Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Afghans Debate Prospects for Peace

Open atmosphere allows criticism to be freely aired and tough questions asked.
  • Participants in IWPR’s new project on peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. (Photo: IWPR)
    Participants in IWPR’s new project on peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. (Photo: IWPR)

A series of debates held across Afghanistan has proved so stimulating that IWPR has been urged to broadcast them on television and radio so as to reach a wider audience.

Discussion events taking place in provinces all over Afghanistan are designed to allow people  to talk about the prospects for – and obstacles to – peace,  and form part of  an IWPR project called Afghan Reconciliation: Promoting Peace and Building Trust by Engaging Civil Society. (See Helping Afghans Work Towards Peace for more.)

In Kandahar in the south, the head of the provincial information and culture department, Dawa Khan Minapal, said the debates were so influential they deserved a wider audience. He suggested that they be broadcast by local television or radio stations so that more people could benefit from them.

“In order to bring about big changes, one must think big and spend more,” he said.

In the eastern Kunar province, Nader, a 60-year-old elder in the village of Dam in Asadabad district, praised the liberating atmosphere in which the meeting took place.

“I found it a place where people freely criticised the government’s performance, a place where people shared their problems with government officials, and those officials found solutions for them,” he said.

This open environment led to some interesting revelations. In a debate held in the western Herat province, education department chief Basir Ahmad Arwin revealed that five schools had been closed in the Shindand district because of Taleban threats, and the government was unable to do anything about it.

The Afghan Reconciliation initiative, which looks at ways of moving beyond the cycle of conflict, is also creating citizen groups working for greater accountability, and training journalists to report on peace processes.

Trainees at one recent workshop said that it had fundamentally changed their approach to their profession. In late October, 24 reporters from provinces including Badakhshan, Takhar and Kunduz attended the three-day course.

Hamraz Amiri from Kaihan Radio in Kunduz said the course made him rethink his view of pure war reporting,

“For years, I reported with the attitude that the worst news made the best reports, but IWPR changed my approach. I have now learned how I can also report the consequences of war beyond stories about suicide attacks and explosions. I have also learned how to give my reporting a humanitarian tone and angle,” Amiri said.

Tahmina Farahmand, a reporter for the Sewad weekly in Badakhshan, said the workshop made a big impact on her. “I realised that what I knew about journalism was obsolete and no longer applicable,” she said.

Sher Ali Qasemi, head of the provincial information and culture department, said he was delighted that half-a-dozen journalists from Kunduz had an opportunity to take part in a workshop that made a significant contribution to raising standards of reporting.

Qasemi added that further, more extensive training was needed to improve the professional standards among journalists.

In Badakhshan, Abdul Wasel Latifi, head of broadcasting matters in the provincial government’s information and culture office, said the workshop was having  a tangible effect on journalism standards, as news content and production values were already showing signs of improvement.