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Istanbul: The Long Afghan Journey from Violence to Negative-Positive Peace

By Dr. Matin Royeen Ph.D.

Introduction: Conflict is the presence of two or more incompatible ideas, desires, and interests.  The perceived divergence of interests in politics can be related to ideology, identity, culture, and power.  The outcomes of a conflict can take different forms such as de-escalation (Management), resolving all issues in contention, including the root problems (Resolution), and bringing positive changes to the relationships and interests (Transformation).  Negative peace refers to the halting of direct violence while rebuilding a country through reconciliation is called positive peace.

The Dimensions of the Afghan Conflict:  The protracted violent conflict in Afghanistan has deeply penetrated different layers of Afghan life.  On the Micro-level, it has affected individuals and their interpersonal relationships.  On the Meso level, the dynamics of large groups in different communities have been adversely affected by the Afghan conflict.  On the Macro-level, societal and structural conditions of this conflict have divided people along ethnic, regional and political lines resulting in mistrust and lack of faith in their leaders.  In the meantime, the silent majority of Afghans have been praying for peace, stability, and social justice in their troubled homeland.

The Caravan of Peace in Istanbul:  Unfortunately, the Afghan people have been dealing with conflict and violence since April of 1978 during a bloody coup by the Communists that took the life of President Daud and most members of his family.  Sadly, since this period, Afghanistan has not seen a period of stability and peace.  Currently, there is momentum and a great opportunity among the key players such as the United States, NATO, regional countries, Taliban, and the Afghan people to end the violence (negative peace).  The ultimate goal should move the nation forward towards a viable peace where all Afghans with the assistance of the international community can participate in the rebuilding of a stable and peaceful (positive peace) Afghanistan.  In order to achieve this noble goal, the following points by the relevant stakeholders are important.

 The United States and NATO: Both have invested in Afghanistan with money and in blood on all sides.  Considerable progress has been made in some areas of life in the past twenty years.   In my opinion, Afghanistan will continue to be dependent financially on foreign aid until 2030.  The United States and NATO will not only help in facilitating a peace agreement but also will have to make a long-term commitment towards peace-keeping and peace-building with the assistance of the United Nations.  The future Afghan government/s will need help in developing a national consensus/actions related to good governance, reconciliation, fighting endemic corruption and drugs. 

In the aftermath of a peace agreement, the scope of responsibilities of the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) could be expanded to include overseeing accountability, transparency, and effective governance.  The recruitment of Afghan professionals living inside and abroad can help SIGAR in its role in the country. The national interest of the Afghan surrounding peace, security, stability, prosperity, and neutrality should be supported by the US and NATO.

The United Nations:  This legitimate international organization can assist in peace-keeping operations if necessary.  Further, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) can play a critical role in the enforcement of human rights, peace education, and peace-building by working with women groups, youths, ulema, educators, and members of civil society across Afghanistan.  Additionally, the United Nations can assist in facilitating a peaceful reintegration of the Taliban and their families in their homeland.

Regional Cooperation:  The neighboring countries of Pakistan, India, Iran, China, Russia, and the Central Asian countries, and the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey should serve as guarantors of the Afghan peace accord.  In order to do this, the US-NATO and the United Nations should separately meet with these countries in order to address their regional concerns/grievances with each other in order to ensure their political/security interests can be safeguarded in a  peaceful Afghanistan.  Forming a Regional Confederation for Political and Economic Cooperation will bring economic prosperity and contribute unmeasurably towards regional peace and political stability.

The Afghan Stakeholders:  While there is absolute unanimous support and commitment for peace among different Afghan leaders, some of their positions on how to achieve peace may be different.  Diversity of positions are considered to be the strength of a democratic process,  I believe different positions by the Afghan political stakeholders should be presented and discussed during the Istanbul Peace Conference.  I envision four different positions under consideration in Istanbul peace discussions.  These positions include the Presidential Palace, The High Council for National  Reconciliation, The Independent Political Parties, and the Taliban.

The Taliban:  In the past, the Taliban have emphasized on an Islamic Government in accordance with the Afghan culture and way of life.  The Istanbul Peace Conference will provide the opportunity for the Taliban leadership to clarify their stance on a range of topics such as the Afghan constitution, the type of government they envision, what kind of transitional government, ceasefire, and the future make-up of the Afghan National Security Forces.   An important discussion between the United States and the Taliban includes a new agreement on the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan, the release of prisoners, and the removal of the Taliban from the Black List. 

The Afghan Transitional Government:  A completely new and innovative approach to the formation of a Transitional Peace Government should include new leadership without any political involvement/ties to the previous Afghan governments. The qualification/criteria for such individual/s in the transitional government should include technical competence, integrity, respect for the Afghan religion and culture, love of the Afghan nation, high morals, and character/service leadership orientation.  This Transitional Peace Government should promote peace and reconciliation through actions by involving representatives of the four major ethnic groups (Pashtun, Tajik, Uzbek, and Hazara) as well as ulema, youths, women, academics, and members of civil societies in their administration.

Conclusion:  There are no winners in wars.  I can tell with certainty that every Afghan household has lost at least, a loved one to the cruelty of this long war.  The Afghan people, including the Taliban and their families, have been paying a heavy price.  This is the time for the Afghan stakeholders (the Taliban leadership Afghan political leaders) to make the unselfish noble move by joining the Caravan of Peace and Completing this Historic Journey. After forty-two years of a violent conflict, it will take genuine mutual efforts to achieve peace and move towards reconciliation.  During the Istanbul Conference, Conflict Management on how to de-escalate violence is the first step.  Addressing the root cause of the Afghan conflict will be a necessary step towards conflict resolution during the Transitional Phase.  Building trust in the relationships, promoting confidence in an inclusive and just government and meeting the basic needs, providing safety and security, creating communities where all Afghans will have a sense of belonging will contribute to Peace-building in Afghanistan. The Afghan people need a period of political stability before any type of election is held.  One can argue that the systemic problems during the Afghan Presidential elections of 2014 and 2019 have contributed to political disintegration. loss of faith in the government and discord among political leaders.. In the meantime, the United States and NATO should serve as guarantors that Afghan people will continue to enjoy their fundamental freedoms articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations since 1948.

Signing a political peace agreement will be an easy task.  But, achieving national reconciliation by mending broken relationships, developing empathy, mercy, and forgiveness, and creating a stable society where all Afghans could live in peace with each other will take time and collective commitment.  In order for this peace and reconciliation to be Afghan-owned, those Afghan professionals with technical, human relations, and conflict resolution skills must rebuild their injured nation.

            Dr. Matin Royeen Ph.D. is an Afghan American educator.  He can be reached at: 

                                                            [email protected]

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