News about Afghanistan seldom contains many positive stories. Most of the media reporting from the country is about the war, conflicts, poverty and negative developments. But there are positive stories to be told about successful projects, especially at the local grass-roots level. The work of CPAU provides one example.
Afghanistan has undergone several devastating wars throughout its history. In the contemporary era from 1973 and beyond, we saw the end of the monarchy and the emergence of the Republic of Afghanistan. This was followed by the Soviet invasion in 1979 and a 10-year Soviet occupation that resulted in the killing of between 600,000 and two million Afghans. In addition, it created approximately 6 million Afghan refugees, mainly in neighbouring Pakistan and Iran. After the Islamic State of Afghanistan was created by Mujahedeen forces in 1992, civil war broke out between seven leading Mujahedeen parties, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians. The continuing chaos led to public disgust with the warring factions, providing the opportunity for an organised group of Pakistani Madrasa trained students called the Taliban to take control of power in Kabul in 1996. The ensuing struggle by the Taliban to control the entire country led to several reported massacres by both sides.
The Taliban continued the Mujahedeen’s policy of hosting many thousands of trained Arab militants from the time of the Jihad against the Soviet Union and the subsequent civil war; individuals like Osama Bin Laden and other wealthy Arabs continued to bankroll the Taliban Islamic Emirates. This policy provided the opportunity for these wealthy terrorist groups to consolidate their powers and establish a government within a government. On 11 September 2001, these terrorists planned and carried out their attacks on the United States, changing the course of history in Afghanistan once again. US and British led international military forces toppled the Taliban government in their efforts to fight Al Qaeda, and the new Karzai government was formed through a political process agreed upon in Bonn, Germany. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was established to help provide basic security in Afghanistan. From 2002 onward, the Taliban began regrouping while more coalition troops entered the escalating war with the insurgents. Despite some progress in social and economic development, several thousand Afghans and ISAF members have been killed throughout these years, including many civilians.
There have been numerous sustained efforts, mainly by non-military and civil society organisations and actors, to promote the notion that a military victory is not the only solution for Afghanistan. Peace must ultimately be brought about by simultaneous top-down and bottom-up political processes, which require true reconciliation and reintegration processes. There is a limit as to the extent to which international forces are able to provide peace and security in Afghanistan and help with the Afghan nation-building. Based on widespread international experiences, peace should increasingly be built from the bottom-up, in parallel with top-down national, international and regional peace efforts, which require true reconciliation and reintegration processes and through the strengthening of an emerging civil society in Afghanistan.
With these very same principles in mind, a small group of committed Afghans began in October 1996 to look for another way to help Afghanistan become a peaceful nation. They met together and talked about forming an organisation through which they would be able to expand their objectives and try to promote true peace in Afghanistan. Eventually they established Cooperation for Peace and Unity (CPAU), a non-governmental organisation. CPAU is working towards the promotion of knowledge and awareness of peace, social justice and human rights as the foundation upon which the nation-building efforts in Afghanistan should be based. Through direct encouragement and participation in active peacebuilding through training and educational programs, CPAU hopes to contribute to the creation of a viable alternative to war and violence, as the first step towards building lasting peace.
CPAU works with local communities through district Peace Councils and local Peace Committees. In the absence of a centralised government and its judicial bodies, Afghans traditionally are adept at resolving their inter-communal conflicts themselves. While this is a cherished practice, sometimes the approach contradicts basic concepts of human rights and democratic principles. Identifying this issue, at its inception almost 16 years ago, CPAU provides new training and coaching methods in conflict resolution skills, negotiation skills, and listening skills to enable communities to develop their own pro-active problem-solving skills.
The training also builds co-operation and trust to reconcile communities and equip them with the skills to transform conflicts.
While CPAU’s main beneficiaries for the peacebuilding program are adults, the organisation also holds the view that new generations of young people are as vulnerable to conflict issues as adults. Hence, CPAU also provides Peace Education in schools, through its internationally recognised education curriculum from grades one to twelve. The program is carried out extensively by CPAU Peace Educators. Currently, more than 50,000 students have been trained in the peace education curriculum across the country.
