New proposals for a durable Afghan peace

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is reviewing his strategy[i] for engaging the Taliban following their assassination of his chief peace envoy, High Peace Council (HPC) Chairman Burhanuddin Rabbani, in an attack that also severely injured the Director of the HPC Secretariat, Masoom Stanekzai.[ii] A review is in order – not to question the continued pursuit of a political settlement with the Taliban[iii], but to consider what a comprehensive peace process might actually look like. Three recent reports offer some compelling guides.

Reports, from the New America Foundation, the Canadian-sponsored Pathways to Peace project, and the US Institute of Peace all benefit from the views of Afghan civil society, and all counsel a peace process that is rooted in the Afghan population rather than in deals among elites.[iv]

Thomas Ruttig, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network[v] produced a report for the New America Foundation this past May,[vi] in which he argued that talks with insurgents should only be one part of the overall reconciliation process. The initial aim must be “a political settlement to end violence,” which would in turn open the way to the longer-term tasks of constitutional and institutional reform.

Ruttig says in particular that the pursuit of a political solution requires a “strategic shift by the United States” that exchanges “the current double strategy of ‘shooting and talking’ for one of ‘talking instead of shooting.’…In this framework, military means would be used only for self-defence, which includes defending Afghan institutions and their officials, as well as
the work of political reform.” Such a shift, he says, would have the added benefit of “remov[ing] a major recruitment factor for the insurgents: civilian casualties.” He recommends thus that the US put a “stop to any independent action by special operations forces,” and that it coordinate civilian and military actors. He calls for a transparent status of forces agreement for U.S. troops worked through the Afghan parliament.

An April 2010 civil society conference sponsored by the “Pathways to Peace” project led to a broad consensus on five core values that should guide an Afghan peace process:[vii]

Accountability and transparency. Information about the peace process must be shared if it is to be accepted by the population and if it is to succeed in the long run. Governments should ensure that the population knows who is involved in negotiations and what the key issues are.

Inclusivity. All sectors of society must be involved in peacebuilding: men, women, young, old, all ethnic and major tribal groups. Without such inclusivity, the peace process will not be considered legitimate by all segments of the population and will not lead to lasting peace.

Transitional justice and rejection of impunity. Participants expressed frustration at the extent to which individuals who have committed serious human rights violations enjoy impunity, benefit from criminal activities and even participate in government. In peacebuilding, peace is one side of the coin while justice is the other. 

Trust building. Trust lies at the heart of peacebuilding. First, all parties must trust the process through which peace is being negotiated, and second, trust must be built among the communities in conflict. Third party mediators can play a central role in trust building.

Nation building.  Afghanistan is a land of many regions, languages and identities, but there is an overall sense of being Afghan. Genuine national unity will lead to peace among the communities, thus steps must be taken to strengthen it. Civil society can play a role in this national process by linking various parts and communities of Afghanistan

Lisa Schirch of Eastern Mennonite University[viii] has produced a new report on a comprehensive peace process in Afghanistan for the US Institute of Peace,[ix] in which she calls for coordinated work in three areas: “developing a politically negotiated settlement, increasing legitimacy for the Afghan government, and building a national public consensus on the future relations between diverse groups.” That in turn “requires creating, coordinating, and sequencing a set of structured mechanisms, forums, and negotiation tables for participatory deliberation and decision making involving diverse stakeholders, regional countries, and all levels of Afghan society. A successful peace process combines…high-level negotiations with public dialogue processes in a way that is transparent, impartial, and inclusive.” She says that “the hope of a quick and tight negotiation process is as illusory as the fantasy that firepower will achieve victory for either side in Afghanistan.”

A year ago Prime Minister Stephen Harper assured Canadians that in Afghanistan “it has always been our position that [reconciling with the insurgents] is part of an eventual solution, and that it’s not simply military action alone.”[x] Now would be a good time to repeat that message to Mr. Karzai.


[i] “Karzai reviews Taliban peace strategy,” The Times of India, 02 October 2011.

[ii] Phil Ittner, “Killing of Afghan Ex-President Raises New Doubts About War,” September 20, 2011, GlobalSecurity.Org, Islamabad, Pakistan.

[iii] “Karzai rules out more Taliban negotiations,” The Guardian, 1 October 2011.

[iv] Indeed, Masoom Stanekzai, who remains in hospital with serious wounds, signalled the High Peace Council’s support for civil society engagement in peace efforts through talks given at last year’s Pathways to Peace conference in Kabul and at the meeting of the Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs in Berlin this past summer. I was a participant in both events.

[vi] Thomas Ruttig , “The Battle for Afghanistan: Negotiations with the Taliban:
History and Prospects for the Future, May 2011, New America Foundation.

[vii] Pathways to Peace is a project of the Ottawa-based civil society network, Peacebuild.
The full report on the Project is forthcoming. The “five core values” referred to hear are reported at:

[viii] Dr. Lisa Schirch is the founding director of 3P Human Security: Partners for Peacebuilding Policy, a university-based nongovernmental organization, and a research professor at Eastern Mennonite University’s graduate Center for Justice & Peacebuilding.

[ix] Lisa Schirch, “Afghan Civil Society and a Comprehensive Peace Process,” July
2011, United State Institute of Peace.

[x] Jonathan Montpetit, “Canadians would let Taliban leaders get to Kabul peace talks,” The Record, Waterloo Region, Canadian Press, 23 October 2010. Also at

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