SWEDISH SOUTH ASIAN STUDIES NETWORK
|Sima Samar and Mary Akrami.|
The afternoon session of the conference was devoted to the theme ”Reconciliation and Justice”, and had two keynote speakers, Dr. Sima Samar and Ms. Mary Akrami.
Sima Samar is the chairwoman of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, and for some time after 2001 she served as the Deputy Chair and Minister of Women’s Affairs for the Interim Administration. She also established the first-ever Afghanistan Ministry of Women’s Affairs.
Mary Akrami has been the Director of Afghan Women Skills Development Center (AWSDC) since 1999. In 2001, she represented Afghan Civil Society at the peace conference in Bonn. AWSDC is much involved in building shelters for battered women in Afghanistan, and setting up micro-credit enterprise schemes for women.
Dr. Samar held a presentation titled ”The need for justice in peace building” where she desribed the grim human rights situation in Afghanistan today. Human rights violations are common, and she refused to accept the argument that the Taliban has to be involved in negotiations. They are already inside the establishment, having 23 representatives fighting for their cause in the parliament, and 13-14 governors sympathetic to the Taliban or Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. New morality laws are being decided upon, similiar to the ones that were used during the Taliban rule, and more and more restrictions are enforced against women.
Mary Akrami was equally sharp in her observations on the current situation for women in her presentation titled ”How to bury the hatchet – efforts to reconcile”. She disappointedly noted that the role of women in peace building had not been an issue at all in any of the presentations that had been given during the opening session of the conference.
The session on Reconciliation and Justice was concluded with a panel debate that was moderated by the Swedish journalist Nina Hjelmgren.
The second day’s proceedings was devoted to the concepts of Institution Building; State Legitimacy; and Security.
In a session titled ”Moving Forward – Peace Building Approaches: Institution Building and State Legitimacy”, three speakers gave presentations, namely H.E. Jelani Popal, General Director and founding director of the Independent Directorate of Local Governance (and previously being deputy Minister of Finance); Dr. Shahrbanou Tadjbakhsh, Director of the Program for Peace and Human Security (formerly Center for Peace and Human Security) at CERI (Centre d’etudes et Recherches Internationales), in Paris); and Mirwais Wardak, Programme Director of Cooperation for Peace and Unity (CPAU).
Mr. Jelani Popal’s (photo to the left) presentation was titled ”Government strategies for national and sub-national institution building”. It was a description of the efforts that the Afghani government are implementing in these respects. Mr. Popla said that the state building process today remains at a crucial junction, dependent on Governance policies by the government and by decrees from the president.
Dr. Shahrbanou Tadjbakhsh (photo to the right), who is of Iranian origin but an American citizen and a resident of France, holds a PhD and a Master's Degree from Columbia University and a Bachelor's Degree from Georgetown University in the US. Before joining CERI in Paris, she worked as an Adjunct Lecturer at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs in the US and also for a period been a visiting professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi. Between1995-2002, she worked as a staff member of the UNDP in various field assignments in Central Asia, the CIS and Eastern Europe with a last posting as Policy Advisor to National Human Development Reports (NHDR) at the human Development Report Office in UNDP New York.
Dr. Tadjbakhsh gave a fascinating presentation titled ”Liberal peace building and the challenges to enhance state legitimacy”, based on a collaborative research project between the CERI Program for Peace and Human Security (CPHS) and the Faculty of Law and Political Sciences at the University of Kabul. The project was titled ”Models of Peace and Perception Gaps” and lasted from September 2007 till July 2008. More information about the research project (as a pdf-file).
The project was born out of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that was drawn up in September 2007 between the Director of l'Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po) on behalf of the CERI Program for Peace and Human Security (CPHS), and Mr. Ashraf, Chancellor of Kabul University on behalf of the Faculty of Law and Political Sciences. The MoU focuses on a partnership and exchange of experiences on research and pedagogy on peace studies between. First, links were established between students, professors and researchers of Sciences Po and those of the University of Kabul. Four students and a professor/researcher (Tadjbakhsh) from CERI regularly came to teach and conduct joint research with the Department of Law and Political Sciences in Kabul. At the same time, five Afghan students, two junior professors and a senior professor worked on the project. The cooperation was aimed at exchanging methods of research and pedagogy on international relations, with a particular focus on peace studies. A second objective of the project was to conduct a joint research to examine the gaps in perceptions between Afghans and the international community on models of peace and modalities of peacebuilding in Afghanistan.
The study revolved around three research questions:
– Concepts and Models: Are there gaps in the perceptions of what constitutes as “peace” between external actors and domestic actors based on differences in values, in experiences, and expectations? If so, why is there a gap? Is the model of “liberal peace ” being implemented in Afghanistan and is there consensus on its legitimacy?
– Perceptions:Is there consensus on the model of liberal peace among international actors and local partners? Is this model seen as legitimate and efficient from the point of view of the population?
