CIPCR International is delighted to have this opportunity to partner with the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in sharing the Northern Ireland experience of peace-building in Afghanistan.
There has been considerable progress in Afghanistan recently and plans are progressing well for disengagement of NATO in 2014/15. In particular, there have been key successes in strengthening the capacity of the Afghan National Security Forces so that they can assume primacy in providing security for the people of the country.
Alongside this progress it is recognised that reconciliation in Afghanistan is crucial to creating the political stability necessary for the country to transition from conflict to a peaceful future. There have been some significant developments in recent months that offer a firm foundation upon which to build that essential reconciliation. At the International Conference held in Bonn in December 2011, it was agreed that:
‘Peace is a sacred goal and a basic need for our people and the rest of the world. We, the people of Afghanistan believe that securing peace, enduring stability and developing Afghanistan can be only achieved through mutual understanding and acceptance of each other.’
The Causeway Institute brings together many of the key players in Northern Ireland politics who have been involved in peace-building and conflict resolution and seeks to share their experience with those who are in or are emerging from conflict in their own region. It is this un-paralelled experience that the FCO recognised; they have tasked Causeway to undertake a programme in Afghanistan to work alongside the representatives of the Afghan people to share our experience of promoting reconciliation in a post-conflict scenario.
There have been several engagements by Causeway in Afghanistan. A major focus for us has been building a partnership with the High Peace Council there and the Chairman and other associates have spent several sessions mentoring them and discussing the Northern Ireland experience.
The first part of the programme involved the Chairman of the Causeway Institute, Rt Hon Jeffrey Donaldson MP, accompanied by our Advisory Panel member Mr Denis Haughey, participating in an International Peace Conference in Kabul in September 2012.
Both were invited as guest speakers to the International Peace Conference, as part of Afghan Peace and National Unity Week, to discuss their experiences about living though a reconciliation process and to answer questions from the audience. Whilst they were in Kabul they met with members of the High Peace Council and were thanked personally by Chairman Rabbani.
A delegation made up of individuals who have played an important role in the peace-process in Northern Ireland from both a political and civil society perspective visited Afghanistan from 1st – 4th December 2013. Their purpose was to participate in workshops and discussions with the High Peace Council and Joint Secretariat to assist them in preparing the way for future dialogue and forthcoming changes, which will take place in 2014, following the Presidential elections and the withdrawal of Coalition troops. There was also a useful mentoring session with Chairman Rabanni and Minister Stanekzai.
We hope to build on theses initial engagements with the High Peace Council, will be a major conference that Causeway will run in Kabul in the Spring of 2015. The 3-day conference will have a central focus on the issues of promoting reconciliation and will involve experts with knowledge and experience in each of the areas delivering a presentation followed by an interactive workshop developing the key themes. Causeway, working in tandem with the UK Embassy and the Afghan government, hopes to see a wide-range of groups attend the conference including representatives of the major tribal groups, officials from the Afghan government and security forces as well as key players from other countries and NGOs operating in Afghanistan.
CIPCR International will focus on five themes in its Afghan engagement:
1. Assisting the High Peace Council in exploring the means of connecting ordinary people with the peace process; affirming the Framework of Cooperation with Civil Society; managing expectations through more effective use of media.
2. Create a greater understanding in relation to the stages of the peace process; time lines; role, involvement and support of the international community and negotiation tactics.
3. Encourage discussion on a set of principles, akin to the Mitchell Principles of democracy and Non Violence that might be applicable across Afghanistan.
4. Explore the development of these principles of democracy and non-violence through transitional justice systems and devising a strategy for each of the participant organisations to advance them within their respective constituencies.
5. Gain a better understanding of how Northern Ireland is dealing with the legacy of the past in order to influence how Afghans move forward.
The Causeway Institute recognises the challenges that lie ahead in Afghanistan and we look forward to having the opportunity to share our experience of peace-building and conflict resolution with political leaders in that country. The settlement we have reached in Northern Ireland is not necessarily a template for a resolution of the many problems in Afghanistan. However, we believe that there are key principles and lessons that can be drawn from our experience that will be of significant benefit to the Afghan people.