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

IWPR Debates Reach Wide Audience in Afghanistan

Discussion programme takes in third of country’s provinces in January.

Some 1,200 Afghans took part in IWPR-organised debates on peace-building and reconciliation in the first month of 2015 alone.

The events were held in 12 provinces across Afghanistan as part of ongoing activities designed to give people space to talk about ways towards peace and stability. The project is called Afghan Reconciliation: Promoting Peace and Building Trust by Engaging Civil Society

The meetings offer an open environment in which both men and women can speak frankly.

Muqim Adil, a presenter on Voice of Nejrab radio in Kapisa province who has taken part in a number of the IWPR-organised debates, said the sessions gave ordinary citizens an unprecedented opportunity to engage with government representatives.

“The IWPR debates gave people in Kapisa the ability, for the first time, to discuss issues directly with officials,” he said. “They found this incredible. A kind of trust in the democratic process was created among people.”

This view was shared by participants in other debates. In Jowzjan, Jamila Abbas Raufi said she had learned a lot from taking part.

“Such events are a very positive way to inform the public,” she said. “People are able to share their problems.”

Humaira Qazizada, another participant in the Jowzjan debate, agreed.

“We had some problems and we were able to share them with others in this debate. We hope our needs will be conveyed to high-ranking officials,” she said.

The subjects aired in the debates include a range of issues of concern to ordinary Afghans.

In events held in Nangarhar, Khost and Kandahar provinces, participants discussed the damage that decades of conflict had done to the country’s education system. (More at Afghans Demand More of Education System.) The discussion highlighted the effect that continual warfare had had on women’s education, in particular.

The positive impact of an emergency police hotline was the subject of debates in Badakhshan, Herat and Parwan provinces. This call centre allows concerned members of the public to report crimes and terror attacks. (Afghan Hotline Helps Police Fight Crime.)

Humayun Ayni, the senior police officer in charge of the hotline service, told IWPR that it allowed citizens to engage actively in making their home areas safer. He said police had defused more than 750 roadside bombs and arrested 21 would-be suicide attackers thanks to tip-offs, while hundreds of crimes had also been prevented.

“We want to roll out the 119 police hotline all around Afghanistan, because it is a very positive way of ensuring peace,” he said.

As part of the same project, an IWPR roundtable on challenges to peace in Logar was aired live on January 22 on Paiwand Melli Radio, a privately-owned station in the province. The hour-long programme also gave listeners an opportunity to put questions to the studio guests.

“Organising such roundtables through local radio changes public opinion about war and securing peace,” said Zafar Khan, a civil society activist in Logar province who was a guest on the show. “It is a very creative method. I would urge IWPR and other organisations to launch these activities in areas where fighting is still taking place.”

In addition, a three-day workshop on peace reporting was held at IWPR head office in Kabul. Reporters were brought from a number of provinces between January 13-15 to learn about the importance of covering stories that looked beyond the immediate conflict.

Abdul Fatah Yasar, a participant in the workshop, said, “I have always prepared reports about war and violence over the ten years I have been working as a journalist. In this workshop, I learned how important it is to report on peace as well as other issues.”

Journalist Hasiba Salimi said the training would also have a definite impact.

“I can now say with confidence that my work will change considerably following this event, because what I learned in the workshop proved very useful,” she said.

Another participant, Wahida Shahkar, suggested that IWPR organise similar workshops in other provinces.

“Our reporters in the provinces are unaware of issues like these. Everyone thinks the best story is about war, but I learned new things in this workshop and changed my view,” she added.