New violence reminds us too often of how hard it will be to achieve a sustainable peace in Afghanistan. Yet, Afghans, the United States and others continue to work tirelessly to foment serious negotiations that can lead to a peace accord among warring Afghan parties. To succeed, a peace agreement will need to be accompanied by a serious process of implementation, and importantly, by programs and policies encouraging reconciliation and healing among Afghans after decades of conflict.
I had the privilege of mentoring a group of seniors at American University’s School of International Service in Washington, D.C., this spring as they searched the world for examples of programs that successfully helped to promote reconciliation in other conflicts. The goal of the research was to provide for Afghans and their international partners some of the best practices exemplified by these programs in order to support ongoing efforts for reconciliation and peace building in Afghanistan.
The students benefited from the wise counsel of several experts from Creative Associates International, who generously offered insights from their experiences in Afghanistan and elsewhere. In addition, the students also spoke with a range of scholars, civic leaders, experienced field practitioners and diplomats about building peace in other conflicts, as well as with Afghans and friends of Afghanistan who have worked diligently towards peace in that country.
The research team examined conflicts in more than 30 countries and examined a wide variety of programs before focusing on 10 examples with promising results. The approaches identified have been used in Rwanda, Burundi, South Africa, Mali, the Lake Chad Region (Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger), Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Colombia, Iraq, and Nepal. In each of these cases, the team concluded that there was sufficient evidence of success around the program to consider drawing lessons from that experience for possible application in Afghanistan.
The team also found what seemed to be promising examples from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Tajikistan, but they were not able to identify sufficient evidence of success to include them in the A list.
After reviewing their research and building on their interviews with field practitioners and scholars, the team divided the most promising programs from around the world into four categories:
- Healing of Trauma – including Truth and Reconciliation Committees (South Africa, Sierra Leone, Rwanda);
- Peace Education – illustrated by programs in Nigeria and Burundi as well as by peace marketing in Colombia;
- Cohesion Building— exemplified by sports programing in Iraq (and elsewhere), cross-border security and economic initiatives in the Lake Chad region, and Justice and Security Dialogues which have been successfully used in a number of countries, and;
- Gender Inclusivity— successes of women’s involvement in Colombia, Uganda, Philippines and Nepal are highlighted.
The researchers were conscious that successes elsewhere cannot necessarily be applied directly to Afghanistan and that there are other concrete examples that may also provide good lessons. They concluded, however, that the cases presented in their report could provide inspiration and insights for those seeking ways to bring people together in Afghanistan.
The team was particularly sensitive to the challenges of pursuing programs related to gender inclusivity in areas controlled by the Taliban and with a government incorporating Taliban leaders. Nevertheless, they emphasized the positive impacts of such gender programs in peace processes elsewhere and determined that a very strong effort should be made to include effective gender programs in any Afghan peace consolidation effort.
From their research, the team also drew five overarching conclusions regarding successful reconciliation efforts:
- The programs needed careful nurturing in order to take root and flourish, with dedicated leaders, teams and community support.
- Successful programs encouraged people to relate to each other as individuals, building on shared experiences (sometimes sad ones), symbols (mothers, holidays, sports) and identities.
- Approaches that gain traction create or lay the groundwork for spaces where individuals from previously opposing sides can engage in constructive dialogue.
- Success seemed more likely with a combination of local buy–in and international support (especially in funding, training and recognition).
- To make progress, programs needed teams and partners with deep knowledge of the country’s history, culture and norms who were sensitive to local needs and concerns.
American University’s team hopes that their research can contribute to the vital work underway, undertaken by Creative and others, to develop and maintain sustainable peace in Afghanistan, and perhaps elsewhere.
American University’s Afghanistan Reconciliation Task Force researchers are Alan de Beaufort, Danielle Budd, Anna Hirsch, Maria Humayun, Katie Kerekes, Peri Kirkpatrick, William Mosko, Joseph Pesmen and Kevin Reckamp.
Earl Anthony Wayne is a retired career U.S. Ambassador who is now the Diplomat in Residence at American University’s School of International Service and a Public Policy Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. During his diplomatic career, Wayne served in a variety of positions including as U.S. Ambassador to Mexico and Argentina, Deputy Ambassador to Afghanistan, Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe. Arriving in 2009, Wayne served as Coordinating Director for Development and Economic Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, a new office created to improve coordination of over $4 billion in U.S. non-military assistance among U.S. civilian agencies, and with the Afghan government, the U.S. military’s programs and other international donors.
A PDF version of the full report, “Imagine Peace: Connecting Global Solutions on Reconciliation with an Afghanistan Ready for Peace,” is available on request.