An Analysis of Peacebuilding Approaches in Afghanistan

Photo by (Department of Defense)

Mohammed Ehsan Zia
Norwegian Church Aid


This paper is taken from chapter three of Peacebuilding in Afghanistan: International Rhetoric Local Reality; The Strengthening of Local Capacities for Peace, a dissertation for the Degree of Master of Arts in Post-War Recovery Studies at the University of York, Post-War Reconstruction and Development Unit, August 2000.

Conflict Analysis
Present Status of War
Which are the Root Causes?
Proximate Causes
Regional Dimensions
An Assessment of Various Peace Attempts
Geneva Negotiations
Post-Geneva Peacemaking
Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC)
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia
Ningarhar Shura
Peacebuilding in the Context of Humanitarian Aid
Direct Peacebuilding
Indirect Contribution to Peace


The war in Afghanistan is known as the most intensely mediated and yet there seems no solution to the conflict. This chapter aims to analyse the peacebuilding efforts of various internal and external actors whose efforts have not yet produced a positive outcome for the people of Afghanistan. A clear understanding of conflict, its internal and external dynamics is necessary to assess why peacebuilding and political negotiations in Afghanistan have become a nightmare for the UN and other actors. To this end the chapter analyses the ongoing conflict with the main focus on the root causes, proximate causes, and regional dimensions of the conflict.

Section three deals with assessment of peacemaking and peacebuilding efforts against the set of criteria discussed in the first two chapters and also against the root causes and international dimension of the ongoing war in Afghanistan. The continued breakdown of negotiations after the Geneva Accords of 1988 reflects complexities of the conflict and the extent of foreign involvement. Assessing the various peacemaking efforts the section argues that political negotiations in the absence of regional co-operation, political will and social and economic development will hardly make any headway.

The last part of section three examines the role of aid agencies in relation to peacebuilding. As elsewhere there is no major contribution and visible impact of humanitarian aid on peace in Afghanistan, on the contrary there are negative consequences. The chapter therefore, concludes that the how of peacebuilding at the community level is subject to further research and study.

Conflict Analysis

To analyse a conflict one has to study the internal and external factors that created conditions for the outbreak of violence in the first place (root causes). However, scholars are in agreement that the favourable conditions as such do not automatically lead to violence unless it is ignited by other actions and processes (proximate causes). Many scholars insist that both root and proximate causes are primarily embedded in the social, political and economic dynamics of the society with a direct link to external factors. Conflict analysis should equally focus on external and internal processes within a given context.

Armed conflict is a dynamic process and rapidly changes from one phase to another, and so does it is purpose (Anderson 1999, Maynard 1999, Brown 1997and Rupesinghe 1992). With the prolongation of conflict pursuit of other aims take precedence and the situation becomes more complex. Thus conflict analysis should account for these elements as well as the effects of war on the population. Only then a realistic and context specific framework for peacebuilding will be developed.

Based on this brief introduction, the protracted armed conflict in Afghanistan will be analysed in order to assess the appropriateness of peacebuilding measures undertaken by various actors in the country.

Present Status of War

Afghanistan has been a battlefield since 1978 . The emergence of Taliban in 1994 and their dramatic advancements raised high hopes among war-weary Afghan population that their miseries will come to an end. Sadly, this hope was soon turned to disappointment when Taliban after overrunning the capital city of Kabul in September 1996 remained engaged in a proxy war with the opposition forces led by Ahamad Shah Massoud.

Although Taliban are in control of more than 80 percent of the territory there seems to be no end to the bloodshed, because neighbouring countries and regional powers are viciously united in their continued support to the warring factions. The current battlegrounds are located north of Kabul with heavy causalities for civilian population and no major sign of victory by one side or the other. On the other hand none of the parties seem to favour a political settlement and the "only game being played is on the military battlefield" (Jan 1999). The generosity of foreign patrons and the growth of a lucrative war economy protect the warring factions from encountering a mutually hurting stalemate necessary for creating a "ripe moment" for negotiation (Zartman 1995:335). In fact there has never been a 'ripe moment' in Afghanistan; particularly since the collapse of Najibullah's government in 1992 none of the warring factions have faced a stalemate.

Two decades of war have destroyed the economy, social capital, productive foundation of the society and virtually shattered the social services all over the country. Afghanistan has the highest number of landmines (10 millions) the largest refugee and disabled population, the highest rates of infant mortality.1

Appendix I provides a detailed analysis, historical background and internal external factors sustaining the conflict. However the map presented in the next page provides a graphic illustration of the current status of war and external and internal factors upholding the armed conflict in Afghanistan.

