Key Note Speech by Orzala Ashraf Nemat in Peace One Day Event, Copenhagen – Denmark (September 21st 2012)

Distinguished Participants,

Honourable Minister for Development Cooperation Mr. Christian Friis Bach

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Allow me to start by my warm gratitude and thanks for inviting me to International Peace Day event organized by The Danish Centre for Conflict Resolution and it’s co-organisers. It is indeed a great honour to be here and share with you some thoughts and experiences from Afghanistan, a country that during the past three decades of its life, experienced peace in the least or perhaps never for many of its population.

As an Afghan who lived and experienced most of her life in Afghanistan or as refugee in the neighbouring Pakistan, I have come to realize that without holding hope and a long-term vision for a better and peaceful Afghanistan, life and particularly as an activist becomes miserable. So by working for peace in the worst years and days of our time, we struggled to give hope a chance through providing education, awareness and empowering for women who are now taking active participation in rebuilding their own and their children’s lives.

I am grateful with honourable Minister Friis Bach remarks highlighting some very important facts regarding various Afghan needs such as health, education, access to justice and rule of law. I must insist all these sectors require a very long-term commitment by the Afghan government, Afghan people themselves as well as by international community to continue their long-term support in providing such basic services to people in need. Some of the challenges mentioned are to do with changing attitudes and culture that can only be possible to change –again in the longer run- through awareness raising and mobilising communities to stand up for their rights.

Women & Peace:

As most of you maybe are aware, the struggle of Afghan women for human rights and women’s rights as well as for peace is a struggle paid by lives. There are many examples of such sacrifice in the recent years and I can name and share at least one story with you about Hanifa Safi a provincial woman leader in eastern Laghman province whom I met just couple of weeks before her assassination and she was telling me ‘We defend women’s rights yet no one is able to protect our rights and our lives’. Safi was provincial director for women’s affairs and she was following and supporting cases of violence against women in her region. She, her husband and one of her children were leaving their home while a magnetic bomb sticked to their car, exploded taking her life and injuring her family members.  This is one of the many examples of such costs Afghan women have paid for defending their rights. We have had many women on the lead as well as ordinary women who sacrificed their lives for their rights or for defending other women’s rights.

Unfortunately, in the past decade, the continuous targeting of women for political assassinations did not only stopped but it also increased. Women leaders have been targeted by Taliban who openly claimed the responsibility for killing them, they are targeted by ‘unknown gunmen’ for which still no justice or proper investigation is made -in most cases- and sadly they are also targeted by ‘mistakes’ of the NATO forces. A tragic example of the later is killing of 8 women in Laghman province last week as they were out in the mountains gathering woods or a female doctor who became a mistakenly target of the attack in Wardak. Just to remind you that as Minister Bach also stated we are under severe condition for women’s health and it is said in 2003 there was one doctor for every 9-10 thousand population, this might have slightly changed but not entirely. So losing a female doctor by a military ‘mistake’ came with very high price for many in particular for those who were benefiting from her services.

But despite these challenges, Afghan women also made significant progress. They are now becoming a force that no political settings can ignore or put them aside because of their tireless efforts and contribution to the country’s socio-political and economic well-being. Our hope is to see more women also in the security sector where their role is crucial to maintain better security for all, yet concerns relating to protection of women in this sector by system as well as changing the social norms towards acceptance of women’s role in security are needs to be addressed. Women contributed in passing legislative that criminalizes violence against women, they managed to reach to far remote parts of the country and provide services for those in need. A province led by the only woman governor is presenting a model of governance that opens the space for tolerance and having an active civil society. Our girls keep attending schools, despite all threatening and fears created to stop them from attending schools by poisoning the girls or by throwing acid into their faces…. And so many more ways of women resisting the challenges.

Women’s inclusion in peace process is not only necessary but it is crucial to have the voices and concerns of the over 50% of Afghanistan’s population heard. And it is also important to realize that by just having a few female members in the peace counsel we can not be satisfied about women’s inclusion and their full participation. There needs to be further systematic way of addressing women’s concerns and ensuring their full inclusion in the process.  And from the performances and sacrifices women have paid historically and recently I can assure that no peace or agreement can be truly sustainable or achievable if they disregard addressing women’s rights and their full participation in the process.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Afghan Women did not only contributed to defending of their own rights, but they also have been active agents promoting Peace in their homes, community and nationwide. Women’s participation in bottom up Peace building by creating local peace councils are great examples of such an approaches. These peace councils in the local level are not part of the larger government sponsored program, they are rather grass-roots initiatives that assist people in the communities on conflict resolution and peace-building.

There are numbers of good examples of civil society and women led organisations working for community peace building that needs to be linked to larger government sponsored Peace program, if the aim of later is truly sustainable peace-building.

In Afghanistan we believe Peace starts with families, the way parents educate their children, the way members of families relate with each others and women at local level play an important role within the families and within their own communities in resolving conflicts; they are very good in bridging the gaps created due to a conflict, hence they are an untapped resource for peace.

