This paper focuses on the creation of ethnic tensions through 23 years of war imposed on Afghanistan. It also considers peace -building efforts that were made in Afghanistan after the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001 in the US.
Initially, the paper is an overview of the conflictin Afghanistan. Secondly, it discusses politicisation of ethnic differences, which have become the cause of conflicts. Next,it examines the role of NGOsand UNagenciesin the current reconstruction assistance effort,especially with regard to the problem of handling violence and prejudice stemming from theperception ofethnic differences. Finally, this paper highlights the experience and findings of the Sanayee Development Foundation (SDF) with the peace-building efforts in Afghanistan.
INTRDUTION: CONFLICT IN AFGHANISTAN
Anywhere in the world, war creates problem and leaves behind misery.The internal turmoil and conflicts in Afghanistan worsened over a period of more than two decades. Tragically, it became a violent war in which one brother fought againstanother. It was a war that claimed the lives of over one millionpeople and wounded many more. As a result, over six million people exiled from their homeland. The war has left behind numerous problems. One is the ethnic tensions among different groups in the country.
After the collapse of the Moscow-backed government of Afghanistan in1992 at the hands of the Mujahideen, the problems caused by ethnic tension worsened. The civil war that initially erupted in Kabul soon spread to other parts of Afghanistan. Foreign interference and the absence of a powerful central government with an organised cabinet added fuel to the fire. Many warring factions emerged and started to fight each other fiercely. Foreign countries backed different ethnic groups. None of the existing parties worked to bring about national solidarity and reconciliation among the warring factions. Furthermore, poverty among the people exacerbated the ethnic tension. Illiteracy also played its part in sparking ethnic differences since 90 percent of the Afghanistan’s population is illiterate.
The civil war forced millions of Afghans to seek refuge not only in neighbouring countries, but also in other countries around the world. This situation continued until 1996, when Kabul fell into the hands of the Taliban. The roots of the Taliban may be traced back to 1994 in Kandahar. From that point, in a matter of two or three years, they captured almost entire Afghanistan. The Taliban were mostly hardline Pakhtuns, who came mostly from southern and southwestern provinces. They imposed very strict laws, includinga ban on the education of girls and women. Eventually, Afghanistan became home to terrorists and military camps led by Osama bin Laden.
Meanwhile, the government was run by Pashtuns. Tajiks did not have a significant role in decision-making. Hatred, prejudice and violence prevailed in many parts of Afghanistan. Pashtuns hated Tajiks and vice versa. Many Afghans lost hope and thought that peace, securityand brotherhood would never return to their country, which was forgotten by the world.
The events that took place in the US on September 11, 2001 proved that Afghanistan’s issue was also the world’s problem. Afghanistan became sanctuary for terrorists such as Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 assaults. The world reacted soon to the situation in Afghanistan and ousted the Taliban regime. Today, there is hope among the Afghans, who have profound aversion to war. Nevertheless, differences still remain. If these extremists are afforded the opportunity, they would emerge again to fuel armed conflicts, threatening not only Afghanistan, but also the whole world.
1. ERHNICITY AND POLITICS
Basically, the population of Afghanistan is comprised of Pashtuns (the majority group), Tajiks (the second-largest group), and other notable communities such as Hazaras, Uzbeks, Turkmens, Balochs, Nuristanis, Pashayees and others. However, throughout the modern history of Afghanistan, politicians and outside interests have increasingly used ethnic differences to enhance their personal power. After 1979, the communist regime pitched one ethnic group against the other in their own military interest. During the Cold War, foreign governments fought a proxy war, funding and armingdifferent factions that exploited ethnicity to muster loyalty and power.
A central government has never existed here. Pashtuns, the largest ethnic group, mostly controlled the government. Tajik are the second biggest majority, and the government at times collected taxes from the minority to benefit the majority. Ethnic difference rarely existed in the past, but I think the current conflict has been driven by politics. There has never been an absence of a central government; ethnicity in peace-building and reconstruction assistance in Afghanistan represented all of Afghanistan.
