AJO's Remarks at Colombo Event

Hamid Darwesh
Director of Programs

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Good morning!

I first would like to thank the Regional Center for Strategic Studies and the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict for organizing this event, for the invitation, and for allowing me to speak.
I am honored and delighted to be here participating in this event and for the opportunity to share the role of civil society in peace and security so that we may learn from the entire South Asia group and apply lessons learned and experience to each other’s work when applicable.
Please permit first to set the stage for Afghanistan of the past four decades of conflict which have had a devastating impact on the Afghan people. Millions have been killed, millions more have been forced to flee their homes and now in the process of returning, the country’s infrastructure and forests have all but been destroyed. The social fabric of the country is fractured and state institutions are fragile and weak.
Much has been written about the wars and conflict in Afghanistan and the basic narrative of the conflict, in one form or another, has been repeated in numerous books, academic articles and news reports. But the voices of ordinary Afghans are often absented from these accounts, and yet it is the Afghan people who are most affected by the violence.
After the fall of the Taliban in late 2001, many Afghans were again hopeful that the violence would end and that their lives would improve. But in 2006, the security situation sharply deteriorated and violence is now at its highest levels since 2001.
Though life has improved for some Afghans, still nearly half of the population lives below the poverty line, more than a quarter of a million individuals remain displaced inside the country due to the conflict and million remain in Pakistan and Iran.
A whole generation has grown up never having experienced peace and many Afghans are struggling to cope with the psychological, economic, social and physical ramifications of the conflicts, past and present.

In 2014, AJO in collaboration with GPPAC produced an article on the state of human security in Afghanistan. The article, which was published as a chapter in “Empowerment and Protection: Stories of Human Security”, aimed to identify the main sources of insecurity people continue to experience in urban Afghanistan, despite more than a decade of international reconstruction efforts. Starting from the indispensability of “top down” and “bottom up” measures to human security. Again, in May of this year, AJO conducted an update survey on what Afghans think about human security after the withdrawal of the NATO and the forming of the National Unity Government.  The chapter - and this update - highlight the persisting forms of citizen empowerment in Afghanistan, and how intrinsically related they are to protection.
At the time the chapter was written, Afghanistan was going through an important transitional period in terms of its political, economic and security systems, preparing for the withdrawal of international militaries. There was much uncertainty around the capacity of this transition to guarantee the kind of economic growth, good governance and stability needed to ensure the preconditions for human security. Despite the deteriorating socio-economic and political situation since the withdrawal of NATO troops in December 2015 and disappointing international reconstruction efforts, many urban Afghans interviewed in a revision of the survey show great optimism towards betterments in security and the future of Afghanistan. However, in 2017, the optimism was considerably low and the fear and anxiety of where the country is leading economically with increase violence and no hope for peace.
In 2015-16, AJO conducted another survey of the 205 Taliban inmates in Pole-Charkhi prison to learn the drivers of conflict and extreme violence. Four major themes resulted from this survey that these participants believed are the drivers of violence in Afghanistan. Those included: 1. unemployment, 2. corruption, 3. moral/emotional issues which was understood by a variety of answers including avenging the loss of close relative to war, experiencing perceived injustice at the hands of government including armed forces, and government oppression; and 4. Un-Islamic government which was understood to mean there is no Shari’a and the government is not legitimate. 
There are other root causes of conflict in Afghanistan that are similar with the rest of South Asia conflicts, however, not major, though in some instances they can lead to major insecurity in a country. These include ethnic, religious, linguistic, and marginalization of population including women.  It is no secret that women and vulnerable Afghans have been discriminated, marginalized affected the most due to the continued conflict.
The last 16 years have been a mixture of military and diplomatic strategies to bring an end to this conflict, but to no avail. Both the Afghan government and international community including Afghanistan’s neighbors attempted to prevent or mange the conflict, and to bring peace not only to Afghanistan but the region, but with no success. 
Civil society has also played a role in preventing violence, managing conflict in order to bring peace.  While civil society in Afghanistan still need to develop further, however, it has grown to be more influential since its participation in both the Bonn Conferences 2001, and 2011, the Loya Jirga 2002, the Chicago NATO Summit 2012, the Tokyo Conference 2012, the London Conference 2014 and many others. Domestically, civil society are engaged in advocacy, peacebuilding, conflict resolution and playing the role of watchdog to hold public officials accountable. Civil society participate in legislative making process and are members of various committees and commission from rule of law to human rights to economic empowerment and women’s rights. 
I will now address briefly the specific role civil society has played and can pay in peace and security. First, it should be noted that people may have varying views of what constitutes peace as it is situational specific.  In Afghanistan, the conflict varies from extra-jurisdictional, to locally driven as I identified above.  Civil societies have contributed to both situations. They have participated in the peace negotiation in Qatar, and are members of the High Peace Council, inside Afghanistan they have conducted cross-community work which promotes dialogue for mutual understanding, conducted conflict resolution sessions training throughout the country to enable Afghans on how to resolve disputes, and promoted and included women in work and decision-making process. This is a well recorded fact that civil society had played a major role in addressing each of these which had contributed to the development of a climate in which new ideas can be explored and confidence in the possibility of peace, once again, can be expanded among Afghans.
As I mentioned, there are two major conflicts that Afghanistan must face that are outside and within. In fact, South Asia in general face not exactly but similar issues. I believe that we who are gathered here today can work together on a regional level to support each other in resolving or managing conflict rooted in regional, border, military strategic elements by sharing information, collaborating, advocating not just for our own country but for all the South Asian countries as a whole from our respective governments. If we unit as South Asians and work together, I believe we may be a catalyst for a broader change. If successful, it will bring about peace and security to our respective countries, we can then, in my view easily resolve and manage the internal conflicts thereafter.
I thank you for your time.

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