them

            Many cultures operate on the premise that “might makes right,” or they rely on the law which may or may not be appropriate for the issues in question.  The collaborative process is based on a very simple five step procedure that examines the issues in dispute through the eyes of the parties.  The process begins by discovering the interests, concerns, and goals of each of the parties to the dispute.  Once the issues are identified and the parties have explained their concerns, information is gathered so that the facts surrounding the dispute may be examined.              When each of the parties has all of the facts necessary to reach valid conclusions in his or her possession and each person has heard and understands the concerns of the other parties, the participants are ready to develop options.  Developing options consists of brainstorming and sharing ideas regarding courses of action for consideration by the parties.  Enough time should be taken in this step to be certain that every possible option is listed.  Next, participants evaluate each option, and those that are impossible or unnecessarily detrimental to one of the parties are discarded.  The remaining options form the basis of negotiations which eventually lead to resolution.

            Most dispute resolution procedures focus on who is to blame.  The collaborative process takes the focus away from the past and blame and looks to the future and how responsibilities will be shared between the parties to resolve the conflict.  Our visitors were not familiar with this approach to dispute resolution, but they immediately responded that they could see how the process could change the attitude of the parties.  Instead of being blamed and told what they had to do, the parties would be listening to each other and sharing information.  They would become a part of the solution instead of answers being imposed on them by a third party.  They would have ownership in the result.

            At the end of the day, we all wondered just how much we had been able to impart to our visitors that they would be able to actually put to good use.  After taking a few photos, they went on to their next stop which was Fort Worth and more ideas on dispute resolution.

The Pakistan view

            June 6, 2011, I received an e-mail entitled “My New Friends from America.” It was from the executive director of an NGO in Pakistan.  I opened it and discovered that this was one of the people who had visited us in May.  He is stationed at a post near the Afghanistan border in the northern part of the country.  His post includes 3.5 million people spread over six regions in one of the most dangerous and war torn areas in Pakistan.  His job is human rights protection, and reforms in the governance system of the tribal areas.  His organization is struggling to eradicate the menaces of militancy, terrorism, drugs, and to bring positive changes and sustainable development through building programs for the tribal people.  (I expect there are not many people who are standing in line hoping for his position or one similar to it.)

            He explained the governing system as follows:

            The federally administered Tribal Area is governed by the British era old black and draconian law known as Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR1901) where the people’s fundamental rights are not protected and there is no concept of the separation of power, and all the powers whether legislative, executive or judicial are vested in a single person known as Political Agent. 

             Neither the superior courts have the jurisdiction in the area nor the elected representatives of the area can legislate for their own area and the area is totally on the mercy of the presidential and governor executive orders which are implemented by the Political Administration.

            As I continued to read the e-mail, I began to see that they had also been apprehensive about visiting us in America.  Under the Heading, “What We Observed” he wrote: 

            The Americans people hate war and they are peace loving people and respect humanity regardless of race, religion, color and caste

            Another astonishing thing was that on the 2nd May 2011 the incident of Osama took Place in Abbottabad and on the 7th May we came to America and we had apprehended that we will face a very harsh and hostile attitude of the Americans but to our great surprise that we experienced 100%  opposite and friendly behavior  from the people.

            Every where we were cordially received, they shake hands, and had a very positive and loving behavior with us.

            Not only was the attitude of our hosts but also the common people on the roads, markets and bazaars quite outstanding.

            On our return to Pakistan the people use to ask us about the culture, religion, and different ways of life and the perception about the Islam, Muslims, and particularly of the tribal people. We continuously tell them about the reality and of our previous misguided perception about the Americans which make them surprised and [they] want to learn more and more.

            All of this was extremely gratifying, but the best surprise came toward the end of the e-mail:

            On my return I practically implemented the learnt lessons about the peaceful settlements of the local disputes and settled the longstanding property disputes between two warring tribes. I settled that through the process of mediation and both the parties were surprised to see that I did not impose my decision on them rather than I was only a facilitator and they were able to decide their disputes themselves in a friendly environment.

            Our visitors had taken back the peaceful ideas on interest-based negotiation that we had shared with them and put them to good use.  The e-mail concluded with expressions of thanks for the “very good time and respect” that changed their perception of America.  Who would have believed that people in Dallas could influence the resolution of a dispute between warring tribes and improve the image of America in Pakistan?  Who have you talked to about Collaborative Law and interest-based negotiation today?

            Sherrie R. Abney is a collaborative lawyer, mediator, facilitator, arbitrator, collaborative trainer, and adjunct professor of law at Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law.  She was co-founder and first chair of the Dallas Bar Association Collaborative Law Section and is past chair of the ADR Section of the Dallas Bar and former member of the State Bar of Texas ADR Section Advisory Council.  As a founding director of the Global Collaborative Law Council (formerly the Texas Collaborative Law Council), she has served as Vice President of Education and Training for the organization since 2004.  She is a member of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (IACP), and serves on the Collaborative Law Committee of the DR Section of the American Bar Association.

            Sherrie has trained and presented in dispute resolution conferences and workshops in Cork, Ireland, Sydney, Australia, Oxford University, Kampala, Uganda, Canada, Buenos Aires, Argentina, and major cities around the U.S.  Her trainings utilize case studies, role play, demonstrations, and interactive activities.  She is the author of Avoiding Litigation, A Guide to Civil Collaborative Law, and a text entitled Civil Collaborative Law, as well as numerous articles on resolving civil disputes using collaborative skills.

Sherrie R. Abney

[email protected]


Ms. Sherrie R. Abney JD

Law Offices of Sherrie R. Abney

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