Peacebuilding Manual/Need for a Peacebuilding Manual

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Need for a Peacebuilding Manual in Afghanistan

War has impacted the social fabric of the country and, in the context of severe and persistent poverty, local disputes can potentially turn violent and exacerbate the wider conflict. Decades of war have not only undermined social cohesion at local level, they have also exacerbated poverty, which is itself an underlying cause of insecurity.

Existing measures to promote peace in Afghanistan are hampered by insurgent activities but peace at the local levels largely depends on how the fundamental units of Afghan society – families, communities, and tribes – live and relate with each other. As highlighted by the 2008 Oxfam report on peacebuilding in Afghanistan, local capacity building and empowerment in peacebuilding processes is an effective strategy to help Afghans deal with disputes in a peaceful and constructive way.

OHW, therefore, considered it vital to capture its experience and lessons learned and elaborate a peacebuilding manual that could help civil society in facilitating peace amongst local communities and in bringing across people’s voices to policy makers at higher levels of governance.

The nature, causes, and impacts of conflicts in Afghanistan vary widely, and there is a corresponding variation in the most effective means by which conflicts can be resolved. Insecurity in Afghanistan often has local causes. Often a range of steps and actions are required, such as building awareness amongst people about alternative ways of building peace, training people in the knowledge of law and mediation skills, strengthening the rule of law, increasing linkages between local people and government authorities so that people’s voices are brought across to inform policy making processes, reduce poverty, and improve governance.

Peacebuilding is an important means of addressing insecurity, yet most of the peacebuilding work in Afghanistan has rather been at a political level or target-limited, such as the disarmament programmes. Other initiatives, such as the Action Plan for Peace, Justice and Reconciliation and the Peace Commission, are significant, but lack clarity and are primarily concerned with peace and reconciliation at a national level. These initiatives do have the potential to improve security, but they only partially concern the people of Afghanistan, especially in rural communities. The capacity of Afghan communities to resolve their own disputes, and build and sustain peace, has largely been neglected.

Various surveys conducted in Afghanistan have often related the causes of local disputes to resources, particularly land and water; to a lesser degree, they also relate to families and women, or to ethnic, tribal, and inter-community differences. This is aggravated by a range of factors such as natural disasters, refugee flows, badly delivered aid, corruption, abuse of power, or the opium trade.

In many cases, local disputes lead to violence, and while the strength and importance of family and tribal affiliations in Afghanistan can be a source of stability, they can also lead to the rapid escalation of disputes. The resulting insecurity not only destroys quality of life and impedes development work, but is also exploited by criminal or anti-government groups to strengthen their positions in the wider conflict.

An Oxfam Survey of Afghanistan in 2008 showed that predominantly local mechanisms have been used to resolve disputes or address local problems. In terms of formal mechanisms, those most often used are the police, for immediate purposes, and district governors, while the courts are approached comparatively infrequently. The type of mechanism used for the resolution of any given dispute depends on local factors and on the nature of the dispute, but the most favoured mechanism, particularly in rural areas, is the community or tribal councils of elders (known as jirgas or shuras). As the International Crisis Group (ICG) also concluded as early as 2003, local disputes often lead to violence (discussed further below), and the cumulative impact is an environment of insecurity which is readily exploited by warlords, criminals, and militants.

The peacebuilding project implemented by OHW has demonstrated that the approach most effective for peacebuilding in Afghanistan is a participatory, bottom-up approach, based on the premise that people are the best resources for building and sustaining peace. Such an approach aims to strengthen community capacities to resolve disputes peacefully; to develop trust, safety, and social cohesion within and between communities; and to promote inter-ethnic and inter-group dialogue. This is possible through building the community capacity, especially jirgas and shuras, and especially women and youth, to resolve disputes through mediation, negotiation, and conflict resolution; supporting civil-society involvement in peace and development; and promoting peace education.

Local peacebuilding has had a range of positive, often interconnected outcomes: increased resolution of disputes; lower levels of violence, including domestic violence; greater community cohesion; stronger resilience to external threats or events; the expansion of development activity; and the successful reintegration of returnees.

For the vast majority of Afghans, disputes have local causes, and people turn to local institutions and individuals to resolve them. Yet little work gets done with communities, especially shuras, to enhance their capabilities to resolve these problems peacefully. Peace work at a community level strengthens community cohesion, reduces violence, and enhances resistance to militants. It is an essential and complementary part of a wider strategy to secure a lasting national peace, including concerted measures to promote better governance; rural development; and the professionalisation of police and security forces.

Further, in the absence of effective access to justice and inadequately equipped justice institutions, it is vital that traditional and new local institutions have increased capacities to resolve local conflicts at the local level and that all efforts of peacebuilding are inclusive, especially of women and marginalised sections of the communities. The peacebuilding manual is an effort to address this gap.