After almost 40 years of war, peace agreements may be close in Afghanistan. But achieving real peace requires more than a signed paper. Sustainable peace presupposes local anchoring and meaningful inclusion of the civilian population, writes Andreas Stefansson at the Swedish Afghanistan Committee.
Recently, we have been able to follow a development where more and more initiatives are being taken for ceasefire and peace in Afghanistan. President Ghani presented his peace plan in November last year. In February, Afghan representatives and the Taliban met in Moscow. Recently, the fifth round of talks between the Taliban and the United States was held in Doha. This is of course a development to follow curiously and hopefully. What happens after the agreements are signed? Is peace reached when the ink from the signatures has dried? And what compromises are the parties prepared to agree to in order to reach a peace agreement?
On 12 December 2018, the Swedish Afghanistan Committee, SAK, organized an international conference focusing on local peacebuilding. Experts with experience from work on peace, humanitarian work, development and policy in Afghanistan gathered to jointly increase understanding of how peace can be built from below. The aim was also to analyze, together with the international community, how local forces in Afghanistan can be strengthened to influence, build and sustain a long-term and lasting peace.
For over 35 years, SAK has worked for the rights and self-determination of the Afghan people. Every day, our colleagues meet many of the people who are worst affected and most vulnerable in the protracted Afghan conflict. In 2018, we had almost three million patient visits to our hospitals and 90 children in our schools, of which 000 percent were girls.
So far, these voices have not been invited to or heard in any peace talks. Although the civilian population in Afghanistan has been living with the consequences of war and violence for almost 40 years, they are excluded from the talks. Many women in Afghanistan right now are afraid that their rights will be reduced or completely negotiated away. The lack of female participation in the peace talks that have begun is obvious. But men must not be left alone to dictate the conditions for a future peace in Afghanistan.
From the conference, we were able to draw three important conclusions about how a local perspective can contribute to sustainable peace.
First, strong local ownership is required for a peace process to have an impact and become viable. Inclusion must be a key word for all negotiating parties throughout the peace process. In addition to the inclusion of women, an estimated 70 percent of the Afghan population is under 30 years of age. Young people can be a huge force for change, but must also be invested in and included in decision-making and peace negotiations at all levels. Ramiz Bakhtiar, Afghanistan's first youth representative to the UN, reminded on several occasions during the conference that “Peace is social transformation. It is not an individual event where an agreement is signed - it is a process ". That process must be locally rooted.
Secondly, initiatives must be designed on the basis of good local knowledge and understanding of the context. The local population and local civil society have an important role to play in identifying the forces and factors that drive the conflict, but also the forces that promote peaceful development. The efforts of Sweden, the EU and the international community must contribute to strengthening the local peace-promoting and conflict-preventing forces that can create peace in Afghanistan. Last year, we saw several peace initiatives in Afghanistan. In connection with Eid, a three-day ceasefire was announced and families could be reunited, albeit for a short while before the fighting resumed. A peace march took place across the country, urging the warring parties to lay down their arms. The voices for and the longing for peace in Afghanistan are there.
Third, what is known as "the Triple Nexus" shows - the link between humanitarian work, development cooperation and peace-building efforts - that it is of the utmost importance to increase cooperation and the exchange of knowledge between international and national actors. All of them are important pieces of the puzzle for promoting local conditions for peace, but the downpipes risk leading to possible synergies going to waste.
If nothing changes in development cooperation, extreme poverty in the world will soon be concentrated in the poorest, crisis- and conflict-affected countries. If nothing changes in the Afghan peace process, it will not contribute to lasting peace. We have a shared responsibility to ensure that no one is left out in our quest for peaceful and sustainable development.
With talks on peace agreements, a hope for peace is also born. But it is the Afghan people who are the real hope. All attempts at peace must begin with them. For peace is much more than an agreement.
Watch a film from the conference
Here you can see a short film with speeches and interviews from SAK's international conference on Afghanistan: