- Host Intro: The Afghan government has made gestures in the name of progress such as the recent Peace jirga, but they have been criticized as shallow and ineffectual. The idea of a full-fledged peace movement in Afghanistan might seem far-fetched, but an organized effort by the Afghan people may be what’s really needed. Karim Sariahmed reports on the initial sparks of an Afghan peace movement.
KARIM SARIAHMED: Afghanistan’s National Consultative Peace Jirga convened on June 2nd, just before the war in Afghanistan surpassed Vietnam as the longest war in the history of the United States. President Hamid Karzai called upon the Taliban to join in peace efforts and reintegrate themselves into society, addressing them as brothers. The Taliban would only comply if international forces in Afghanistan withdrew.
And representatives from the Taliban were not even invited to the Peace Jirga. Israr Ahmad Karimzai, president of Awakened Youth Association, a network of Afghan youth organizations, had high hopes for the Peace Jirga and believes that it was productive. However he finds the demands of both sides unreasonable:
ISRAR AHMAD KARIMZAI: The taliban asked for the withdrawal of international troops, and the government asked them to lay down their weapons. These requirements are very extreme. To ask the international troops to withdraw would be like destroying afghanistan. On the other hand you can’t ask your armed opposition, who has more control over the country than you have, they will say ‘why shall we put down our weapons?’ You need to sit down to negotiate on things
KARIM SARIAHMED: Wazhma Frogh, the Afghanistan Country Director for the ngo Global Rights and a recipient of the International Women of Courage Award, thought President Karzai’s refusal to even discuss the demands of the Taliban was a mistake.
She saw the Jirga as flawed on some very basic levels. She says the whole process was one-sided, and that President Karzai essentially told the jirga what conclusions to come to. Ms. Frogh also considers it a contradiction to have counterinsurgency and reintegration at the same time:
WAZHMA FROGH: How can you integrate people who you are killing in the counterinsurgency operation?….I think it was a very dangerous idea. I don’t know who presented this to the Afghan government or the international community that you can talk at the same time and you can kill at the same time.
KARIM SARIAHMED: Afghans, who have suffered for decades, are frustrated with their government, and young people who run out of options often join the insurgency. The government is aware of this issue, but the problem, according to Ms. Frogh is that the government does not take responsibility for its own people because it is corrupt and impotent:
WAZHMA FROGH: There are many people who are angry because of the government of Afghanistan, me included, but I didn’t pick up arms, I didn’t pick up guns and i didn’t explode myself. We have nonviolent ways of resisting
KARIM SARIAHMED: Recently, in the northern province of Faryab, militants burned down an entire village and just left.
WAZHMA FROGH: So the people had a demonstration, they asked the parliamentarians that ‘we have been the people who tolerated even the failure of the government. We have been the people who have tolerated even the injustices of the government and still we are being ignored, and still we are being deprived.
KARIM SARIAHMED: Frogh has talked to many youth groups in northern and central Afghanistan who feel ignored, and that they even lack international support. Enayat Safi, who has worked through the UN with youth organizations for the past 6 years, has been working to establish representative youth councils. Safi puts a lot of faith in the potential of young Afghans.
ENAYAT SAFI: Out of the number of people we have so far been able to contact, there has been very very positive and very very good reactions. Because you know youth around the world, they are full of energy, they are full of hope, no matter how difficult the mission is. I mean, if nobody is else is taking care of you why don’t you take care of your own future, why don’t you take your own future in your hands. For how long are we going to wait for people to make decisions for us?
KARIM SARIAHMED: Safi understands the limitations of- organizing young people to solve the country’s most deep-rooted problems, but he is undeterred.
ENAYAT SAFI: A postwar Afghanistan is going to be……..an Afghanistan that belongs to the young generation. Now, we all understand what is the priority for the young generation of Afghanistan. It is education, and it is education that brings stability, that brings peace, and that puts an end to a conflict.
KARIM SARIAHMED: Awakened Youth of Afghanistan has a facebook group, of which Safi is a member. While perusing the list of members, I realized that they were almost all men. I asked Safi if women were playing an active role in the youth movement.
ENAYAT SAFI: of course not! Afghan women, they are confined, they are restricted, they are denied a lot of opportunities that men are not….this is a step by step process. We’ve got to be very careful here……we don’t have a political backing yet. We should not be very radical in trying to immediately modernize the contract.
KARIM SARIAHMED: Wazhma Frogh says that, though often limited by social standing, education, or simply location, many Afghan women have been leading peace initiatives for years.
WAZHMA FROGH: Although you don’t hear about it, it’s not a very kind of, fashionable news that would kind of attract attention. But in the past nine years, women’s organizations particularly….they have had initiatives for peace, they have had prayers for peace….even I have been part of regional talks for peace with the Pakistani women.
KARIM SARIAHMED: Frogh says that Afghan women do not want the international community or the US to come and save them. The issue for both young Afghans and Afghan women is that they lack the support of their government. But it seems there is at least a small group ready to fight for their future.
ENAYAT SAFI: there are these limitations that are prompting me to work more harder, and more harder than if there were none of these challenges that we are facing at the moment. So I am well-aware of these challenges. I mean it takes time, ok but it is never late or too early to start. We are in just the right moment to start.
KARIM SARIAHMED: For War News Radio, I’m Karim Sariahmed.