By: Aref Mohammadi
I met ex-UN Envoy to Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, Staffan de Mistura, in our class last month. He presented a seminar on negotiating techniques in international complex conflicts and the lessons learned from the previous experiences on the ground in Afghanistan and the Middle East.
Before the beginning of his seminar we had a short conversation over coffee. He praised the beauties of Afghanistan and admired the Afghan delicious dishes. I asked his views on Afghan peace talks. He said: “There is a magic moment in every conflict. When the two sides are blocked by each other or get exhausted, there is an opportunity for ending the conflict. It is called the endgame. And the time for the endgame in Afghanistan is now.”
This brief exchange took me to my childhood village. My memory of fighter jets flying in the blue sky of my home village in Ghazni province was revived. I had no clue of what was going on in the country back then and couldn’t imagine that those tiny bird-like objects in the air were soviet-made MIG-21 fighter jets carrying fatal bombs to target Mujahidin fighters.
I grew up listening to war news on the radio. With the war stories all around, future looked uncertain yet promising. Now as a young professional, when I look back to the decades long conflict in my country, I feel extremely sorry for all the lives lost, dreams cut short and opportunities squandered.
Now as the peace talks enters in a critical phase, what ordinary Afghans expect from this process is an end to war and bloodshed. My fellow countrymen and women are deeply tired of a nearly 40-year-long bloody conflict which has devastated the country’s economy and culture.
Every just peace process, however, requires safeguarding the hard-gained achievements we made in the last two decades. It also needs to preserve values that shape the identity of my generation who raised in post-Taliban era. We expect the peace process to guarantee values of a civic life and assure a peaceful coexistence in a diversified pluralism which to many extent defines today’s Afghanistan.
We all are impatiently looking forward for peace, but we do expect the process not to undermine sacrifices made by our people. The process should listen to voice of the victims of the conflict and guarantee the rights of minorities including women, and ensure that no one would be allowed to impose their beliefs on others in the post peace settlement.
Afghan youth are worried about possible outcomes of the peace talks. Going back to the dark days of Taliban are not an option for us. We expect the negotiating team to take our legitimate concerns to the negotiation table and make sure that our rights and freedoms are not being compromised.
The path to a just peace will be extremely intricate but our resilience and determination will make it possible.
I still remember the days when the Taliban shut the schools down for the girls and denied their right to education during their rule. Had it been different, many of those girls who were forced to stay at home and got married would have chosen education over marriage. The success story of the New York Times reporter, Fatima Faizi is a good example. Fall of Taliban provided her with the opportunity to leave her village in Ghazni province to pursue her dream of becoming a successful journalist. Fortunately, the rule of Taliban didn’t last long, otherwise they would have completely changed the educational curriculum to teach religious extremism.
Access to education for all including girls, freedom of speech, religious freedom and preserving the rights of minorities are an integrated part of our lives today. This is the time to join hands, stand firm for our values, and consolidate our efforts to make sure that the negotiating team represent us well and defend our rights properly. A strong representation of women in the negotiation team is also important to protect their rights and make sure that they will be treated as equal citizens in post-peace settlement.
Taliban today unfortunately hold more radical beliefs than they did during their rule in the late 90s. This makes the process for the intra-Afghan dialogue more complicated. As citizens, we need to act responsibly, raise our voices and stay vigilant to defend our rights.
The path to a just peace will be extremely intricate but our resilience and determination will make it possible. In addition to a strong representation in the negotiation team, we as citizens will need to fight our own battle. Educated Afghan youth, can play an important role in the peace process. We, as young professionals, journalists, teachers and activists can raise our voices and express our demands as the peace talks are getting momentum.
Both the government and the citizens have to act responsibly with regard to peace talks. We experienced the dark days of Taliban era and can’t afford to lose what we gained for a high price in the last two decades.
Aref Mohammadi is a Foreign Service Officer at Afghan embassy in Brussels and a postgraduate student at CERIS-ULB, Diplomatic School of Brussels. You can reach him at @arefmhi.