CPAU also works with other aid community actors to encourage and enable national organisations to mainstream peacebuilding and conflict resolution practices into their program activities. These include capacity building, training, coaching, evaluation and secondment of CPAU staff members to these organisations, including international organisations such as CARE International, Action Aid, etc. CPAU covers more than 25 provinces of Afghanistan promoting its peacebuilding and research work, and covers the following provinces in Afghanistan with its peacebuilding and peace education work: Takhar, Kalakan, Kandahar, Kabul and Kunduz.
Peacebuilding in Afghanistan
When reporting from Afghanistan, one mostly hears tragic stories about the conflicts and wars, negative developments and poverty. Far too seldom are any positive stories told, especially from the local levels, of successful examples of peaceful conflict resolution initiatives.
CPAU’s peacebuilding program is one of the major successes coming out of the war-torn country. Through case studies, CPAU can actually demonstrate the effectiveness of its approach to peaceful conflict resolution at local levels. Thus far, it has contributed to peaceful relations at inter-provincial, district and local village levels throughout Afghanistan, contributing to building a peaceful nation and civil society from the bottom-up.
Another example of successful peacebuilding at the local level is the peacebuilding program through Kalakan Peace Council, an extensive network of councils covering the whole geographic area of Kalakan. Eight local Peace and Development Committees (PDCs) are operational in Kalakan. All members are selected by their own communities, and four individuals are chosen to perform the following roles: Chairman, Deputy Chairman, Finance and Administration Officer. From these councils 3-5 people, depending on the population of the communities, are selected to represent the local council at the district Peace Council (PC), which comprises 33 members in total. The district PC meets monthly and also arranges ad-hoc emergency meetings when and as needed. A logbook of resolved conflicts are kept with the Council’s secretary. Unresolved conflicts are not recorded.
CPAU believes that embedding the new conflict resolution and peacebuilding skills requires sustained and continuous interaction with the communities. Hence various training sessions are held, as has been the case with Kalakan PC, including conflict resolution and peacebuilding skills, as well as refresher courses in peacebuilding, registering and recording conflicts addressed by the peace councils and gender issue training.
Peace Councils and Peace Committees are not only used as a tool by the local community to resolve their inter-communal conflicts, but also as an advocacy vehicle to positively influence the local government’s policy towards improving the livelihood and provision of services to the community. Hence, CPAU’s training course on Advocacy in Good Governance was also delivered to many peace council members, including modules on influencing policy-makers, developing advocacy messages and building community engagement through democratic activities (e.g. encouraging electors to vote in order to “punish” unresponsive officials at the ballot box).
In addition, a female PDC was established in the middle of 2009. With 32 members, this peace council addresses disputes between women, and other family disputes that involve women in the communities. Their activities, like other PDC’s are not limited to peacebuilding and conflict resolution, but also to advocating the rights of women and women in conflict. This PDC covers the central area of Kalakan, but not the whole district.
It was an extremely enriching experience to visit the Kalakan district in May 2011. In the previous two months there had been no violent conflict reported in the district. The community claimed a total absence of violent conflict. The Afghan government also declared Kalakan as a ‘Peace District’. In this context it should be recalled that this area had been one of the most war-torn areas in Afghanistan. Much credit for this development goes to CPAU’s peacebuilding and conflict resolution efforts through the PC and the PDCs.
Traditionally, the majority of local community disputes are over resources including land and water. Scarcity of water and the lack of proper irrigation management systems are often the biggest causes of conflict. Root causes of conflicts are also poverty, illiteracy and unemployment.
At the community level, conflicts have been resolved by community members approaching the PCs and PDCs. Thereafter, the members mediate and try to find out the real causes of the conflict. Solutions are found through agreements, compensation and reconciliation. Traditional compensations such as giving away a woman are not accepted. Conflict resolution is now fully based on human rights principles.