Which are the Root Causes?

The protracted armed conflict in Afghanistan owes its origins to a combination of factors such as internal power politics, underdevelopment, geographical location and the cold war rivalries of the USSR and the US. Notoriously the same factors are contributing to its continuation.

Geographically Afghanistan has been at the crossroad of many empires and conquerors, the latest the Soviet. The USA emerged as a superpower after the World War II, coinciding with the start of the cold war. Afghanistan’s strategic location has made it susceptible to foreign interferences particularly from the USSR because of the strong American influence in Iran, Pakistan and other Gulf countries. This had severe political and economic implications for the country.

Historically Afghanistan and Pakistan did not have friendly relationships due to Afghanistan's claim of Pushtunistan that has been annexed to India by the British Empire in 1893. "Indeed Afghanistan was the only country to vote against Pakistan's admission to the United Nations" (Rubin 1998:9).

Since the establishment of modern state of Afghanistan by Amir Abdul Rahman in 1880 there has been a continued domination of the political power by members of the same family. According to Shahrani (1998) maintenance of this centralised domination and control over the population by the state without military and economic assistance of outside patrons "and often the potential enemies of the nation earlier exclusively British but latter the Soviets " was not possible [(Shahrani 1998:227) italic added].

The Soviet assistance, the regimes had rallied upon for state-building were always subjected to ideological and political conditionalities and led to increased Soviet influence in Afghanistan. This discouraged the flow of substantial development aid from the West to match that of the Soviets.

Analysing the causes of contemporary warfare, Azar (1999) offers ‘needs theory’, and argues that needs deprivation causes grievances and "failure to redress these grievances by the authority cultivates a niche for protracted social conflict" (Azar 1999:9). Needs deprivation is directly linked with lack of participation in decisions, unequal distribution of resources that "makes identification with groups attractive and salient in a given setting" (Lederach1997).

Afghanistan during the 93 years (1880-1973) of monarchy rule and 5 years (1973-1978) of presidency of Mohammed Daoud, is a classical example of political exclusion: where the state perpetually failed to "politically accommodate the collective interests" of other groups seeking participation. (Gurr 1993:67). However, during the last decade of Zahir Shah's government (1963-1973), a process for "political liberalisation" led to the emergence of a number of political parties (Harpviken 1997:275). Laber and Rubin (1988:4) give a rather detailed account of the political liberalisation:

In an attempt to accommodate new social forces specially the newly educated, Zahir Shah … instituted a parliamentary system known as new democracy. Although the system provided a useful expansion of public discussion and debate, it never developed into true representative government. The King refused to delegate the authority to the government and never signed the legislation providing for the legitimisation of political parties.


Mohammed Daoud reversed this process in 1973 when he in a palace coup took the power and abolished the monarchy. Political parties were banned and the political activists, specifically the Islamic Movement, faced severe suppression, most of its leaderships were jailed, a few of them escaped to Pakistan where they were trained and armed. While the "Soviet Union provided Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) leaders some protection" from the government's crackdown on political parties (Rubin 1996:82).

Proximate Causes

Proximate causes refer to the policies and decisions of the political elites and external actors that ignite the violence. In Afghanistan the proximate causes could be seen in a number of actions and policies such as: a) the Soviet supported coup of 1978 that brought the PDPA into power; b) PDPA's policies of alien reforms and extreme repressions which could be described as imposing rapid social, political and economic change; c) antagonistic relationship with Pakistan; d) the oppressive nature and anti-Islamic image of Communism and the Soviet Union. Each of these factors played a substantial role in the start, escalation and intensification of armed conflict in Afghanistan.

A full-scale war started when Soviet forces invaded Afghanistan in 1979. The invasion was domestically met with popular upraising and internationally encountered with massive flow of arms and finance from the Western and Islamic countries that led to the formation and growth of seven Mujhideen Sunni parties in Pakistan fighting the Soviet forces. At the same time eight small Shi'ite parties were established in Iran but due to their absence from Pakistan these parties did not benefit from the flow of international military aid.

Regional Dimensions

The Soviet withdrawal in February 1989, subsequent disintegration of USSR in 1991, end of the cold war, effective disengagement of the US and collapse of Najibullah's regime in April 1992 marked a new era of perpetuated violence in Afghanistan. A deadly and disruptive power-struggle between antagonist Mujahideen parties with direct intervention of the neighbouring countries started. The emergence of the Central Asian States added a new dimension to the conflict. While Iran and Pakistan supported their traditional allies Northern Alliance and Taliban respectively Tajikistan and Uzbekistan added an ethnic dimension by seeking to assist purely Tajik and Uzbek groups in Afghanistan.

