The United States Institute for Peace‘s November 19 event on the path to peace in Afghanistan was a fascinating conversation between scholars who are experts on Afghanistan and military actors with the power to affect change on the ground. It was a very interesting practical example of the integrating different areas of expertise in the hopes of building a sustainable peace.
The discussion was centered around five questions that US Central Command wished to ask the panel. This structure gave the event a sense of urgency and deep relevance, because it implied that at least some of the recommendations from the event could be implemented by the military. The questions explored a number of issues, from the roles and interests of other countries involved in the conflict to effect of recent events such as the ceasefire earlier this year.
The focus on other countries’ desires was led by Vikram Singh, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia. His detailed examination of the potentially conflicting interests of the US and regional powers highlighted the importance of considering the perspectives of other actors in peacebuilding, especially as some desires may, on their face, seem to oppose one another.
Another interesting conversation was led by Laurel Miller, former Acting Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan for the U.S. Department of State, and Senior Foreign Policy Expert at the RAND Corporation. Miller explained that some common peacebuilding terms have significantly different meanings in the context of Afghanistan. She specifically highlights “reintegration” and “reconciliation.” Rather than their standard meanings, in Afghanistan, reintegrations refers to the process of peeling away Taliban fighters in order to disintegrate the group, while reconciliation is used as a synonym for peace process in general. Miller used the example of these two words to make a larger point about the importance of making sure all parties in peace talks are working from a common understanding of the meanings of terms.
Orzala Nemat, Director of the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, joined the panel through video conference from Afghanistan. Her contributions were particularly engaging because she was able to reference her personal experience from the ground. When she spoke of the ceasefire’s implications, she spoke not only of politics but also of her Eid experiences this past year, when she saw people from different sides of the conflict celebrating the holiday together. It was the first time she’d seen anything like it in her life. These kinds of stories personalized abstract discussions of war and therefore grounded them.
The event was a good learning opportunity for anyone interested in the peacebuilding field. USIP was able to show various different perspectives on tackling the same conundrum, which is always a valuable approach. What do you think? Comment below, write to us on our Facebook page, or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts.
This blog post is written by Zeena Mubarak, Fall 2018 Intern at HasNa, Inc.