– Strategies: How is liberal peace being implemented in Afghanistan and is there consensus, coherence and coordination between the strategies of the international actors with those of national institutions?
Dr. Tadjbaksh now presented the results from the joint Afghan-French research project, and her conclusions were extremely interesting since this is the first time that a study of this kind has been carried out by Afghani students. They have interviewed a large number of people in power positions in Afghanistan at different levels from governors and down, to investigate their attitudes towards liberal peace building (the prevailing model in the world since 1989).
First, it turned out that many Afghans did not understand the concept at all. ”There is no peace in Afghanistan” was a common reaction, so ”why talk about liberal peace? It is a fantasy.” Then the dichotomy between the liberal model with tradition and religious values was highlighted, and the inherent tension between collectivism and individualsm in Afghani society. Many respondents told the interviewers that Islam offers a much better solution. With democracy as an imbibed value in Islam, liberal peace may well go fine with religion. But there are reservations, certain limitations have to be kept.
A final important observation that the research project pointed at is the fact that the people of Afghanistan still have large expectations from the state. In spite of all the efforts by the international community to impose a liberal economy based on private entrepreneurship on the country, and once and for all do away with the state control that became discredited after the years with a communist Soviet-backed government in the 1980s, most Afghanis have a much more favourable view towards state control. The problems with speculation, monopoly and black labour are all seen as evidence that a free market economy is detrimental. It makes people becoming poor, and is therefore also against Islam that preaches that you show pity on your fellow humans.
In the end, the Afghan people cares less for ideology than for getting food. A mixed economy where the state keeps playing an important role is seen as the ideal.
After Dr. Tadjbaksh came Mr. Mirwais Wardak (photo to the right) who gave a presentation titled ”Regaining people’s confidence – strategies to enhance state legitimacy and civil society”, about peace building processes on a field level. Mr. Wardak pointed out that security has to be provided, but corruption hampers the credibility of the government. It has lost much control of the countryside, where contractors now in many cases pay money to the Taliban in order to secure contracts in specific areas.
The final session dealing entirely with security consisted of speeches by three people. Ms. Farishta Sakhi, Executive Director of Women’s Activities and Social Services Association (WASSA), working in Herat province; Ms. Carlotta Gall, British reporter with the New York Times in Pakistan and Afghanistan; and Ms. Barbara Stapleton, Deputy to the EU Special Representative in Afghanistan. The session was chaired by Anders Fänge.
Farishta Sakhi (photo to the right) gave a presentation titled ”What is needed to enhance national security?” which was characterised by strong personal impressions from working with WASSA in Herat. She blamed the international community for paying too little concern about women’s issues such as maternal health, education and basic human rights. In her eyes, there should be hope for the country and no future for the Taliban if women really were involved in the development. Because how would ever the women of Afghanistan forget all sufferings they had to endure during the Taliban years, and legitimise those people that have blood or their hands. But on the other hand, if the external support is missing why should women risk their lives in the prospect that the Taliban might well return to power. Still Farishta Sakhi ended by saying that she still is hopeful that the 2009 elections will make a change, and that terrorism can be effectively tackled with. The policy of giving impunity to the former warlords must however be stopped.
Carlotta Gall (photo to the left) gave a different perspective from a journalistic angle. She has reported from Kabul since 2001 and reaffirmed in her presentation titled ”Strategies for enhancing regional security” previous speakers that the situation is now really depressing. The government has collapsed and the US military actions have been full of so many mistakes, the bombings of innocent people in wedding processions, and the indiscriminate sending of prisoners to Guantanamo among them. Among the few positive things to report about, she mentioned however that the Afghani Intelligence Service is doing a good work on the ground. The rate of suicide bombings has in fact gone down recently.
Barbara Stapleton ended up with a presentation titled ”Disarming the militias – DDF and DIAG and their impact on peace-building”, giving information about the great problems that have involved in disarming the militias and integrating them into the Afghan army. Ms. Stapleton has studied Middle Eastern history and politics at the School of Oriental and African Strudies (SOAS), Universirty of London, and completed her LLM in inte International law of human rights at the University of Essex in 1991. From 2002 till 2006, she worked with the Agency Coordinating Body For Afghan Relief (ACBAR), the main NGO coordination body based in Kabul, as Advocacy and Policy Coordinator.
In May 2006 she joined the office of the EU Special Representative in Afghanistan.
The conference ended up by giving opportunity for two optimistic final speeches on peace building in Afghanistan. Ms. Gunilla Carlsson, Swedish Minister for Development Cooperation had been invited to speak about ”Sweden’s contribution to peace building in Afghanistan”, where she actually broke the news that Sweden will increase its commitment both military and humanitarian to Afghanistan (more information).
Then came H.E. Jawed Ludin (photo to the right) back on stage and gave a presentation titled ”The window of opportunity for peace building initiatives in Afghanistan” where he aired optimism before the elections that will be held in 2009. Let us hope his optimism is well-founded.
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Last updated 2008-12-09