The protracted armed conflict also manifests in the severe economic disruption and extreme poverty that prevails all over the country. The war-economy is mostly based on the production of illicit crops and its trafficking as well as exploitation of the natural resources. The driving force behind the current conflict is the economic interest of internal elites and their external associates. It is because of the economic interests of Iran and Pakistan in Central Asia particularly in the oil and gas resources of Turkmenistan that both countries are competing for superiority in Afghanistan. The regional dimensions of conflict is so strong that "unless... Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan reach a consensus… and terminate their political, financial, and military support to the warring parties the conflict is unlikely to end" (Jan 1999). As there is a high degree of suspicion, mistrust and competition in the whole region it is improbable that without active involvement of major powers the regional countries would not be able to overcome their differences and genuinely co-operate for a political settlement in Afghanistan.

An Assessment of Various Peace Attempts

Peacemaking attempts in Afghanistan according to Khan (1995) dates back to June 16th 1982 with the initiation of the UN-led Geneva negotiations. During this time there have several ‘rise and fall’ of hopes and expectations of the Afghan nation for peace and cessation of hostilities. These peace interventions range from high-level political negotiations by international negotiators to locally initiated peace missions, conferences/workshops direct and indirect peacebuilding attempts by humanitarian aid organisations.

Although the Geneva Accords of 1988 marked an important achievement of the UN during the Cold-war, the subsequent attempts not only of the UN but also of other actors have suffered from changes in the international scene rather than internal developments. In addition the protracted efforts of humanitarian organisations have not produced a tangible impact in the context of conflict and reduction of violence. Therefore, an analysis of these efforts is deemed necessary in order to identify the missing ingredients of peacemaking and peacebuilding to inform future strategies.

These efforts will be analysed in two categories; a) peacemaking and b) peacebuilding. Each category will be analysed against: the working definitions of peace and peacebuilding discussed in the first chapter; key issues of peacebuilding (second chapter) and historical background root causes and external and internal dynamics of the conflict detailed in appendix I.


Peacemaking refers to efforts aimed at high-level political negotiations in order to craft a political settlement. Below is an analysis of such efforts of the United Nations, the Organisation of the Islamic Countries (OIC), joint Pakistani and Saudi Arabian interventions and the Ningarhar Shura. 2 The peacemaking efforts of the UN in Afghanistan are divided into two phases; Geneva negotiations and post-Geneva peace making.

Geneva Negotiations

After six years of hectic negotiations the Geneva Accords was eventually reached in April 1988. However, the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan as Maley (1998) states was taken by the Soviet Politburo in November 1986. Whatever the reason, either the UN's efforts or the Politburo decision, withdrawal of the Soviet forces did not prevent Afghanistan from descending into further violence and destruction. Therefore, the Geneva negotiations can be analysed against a number of important factors discussed in the previous chapters and more importantly against the historical background and international and regional dimension of the protracted conflict in Afghanistan.

In the first chapter peace was defined, as the existence of peaceful relationships, active association and planned co-operation among persons and groups…. The talks were held in the absence of the main party (Mujahideen) to the conflict let alone promotion of peaceful relationships and active association between the contending parties. One of the principles of conflict resolution is that internal and external parties have to participate and agree to the solution. The external players, particularly supporters of Mujahideen apart from the USA with a symbolic show as guarantors together with the USSR did not actively participate in process. Instead the Geneva Accords was indirectly negotiated and signed by Pakistan and Kabul government.

The Geneva Accords failed to address the power-struggle between various groups that constitutes one of the root causes of war in Afghanistan (see appendix I). The negotiations were based on an incomprehensive agenda to bring about a political settlement to the crisis. 3 "The accords said nothing about the future government of Afghanistan" in the aftermath of the Soviet withdrawal (Rubin 1995:91). Though the issue of transitional government was raised twice during the negotiations.4

The Geneva negotiations were mostly benefited from the political will of the Soviets and partly of the international community to prevent further East-West confrontation. But it failed to produce a comprehensive settlement for Afghanistan. In line with political will there existed a donor interest for reconstruction even on the part of the Soviets who promised to make a significant contribution through Operation Salam launched by the UN in the aftermath of the Geneva Accords. But due to incomprehensive settlement Operational Salam was never operational and donors’ pledges were mostly withdrawn.

Although termination of external interference was part of the accord but external supporters as Rubin (1995) observes, continued to flood the Afghan government and the Mujahidden with weapon and means of violence and destruction soon after the Accords was signed. Only the Superpower agreed on a negative symmetry two years later.

