"Civil Society and a Comprehensive Peace Process in Afghanistan"
Lisa Schirch, Ph.D.
March 30, 2011
Peace can be established in Afghanistan, but it requires a comprehensive and inclusive process functioning on many levels, said a peacebuilding expert in her talk at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice (IPJ) on March 30.
Lisa Schirch, Ph.D., executive director of the 3D Security Initiative and professor of peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University, spoke on "Civil Society and a Comprehensive Peace Process in Afghanistan." She asserted that dialogues to bring peace require two elements: the inclusion of all stakeholders (moderates and extremists, those who are armed and unarmed, and all levels of society) and principled negotiation to address core grievances.
The Case against Peace Negotiations
Those making the case against peace negotiations point out that the entity known as "the Taliban" is split among at least three major groups, with opposition so diverse that it is difficult to determine who should even be invited to the negotiating table. Secondly, ethnic cleavages are a factor. Hazeras, Tajiks and Uzbeks alike fear an outcome that would perpetuate dominance by the Pashtun majority. Thirdly, Pakistan, a U.S. ally, is in some way supporting the Taliban. Finally, civil society is caught in the middle.
Stability, democracy and peace require a citizen-oriented state interacting with an active civil society.
A "Whole of Society" Approach
Schirch delineated between a peace process and peace negotiations, which are shorter and seek a high-level political solution only. Stability, democracy and peace, however, require a citizen-oriented state interacting with an active civil society. Thus, state-building requires a "whole of society" approach. There will be roles for the government and international, national and local civil societies. Yet, when the international community engaged in seeking peace in Afghanistan, starting at the Bonn conference in 2001, it did so only with armed actors and thereby delegitimized the unarmed civil society.
It is better to work slowly and involve all parties, because if a peace process fails, the conflict has a greater chance of becoming intractable.
The Case for a Comprehensive Peace Process
Schirch then went on to make the case for a comprehensive peace process. If it is comprehensive, it will enjoy legitimacy and be more sustainable. It is better to work slowly and involve all parties, because if a peace process fails, the conflict has a greater chance of becoming intractable.
Furthermore, a comprehensive peace process supports democratic governance. It may not be possible to completely get rid of extremist elements, but it may be possible to coexist with them. Schirch drew an analogy to the Ku Klux Klan, which at one time was active – even mainstream – in Virginia where she lives. Civil society came to the conclusion that the KKK did not reflect who they were or wanted to be, and the KKK consequently was relegated to the margins. If its actions cross the line into criminal activity, they are prosecuted through the criminal justice system. It still exists, but does not pose an imminent threat. Similarly, the Taliban will never be entirely eradicated, but can be made irrelevant.
Afghan nongovernmental organizations have been carrying out peacebuilding programs in Afghanistan for the last 20 years. They are ready to put these principles to work in a national peace process.
A Four-Tier Peace Process
According to Schirch, a comprehensive peace process will have four tiers: regional diplomacy, government-Taliban negotiations, a public peace process, and local-level peacebuilding. There is widespread desire on the part of Afghan civil society for greater efforts for, and U.S. leadership in, regional diplomacy. The U.S. may be negotiating behind the scenes, but it leaves the impression that little is being done.
As for government-Taliban negotiations, there are many rumors of secret negotiations, but confusion about the U.S. role or support for them. The Peace Council [a 70-member council set up in 2010 by the Afghan government] has been criticized for lacking diversity.
There is widespread desire on the part of Afghan civil society for greater efforts for and U.S. leadership in regional diplomacy.
A peace process must be public. The lack of public forums to discuss and design a citizen-based national agenda is problematic. National civil society groups are asking for transparency about the peace process and opportunities for truth-telling.
A peace process must also involve the local level. In Afghanistan, shuras and jirgas are traditional methods of addressing conflicts, but these need to include the voices of women and youth. Afghan nongovernmental organizations have been carrying out peacebuilding programs in Afghanistan for the last 20 years, promoting conflict resolution in areas ranging from water and land disputes to domestic violence. They are ready to put these principles to work in a national peace process.
The Need for Reconciliation
It is important, Schirch pointed out, to make a distinction between reintegration and reconciliation. Reintegration is meant to be the culminating step in a process of disarmament and demobilization of insurgents (commonly known as DDR). Reconciliation goes much deeper, and the incentives for it are manifold: increased security, improved governance, economic incentives (real and sustainable ones, going beyond the very small economic payments currently being offered) and attention to issues of identity and territory.
On Public Participation
Schirch highlighted the various forms public participation can take. On a continuum from most inclusive to least, these are: direct local participation; participation through consultation; representation at the highest level, as in the cases of South Africa and Northern Ireland; participation by referendum; and finally, as in the (thus far unsuccessful) case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, post-agreement public ads intended to build support for the agreement.
During the question-and-answer period, a member of the audience asked whether Afghans thought the U.S. military presence was necessary or if it should be curtailed. Schirch responded that all of the Afghans with whom she had spoken expressed a desire for a smaller military presence to keep civil war from breaking out, but that this needed to be accompanied by a political process – one with a very specific population-centric focus.
At the conclusion of the lecture, Schirch displayed photographs taken during a recent visit to Afghanistan, many of them of children clambering on and posing in the rusted ruins of old Soviet tanks from the invasion of 1979. These were accompanied by quotes from the Afghans photographed. One, a young boy, said that he dreamed of a future of peace. Another, an old man, stated that he had no memory of peace.
Schirch concluded with a photo of the old man and the child walking hand-in-hand: "Maybe the memory and the dream walk together."
"Maybe the memory and the dream walk together."