Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
Decades of and the nature of conflicts in Afghanistan have shaped the role of civil society on its hard path towards peace. In a similar way, these factors have influenced civil society’s opportunities and challenges in the post-conflict period. Peace efforts can be conducted within several broader frameworks of action, reflecting different approaches to the promotion of peace: grievance resolution and conflict transformation. Grievance resolution aims at addressing the causes of conflict and rebuilding relations between the parties not only at the top but also at mid-and grassroots levels of society. Grievance resolution will be a pivotal part of a sustainable and long-term peace making process.
The opportunities for civil societies’ active role in grievance resolution and conflict transformation are as diverse as the challenges. The fundamental areas which make up this aspect of the process are, from the outset, the ability to identify local grievances and simultaneously supply the means (external if required) to address, ameliorate and ideally resolve the grievances. It is particularly important to remember that even a successfully negotiated peace agreement will not be the end of the conflict but rather the beginning of a process that will last years, most likely experience a number of setbacks, and require immense efforts by all parties directly involved as well as the afghan society at large. It is, therefore, especially important to ask what exactly CSOs have to do, what and who this sector actually includes and which areas they have to work on. Civil society is more than just NGOs. According to many Afghans, civil society consists of a variety of contemporary and traditional actors such as nongovernmental organizations and professional associations that are focused on modern development and education programs, youth and women’s groups, religious and local leaders, community and district development councils, grassroots community social and cultural groups. For peace to accelerate as a social movement, civil society should be enabled to be more active in the process. In the eyes of many rural Afghans in particular, key local leaders can talk with greater legitimacy and authority on peace, without necessarily favoring a partisan side in the conflict. For this purpose, neutral community leaders, religious figures, women and youth actors should be identified and encouraged into the process more actively. The inclusion of youth is particularly crucial, given the average age of insurgent fighters, and a growing generation gap in conflict-affected rural areas.
Civil society plays an influential role at the community level in order to promote mobilization with direct lines to confidence building and dialogue efforts between the people and the government. CSOs have a wide outreach capacity; have knowledge of the operational environment and a capacity to facilitate outreach of the peace councils and community leaders to the local population. Civil society can provide a neutral platform that can link the insurgency to the Afghan government, as most conflicts need a neutral mediator. Women in the society have a crucial role to play in conflict transformation, both in constructing community-based approaches and in developing strategies for cooperation and peace. Women’s full participation in efforts for the promotion of peace and security is the best guarantee that gains made to date in women’s rights will be consolidated and further enhanced. Women continually strive to prevent future violence through the promotion of education and dialogue. They have a particularly important role to play in raising awareness about peace and mobilizing participation in the current peace process amongst immediate family members and close relatives.
Progress to date: Civil society’s strengths, with respect to the peace process, lie in two areas: advocacy and implementation. At the moment, involvement in implementation of the Afghan Peace and Reintegration Program (APRP) has been relatively weak. For one major example, opportunities for engagement have been very limited. Meanwhile, CSOs’ advocacy around concerns such as human rights, democracy and justice have opened the eyes of major actors in the peace process to local solutions for a durable peace in the country. Importantly, despite the limited space available, civil society’s advocacy input into the drafting of many policies to implement the Afghan peace process and their work towards creating the space for dialogue around issues of reconciliation has been a key element of their participation. However, there remains a need for an increase in the momentum to build the APRP into a social and political process.
Mezhgan Temory, Afghanistan/France
Rotary Peace Fellow