Changes Coming for Afghan Peace Council

Steps include increasing female representation and reaching out to civil society.

Changes Coming for Afghan Peace Council

Steps include increasing female representation and reaching out to civil society.

Afghanistan’s High Peace Council (HPC), the body tasked with forging reconciliation with the Taleban, says it is putting recommendations made at an IWPR conference earlier this year into practice.

At public debates recently held across Afghanistan, HPC representatives said that they were taking steps to implement proposals such as increasing female representation in peace talks.

The head of the HPC secretariat in Paktiya, Hamidullah Husanyar, confirmed that the council was reaching out to other stakeholders to consider the conference’s proposals.

“We are making a new strategy for the Peace Council and are in touch with civil society organisations and the relevant people regarding their suggestions,” he said.

In Herat, Yama Amini, the head of the local HPC secretariat, added, “After IWPR’s conference regarding the national peace and reconciliation process in Kabul, High Peace Council officials started working on a new plan so that women would have more opportunities to increase their presence in High Peace Council and provincial offices.”

He added, “Now the role of women has significantly risen in the High Peace Council and they are carrying out their task well.”

Government officials, religious leaders, civil society activists and journalists from across Afghanistan were among the 70 people who had gathered in May for IWPR’s three-day Kabul event.

Working committees used data and feedback from a two-year IWPR initiative - Afghan Reconciliation: Promoting Peace and Building Trust by Engaging Civil Society - to help formulate proposals.

One innovative recommendation was the inclusion of a course devoted to peace in the educational curricula of schools and universities.

In Herat, Amini confirmed that the ministry of education and the HPC were currently working on this addition to the curriculum.

Farhad Jelani, the spokesman of Herat’s governor, agreed. “After IWPR ran many programmes regarding reconciliation in our society, provincial officials have tried their best to acquaint people with the importance of peace, which everyone needs.”

However, others at the Herat debate said that much more needed to be done, particular in the field of gender equality.

“The leaders of the national unity government made many promises to women but failed to implement even one. That means that women are marginalized,” said provincial council member Sakina Hussaini.

“Many women in remote districts made huge efforts to convince insurgents to join the peace process, but the High Peace Council has never mentioned the names of those hardworking women. In fact, the High Peace Council has always ignored and disregarded women’s role.”

In Badakhshan, debate participant Mozon Badakhshi recounted personal experiences of women playing a part in countering radicalisation.

“I strongly believe in the role women can play in peace talks and I have many good examples of it,” she continued, noting one case in which a local woman had convinced several male family members to leave the Taleban.

“Today, because of her efforts, her father, son and uncle have quit fighting and joined the peace process,” Badakhshi said.

The issue of discrimination was highlighted in the Baghlan debate when a senior High Peace Council figure walked out of the event in protest at the mixed audience of men and women.

Khadija Yaqeen, director of women’s affairs in Baghlan province, said that this was a clear example of misogyny.

She added, “I think that with such actions, the High Peace Council will never be able to convince the insurgents that women are also a part of this society and have equal rights to men.”

She continued, “Reaching peace will be impossible as long as there is gender discrimination.”

Elsewhere, debates heard that the HPC had to do much more to persuade the public of the efficacy of their work.

Ghulam Sakhi, a participant in the Balkh debate, said, “Unfortunately, the activities of the High Peace Council have not convinced people across the country. Afghan citizens are neither satisfied nor happy about their actions.”

He said that mutual acceptance was the only way to reach to peace.

“The level of discrimination is very high in our society,” Sakhi continued. “Due to the fact that the High Peace Council has been so biased in its work and decisions, people don’t have much trust in their activities. The High Peace Council does not have any specific plan and strategy, so people don’t trust their procedures.”

Mahmood Hemat, a political expert in Ghazni, warned that there was as yet no unified roadmap for negotiations.

“The Afghan government doesn’t have a clear strategy regarding peace and reconciliation,” he continued. “The government should have a specific plan and set its limits. Peace can only be brought through practical measures, not by words.”

In Kandahar, the debate heard that the current make-up of the HPC needed to be changed.

Provincial council member Sayed Ahmad Selab said that the council had yet to move beyond sloganeering because many of those who were supposed to be building peace were former combatants themselves.

“The members of the High Peace Council have all been hired based on influence, and were or have been involved in past or present fighting. Reconciliation should depend on none of these parties.”

In the Khost debate, Zohra Jalal, head of the provincial council’s women’s committee, argued that many strongmen in the council actually opposed female involvement in peace building.

 “The High Peace Council is made up of people who have blood on their hands and who hate women’s involvement in this council,” she said. “The role of women is only symbolic and for show in the media.”

Khost university lecturer Amir Baheer argued that the president should diminish the power of the former warlords within the council while giving female members more authority.

“Men and women have equal rights according to law,” he said. “The second article of the national constitution orders that Islam is the religion of Afghanistan and the role of women should be significant.”

This report is part of the IWPR programme Afghan Reconciliation: Promoting Peace and Building Trust by Engaging Civil Society.

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