The government has sought to “divide and rule” and has never worked hard for national solidarity and reconciliation. Interference from outside the country has not helped either. There has been a competition between these internal and external interests. Other countries have also fuelled the conflict by supporting rival ethnic groups. The presence of astrong Pashtun or Tajik party is part of the reason why conflict rages on in Afghanistan. Poverty is another problem. These groups have been fighting for their share of wealth and land. Illiteracy is another big concern, with 90 percent of the population being illiterate. Just 5 percent of Afghan woman are educated. The question is: What has to be done to improve the situation.
The flow of aid into the country has revived hope among the people. Many UN agencies, as well as national and international NGOs, have embarked on rehabilitation projects. I would like to draw attention to the serious problem that Afghanistan faces today -- misappropriation of funds flowing into the country. Government employees receive US$30 a month, and sometime, due to governmental problem, they do not receive their salary for three or even four months. In contrast, local UN staff and NGO employees get a monthly salary between US$100 minimum and US&10,000 maximum. The exclusive focus of all aid to the community has become Kabul -- only Kabul. The way that funds are spent in Afghanistan is unbelievably extravagant and wasteful. The use of satellite phones, latest model cars, rent offered to building owners, and many more things worry the people of Afghanistan. There is a widespread belief among Afghans that aid communities take a great amount of their funds back through their higher salaries and administration costs.
Many NGOs are focused on emergencies and construction, but I think we need to focus more on the projects that contribute to development in Afghanistan such as education. Without education, how can we change attitude and thinking?
Children have grown up in war.What we suggest humanitarian organisations and NGOs should do for Afghanistanto eliminate ethnic differences from peoples, mindsets, is to first look at peace building. However, nobody is doing anything about peace building.
We have to include peace education programnes in the curriculum, and we have to push the government of Afghanistan to accept that peace education programs should become part of curriculum. We have to acknowledge the existence of differences between all ethnic groups and remove prejudices from all peoples, minds. Peace is a system or strategy. We have to work for it. We also have to educate the people on human rights and what it means. However, the challenge is how to explain this to a society that has a 90 percent illiteracy rate; we also have to make people aware about the rights of children and women.
We need to promote peace education through the mass media. Something, the mass media encourages people to fight instead of promoting peace. Up until two years ago, war was part of the national curriculum. Guns were introduced to people through textbooks in such militaristic analogies as“two guns plus two guns equal four guns.”
Another example from the 1990 mathematics textbook suggests that “if one mujahid killed two Russians in one day, how many Russians would be killed by four mujahidin in one day?”
Another problem is the development of human resources. There are some NGOs working on this at the moment. What do we need the government to do?The first thing that is needed is a long-term commitment fromthe International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to operate not just in cities, but countrywide. They should ensure security for everyone or else peace cannot be obtained. We also have to work for a strong democratic government in Afghanistan. We need to change the bureaucratic government system that we still have at this stage.
3. SANAYEE DEVELOPMENT FOUNDAION (SDF)
Sanayee Development foundation (SDF) [http: //www.sanayee. org] is an Afghan NGO, which was established in 1990. Originally, it opened as a small educational center called the Kabul English Language Centre (KELC), with the chief aim of rendering educational services to the people of Afghanistan.
SDF believes that until and unless real peace security prevails in Afghanistan, this country must not be left alone. Only through long-term planning for development will the knowledge of the horrors of war between brothers be transformed into the commitment of every Afghan to peace, justice and freedom.
After 12 years of gradual but steady growth, SDF today works in the fields of education, peace-building, health, income generation, skill development, capacity buildingand emergency relief. Most of itsprojects are now located in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. SDF’s main goal is to contribute to the alleviation of all hardships that 23 years of bitter fighting has brought to the people.Hence, SDF implements its projects with sincerity and dedication.
