IWPR project provides forum for discussing difficult issues and promoting conflict resolution.
IWPR’s Kabul office has launched a programme of events and training courses to inform young people about what they can do to promote peace-building and reconciliation in Afghanistan.
The country’s turbulent recent history has left a legacy of anger and bitterness that will take many years to overcome, with shifting political allegiances, ethnic and religious differences, and an ongoing insurgency.
With Taleban attacks on the rise, and most international forces scheduled to leave the country by the end of 2014, there is an urgent need to find ways of moving beyond the cycle of continual conflict.
An IWPR project launched in September, called Afghan Reconciliation: Promoting Peace and Building Trust by Engaging Civil Society, will set up citizen groups across the country to drive peace initiatives, and work with local branches of the High Peace Council, the body tasked with negotiating with the Taleban.
“The project’s principal goal is to engage Afghans in efforts that will support reconciliation and peace-building,” IWPR country director Noorrahman Rahmani said.
Debate moderators are being trained to host a series of discussions – around 180 in all – in all of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, reaching an anticipated 18,000 people. Specially-trained journalists will attend all these events, and will produce radio and print stories on the main themes that come up. An additional series of 18 events will allow debate participants in different provinces to talk to one another, and will be followed by phone-in radio shows to reach an even bigger audience.
“Citizen watchdog groups” led by Muslim clerics, civil society leaders and young journalists will be set up in seven broad regions that take in all 34 provinces. Working with local radio stations and NGOs, these groups will act as bridges between the community and local government, helping the former hold the latter to account.
Special training events will be held to give provincial spokespersons of the High Peace Council pointers on how they can best engage with the public and the media on peace and reconciliation issues.
The project will culminate with a three-day peace conference in Kabul, which will be attended by religious scholars, civic activists, journalists and will make recommendations on how national government and provincial administrations can move forward with the reconciliation process.
The format builds on IWPR’s experience with encouraging young Afghans to use their votes in the 2014 elections, which was similarly based around discussion events and media publicity. In that project, Rahmani noted, “we have conducted around 200 debates so far involving around 20,000 young Afghans – women and men – in ten provinces”. (See Afghan Youth Project “Changed my Mind”, Participant Says.)
Ahmad Shah Fitrat, the debate moderator for the western Farah province, said discussion events were a good way of “bringing the public and the authorities together”, although it would be “a challenge to find the right people” to attend.
Wahida Shahkar, the moderator for Parwan province, just north of Kabul, said that “debates mix the experience of experts with the fresh thoughts of young people, which can help achieve peace”.