Notes from the Field

Regional Peace Consultations in Afghanistan Reveal Top Recommendations from Communities, Civil Society

October 19, 2011

On September 20, former president and head of Afghanistan’s peace process, Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani, received an urgent call while in Dubai: Taliban leaders were ready to talk peace, he was told, and he rushed back to his home in Kabul. Moments later, he was assassinated by a suicide bomber posing as the supposed Taliban negotiator.

The death of Professor Rabbani, leader of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, generated anxiety among government officials, civil society, and citizens about what this loss would mean for the nation’s long and struggling 10-year-old peace process. Many called the tragedy “a devastating blow” to the prospects of reconciliation in the country.

Against this backdrop, weeks later on October 2-3, The Asia Foundation brought together civil society members, government representatives, and community members including teachers, doctors, farmers and others, from 15 provinces for a frank, inclusive discussion about where the peace process stands and what can be done to move it forward. Certainly, the late Rabbani’s absence was not forgotten; but after discussions were underway, it was clear that participants were determined, perhaps now more than ever, to have their voices heard on how their nation finds peace and security.

In fact, this national conference was nearly six months in the making: Beginning in May last year, with the support of the European Union, The Asia Foundation started the first of six 2-day regional peace consultation workshops in Herat, Jalalabad, Mazar, Bamyan, Helmand, and Kabul, to identify the gaps in peace interventions, complement overall national peace efforts, examine the potential, greater role of civil society, strengthen the capacity of communities to engage in conflict resolution at the local level, and share experiences. Although the workshops support the goals of the national-level peacebuilding efforts underway, ordinary Afghans are increasingly expressing discontent that they are largely being left out of the national process – particularly civil society members, women, and youth. Realizing this, the Foundation partnered with the local organization Social Development Stability Afghanistan Organization, a newly established peace-focused NGO, to nominate community members who represent a diverse range of Afghanistan’s population, to attend the workshops. In all, we received 1,106 nominees from 22 provinces, from which we then selected 476 to participate in the regional workshops and 11 focus group discussions. These workshop participants then recommended five to eight representatives who they felt would best serve their communities and bring their suggestions for the national conference in October.

The open environment allowed for frank discussions: participants freely criticized the lack of information on the formal peace process, expressed dislike for non-Afghan peace talks such as those in Qatar and Germany, the top-down approach, and the limited role of women. They emphasized the critical role of traditional leaders, particularly Ulamaa (religious scholars) in the national peace process, and cited cultural violations such as night house raids made by both the Afghan and international military over the last 10 years as the thing that has most widened the gap between the government and its people.

Watch the short video below to get a better sense of the lively discussions during one of the regional workshops that took place in Kabul.

After the national conference, Mr. Mohammad Ismail Qasemyar, senior member of High Peace Council who participated on behalf of the council, urged us to share this feedback more widely. As a result, the Foundation is now finalizing an official set of recommendations which will soon be shared with the government, international community, donors, and civil society. It is our hope that these recommendations will help bring the voice of ordinary citizens and civil society to Afghanistan’s peace process.

Fazel Rabi Haqbeen is The Asia Foundation’s program planning & development director in Kabul. He can be reached at fhaqbeen@asiafound.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation.

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