3-1. Basic Education
• SDF has established 80 basic educational centres in remote districts of Kabul. At these centers, children between five and 14 years of age follow the curriculum proposed by the government of Afghanistan. This project provides education to 2,500 children.
• Sadia Primary School, one of the major sections of SDF activities, has provided high-quality education for some 450 Afghan refugee boys and girls since its establishment in 1995 in Peshawar, Pakistan.Ethnicity in Peace-Building and Reconstruction Assistance in Afghanistan
In an effort to positively respond to this crucial issue, SDF -- in close collaboration with Cooperation for Peace and Unity (CPAU, an Afghan NGO) -- has initiated and implemented peace-building activities. The major contribution of SDF in fostering a culture of peace is as follows:
• Advocacy and lobbying aimed at promoting peace education in Afghan society.
• Training 25 educated Afghans as qualified and professional peace educators to undertake SDF’s peace-building initiatives.
• Building local capacity to foster peace and reconciliation and resolve conflicts peacefully.
• Educating 18,000 schoolchildren on the concepts of peace-building and conflict resolution
• Preparing 96 revised and student-oriented chapters of written material on peace
• Holding peace-building workshops for school teachers, government employees, students, journalists, NGO employees and ordinary people.
• Providing education in the Dari language at primary and high schools in three major provinces of Afghanistan (Kabul, Ghazni, Herat )
• Publication of instructional materials reinforcing the message of peace and non-violence. The publications include a monthly magazine for children, story books and instructional posters.
• Training schoolteachers, local communities and government employee on the concepts and skills of peacemaking and conflict prevention.
SDF has produced a total of 10 issues of illustrated story books so far, making a small but very important contribution towards the eradication of violence and sending the message of peace and human rights at the grassroots level. One of the most popular magazines among SDF’s publications is Rangoon. The monthly RangeenKaman magazine for children has a circulation of 12,000 copies and reflects the message of peace, environmental protection, moral lessons and many more themes. SDF published a series of instructional posters on environmental protection, peaceful co-existence, national unity and health issues.
3-4 Psychosocial Programmes
SDF has taken the initiative by launching a psychosocial project in different districts of Kabul. The people of these districts have seriously suffered from war. The overall goal is to improve the individual and social well-being of 85 traumatised women and to help overcome war trauma among people in focused groups.
3-5. Child-Friendly Space in Heart
In order to help internally-displaced people (IDPs) in the Muslakh refugee camp in Herat to live and manage their conflicts peacefully, SDF has initiated a project called “Child-friendly Space” with the financial support of UNICEF. This project provides training in basic education, peace-building, health and hygiene, environmental issues, working with trauma, psychosocial barriers and sport activities for 3,200 children and youths (2,109 boys and 1,091 girls). This project mainly focuses on peaceful co-existence and the creation of a culture of peace and non-violence in Afghan society.
The international community can support our communities to create an Afghanistan that is free of violence and ethnic prejudice by:
• Promoting human development through the provision of basic health and education services to all Afghans.
• Including peace education in the national curriculum of Afghanistan to heal the minds of the new generation.
• Hosting peace-building and conflict management workshops to give position peace-building tools to decision-makers at the national level.
• Teaching the people about the rights of children and women under international law.
• Promoting a culture of peace and non-violence through mass media.
• Building a civil society in Afghanistan by developing the capacity of the non-governmental sector.
At the national and government level, long-term stability will come only through international support for:
• Securing the long-term commitment of ISAF in Afghanistan.
• Building an effective and democratic national government.
• Creating alternative employment for former combatants.
• Prohibiting foreign interference in Afghan affairs.
The cooperation of the entire international community in Afghanistan over the last 12 months has given Afghans a once in a lifetime, precious opportunity to retrieve their lives from the clutches of war and poverty. We pray this cooperation among all ethnic groups in Afghanistan will create something that all Afghans desire above all else: Peace.