Youth/Children & Peace:

Speaking of importance of peace-building and its impact on different parts of the population, I’d like to share with you a small story from one of the areas that I have worked in the past:

The organization l used to lead HAWCA, have built a school in one of the most remote and forgotten areas of Western Nuristan valley. The valley is known as Dara-e-Titin. After the school was built, we managed to get some support for a peace-building program. We hired staff who travelled to the area, which in those days took 9 hours by not only walking but hiking -given that the area was in heavily mountainous and rocky part of the valley- to teach children about peace-building. Most of the children [girls and boys] were aged between 7-14 years old. The curriculum we used was also prepared by another experienced Afghan organization.

One day, I had a group of elders from this community visiting me in Kabul. They came to say thanks and update us on the school progress. One of them, a mid-aged man stated how he was impressed by his young son trying to teach him about peace. ‘Why aren’t you carrying similar program for adults as well?’ he asked. Another elderly man in the group responded ‘It is so powerful to hear from our own children about the importance of peace and mechanisms to resolve conflict without violence, I lived all my life, and never thought I’d learn something from children, but the other day when I heard my grandson speaking about anger-management, I was stunned’. The old man added.

In a country with such a volatile history of war and conflict, it is highly important to invest in programs that promotes peace-building, conflict resolution and mitigation not only with adults, but also with children and youth who are able to convey the message and who are the ones leading the future .

The great thinker of non-violence, Mahatma Gandhi famously said: ‘If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children. And this is what the story from Nuristan valley is teaching us.

Like young boys and girls in peaceful countries, Afghan young generation who makes the majority of their country’s population also want to have a different future, a future where their life is guaranteed away from war and violence. And recent examples of their performances into the sports and other social activities have proved this fact. For instance when Afghanistan Olympians returned from London Olympics with a Bronze Medal, they received a welcome not seen before for any political leader whatsoever. The message going around among Afghans from across country was: ‘Nikpah, your Bronze is Gold for us!’. In other words, Peace-building needs not to be called ‘peace-building’ by name but can be part of any other support we provide through different means and supporting sport and many other social activities could be part of it.

Reconciliation & Peace:

Ladies and Gentlemen,

When Afghanistan started this new phase towards democratisation, Afghan people have become more hopeful, because they saw the world’s attention and they expected the world to assist them in addressing war crimes and human rights abuses in years of war. Political leaders have also deceived people by promising that if they get elected, addressing war crimes will be first on their agenda. But what happened in reality was far different as we all witness. Particularly since talks about peace begun, discussions about human rights and democratisation are made seem irrelevant by most of those in power.

One significant example of peace program by government is a large multi-million donor funded program called APRP or Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program. It is focusing on reintegration of those involved in anti-government activities. According to a research, this program spent 7.7Million USD for ‘reintegrating’ 2385 members of Taliban between one year (2010-2011).[1] Regardless of the fact that the Taliban keep insisting their motivation for this war is not money, even if we suppose it is, it is still unclear what will happen after they receive this money? This research finds out that the program runs without a clear system of vetting, amnesty policy and more over it also became part of the military strategy! And those who are reintegrated are encouraged to join Afghan Local Police who later on were trained by international troops who became targets of assaults on occasions by ALPs.

For a program like APRP to be effective, there is a high need for a comprehensive and coherent approach that has reconciliation as its core principle, not in the way of blanket amnesty for anyone to come and join the process but rather in way of using proper mechanisms that allow them to return to their communities.

Key drivers for many Afghans turning to anti-government forces are identified in early stages of this conflict as International military tactics and the  government’s corruption in all levels, particularly the local government’s inefficiency which performs motivation for people to turn against government in the first place. But sadly very little is done on this field generally and the ‘peace’ program has got nothing to address these parts.

Therefore, its important to emphasis that real and sustainable Peace cannot be achieved without justice; reduction of poverty and inequalities. While there is need for making efforts promoting sustainable economic and social development, reducing inequalities and contributing to poverty reduction in more accountable and transparent ways, it is also important to link such efforts with justice and reconciliation in the context of peace building.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Let me emphasize that peace is not an event that can be occurred over night or in a public conference or gathering; neither it is a ‘contracted deal’ that can be achieve by buying a few warriors. Countless amount of damages are made in Afghanistan’s particular recent history, a true and long standing peace can only come to Afghanistan if the inner peace within the Afghan society is built. The inner peace within the Afghan society is required to be built by reconciliation; by address the crimes committed during war; by speaking and healing the wounds of war in the people’s minds. The people who lost their loved ones due to the acts of those on the lead of the wars during all decades. Silencing over the past will only direct us to further darkness in the future.

Allow me to summarise a few points here:

Women’s active inclusion and addressing their needs and concerns are crucial for a sustaining peace; for long-term peace-building and effective approaches, it’s also very important to focus on bottom up peace-building and on youth and children’s peace building, as they are the ones who will lead the future;

Reconciliation needs to be the core part of any reintegration program’s or else it will be seen as short term deal making which time and again proved inefficient and not achievable.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

In today’s discussion, I attempted to address most of the internal aspects of peace-building in Afghanistan, yet it’s crucial to state that the war in Afghanistan has its strong regional and international dimensions, and let’s not forget that as long as there are moral, financials and military supports to keep fuelling the war in Afghanistan there will be very limited chances for a true and sustainable peace.

Thank you very much for your attention!

[1] Deedee Derksen (2011) – ‘Peace From the Bottom-Up? The Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program’, a research report supported by PRIO (Norway).


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