Here follows three examples of peaceful conflict resolution:
Model for rest of Afghanistan
The Kalakan district is said to be one of the most peaceful districts in Afghanistan. They have also inspired 7 other districts, and wish to continue to be a model for all of Afghanistan. In the continued absence of central government judicial bodies to address conflicts at the community level, the role of the community Shura and community-driven peacebuilding initiatives are a must. At the local level, conflict resolution needs the involvement of local people if it is to be sustainable. Focusing on local conflict resolution cases and publicising positive stories from successful cases and examples will contribute to the future peace in Afghanistan.
Bottom-up peacebuilding initiatives, like top-down ones, require sustained support and backing, both political and financial. Both approaches require the concerted efforts of the government, civil society and the business sector in Afghanistan if they are to be successful.
Peace Shura Case Study 1
Two people in Meya Karez had a dispute over the sharing of water for their land, which had escalated to violence between them. Although they had referred their dispute to the government courts at the district level, officials were unable or unwilling to resolve their conflict, and so the dispute was brought before the Quchi PDC. The PDC intervened by visiting both parties involved in order to explore options for settling the dispute. After several meetings, both sides accepted measures towards mediation, and met face-to-face in April 2010 to discuss ways of using the water supply in equitable shifts. The group of mediators included a Mowlawi [religious leader], on whose authority both parties could forgive each other for past violence. The involvement of the PDC enabled the two protagonists to accept a system of sharing the water supply, and the conflict was resolved without facing any major challenge.
Both sides told the mediators that while the dispute languished in the hands of the district administrator, the PDC resolved it quickly and equitably, and community relations were re-established completely. The resolution demonstrated to other communities within the district that the PDC was trustworthy and effective, unlike other justice mechanisms including the local Malik and government courts.
Peace Shura Case Study 2
Two neighbours in the Mir Ha village of Kalakan district had adjacent land, and despite an agreement to leave a 2.5m border between them for a pathway, one neighbour constructed a new house wall across the dividing land. The other neighbour requested that construction stop, and declared that he would stop the construction by force if necessary. Relations between the neighbours quickly broke down and both sides attempted to use force to settle the dispute in their favour. Once they realised that neither could win by force, they attempted to mediate amongst themselves. Finding that they could not reach an agreement, they requested that the Sayed Abad PDC intervene. After PDC members had met the parties individually, they both agreed to meet together with the PDC for negotiations. At first the PDC insisted that the individuals themselves should come to an agreement, but finding that this was impossible, they reached an agreement that they would both accept the authority of the PDC to come to a decision, and this decision would be accepted by both sides. Finally, the PDC argued that the wall should be built further away, or compensation should be paid. Seeing the equitable decision made by the PDC, and the good faith shown by his neighbour, the neighbour who first disagreed with the building of the wall asked that it should not be knocked down.
Once again, the PDC’s resolution of the conflict not only halted the escalation of bad feeling and violence between the neighbours, but also demonstrated the body’s impartiality and efficiency in coping with local disputes, further increasing the trust gained by the peace council system.
Peace Shura Case Study 3
In May 2010, in the course of a business transaction between a glass seller and a man for whose house he was providing windows, a mistake was made in the measurements, and an argument erupted. It soon turned violent, first between the two men, and then involving their families. During an attack by the glass seller’s family on the buyer, the buyer’s son shot and killed the glass seller. Both the glass buyer and his son then fled to Pakistan. After the killing, neither side was able to contact the other, and no mechanism could be engaged in to resolve the conflict.
Because the killer was due to be married and the marriage had to be postponed, the bride’s family approached the Kalakan Peace Council to mediate and attempt to find a resolution that would be accepted by all sides. Engagement with the Peace Council meant that the ANP and members of the victim’s family were dissuaded from trying to capture or kill the perpetrator, and although he could not return to the community, he could live in exile without being in constant fear for his life. Members of the Peace Council then identified and met with influential members of the victims’ family to ask whether forgiveness could be granted, and what deyat (compensation) would be acceptable to the family under Sharia law. The murderers’ family have accepted that they will need to pay a large amount of compensation, but since they could not afford to pay the initial demands, negotiations are still ongoing.
The efforts of the Peace Council gave the protagonists the space to discuss and build trust without resorting to further violence, and prevented further killings or expulsions from the community. Although the dispute is not fully resolved, the standing and trust shown to the Peace Council has increased in the entire district.