Consideration of the operational aspects of peacebuilding that are integral part of any peace accord was totally neglected because negotiation was based on a seriously flawed agenda. Also there was no recognition of the strategic components that are necessary for sustaining the peace agreement. Regional co-operation for a permanent termination of hostilities in Afghanistan was also non-existent during the Geneva talks and with the collapse of Soviet Union the situation became worst.

In sum the Geneva negotiation produced a different outcome for each party. For Soviets it was success, for Afghans a failure and disastrous and for the UN it represents a missed opportunity because it failed to capitalise on the partial political will of the international actors for comprehensive settlement of the war in Afghanistan.

Realising the shortcomings of the Geneva Accords the UN immediately embarked on another peace making endeavour but this time with insufficient backing and co-operation of the international actors to produce a viable solution.

Post-Geneva Peacemaking

The second phase of the UN led negotiation was to address the legacy of the Geneva Accord that was to facilitate the transfer of power from Najibullah to a politically neutral body.5 Between May 1991 and April 1992 Benon Sevan the special envoy of the UN Secretary General started an intensive negotiation among various parties.

His mission encountered severe setbacks due to the disintegration of the USSR and disengagement of the US. Both superpowers during the last round of Geneva negotiations according to Rubin (1995) had agreed to use their influence to ensure a political settlement under the auspices of the United Nations.

One of the internal factors that often works against negotiations is "the antagonists come to fear the consequences of settlement" (Stedman 1991:368). This was true in Afghanistan, the UN plan for the establishment of an impartial transition mechanism according to Rubin (1995) was suspected by the prominent Mujahideen parties as attempts to marginalize them.

The UN formula for transfer of power to an impartial body was clearly bypassing the existing armed groups who were already engaged in consolidating their power base inside Afghanistan. The second phase of the UN peacemaking efforts also suffered from absence of strategic components of peacebuilding inside the country. Wide-scale devastation of the social and economic infrastructure, the collapsed state, coupled with an atmosphere of distrust, rivalry and power-contention deserved simultaneous considerations. The UN did not establish strong a correlation between its diplomatic and humanitarian efforts so that each process enriched the other.

Collapse of the Soviet Union marked the total disappearance of political will for a negotiated settlement of the war in Afghanistan. Instead an environment of regional distrust and competition with relentless incentives for war has appeared. The mission therefore, lacked the necessary weight, leverage and support of the external actors. The foreign supporters of Mujahideen namely Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United States did not act with good faith either. Foreign patrons can influence the parties and shape the agenda for negotiations as in Mozambique in1991 (see box 3.1). Particularly Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the US, instead of using their influence and leverage to unite the Mujahideen and encourage their participation in support of the process, they pressed for a pre-transition formula and resignation of Najibullah without organising a viable alternative to succeed him (see Rubin 1995).


Box 3.1: Leverage of Foreign Patrons in the Political Settlement in Mozambique
In May 1991 the agenda for negotiation between Mozambican National Resistance (MNR) was only finalised after personal meetings of the Italian prime minister, US assistant secretary of state, US deputy assistant secretary and the Soviet ambassador with Dhlakama MNR leader to secure MNR's agreement to the subject and order of the agenda. At the same time presidents of Zimbabway and Kenya acted as official mediators, while both countries were either directly or indirectly involved in the Mozambican conflict. The Rome Declaration was a result of successful mediation by Zimbabway, Botswana, South Africa, Italy and the Catholic Church each contributing its bit at crucial moments. Other states such as United States and Italy backed the mediation efforts with pressure and technical expertise. The combination of non-threatening goodwill without muscle and tough, leveraged backup gradually produced its result.
Source: Msabaha 1995


The division and internal power-struggle within the Najibullah's government was also undermined in this process. The cut-off of financial and military assistance from the USSR according to Bokhari (1995) significantly reduced the government's capacity for leverage and control of the armed forces and maintenance of unity within the government and the party. Therefore, different factions of the government allied themselves to different Mujahideen parties and the government collapsed from within (Hussain 1992 and Rashid & Ali1 992). The Peshawar based Mujahideen with the direct involvement of Pakistani prime minister and Saudi Arabian intelligence chief according Zahid (1992) were rushed to produce the Peshawar agreement on a transitional authority and distribution of government portfolios among themselves. The Peshawar Accord fell apart when Hez-b-Islami Hakmatyar did not agree to the formula and started rocket assaults against the government positions in Kabul. Later different groups became engaged in a catastrophic power-struggle that has been going on since 1992.

The second phase of the UN led negotiations was based on a number of unrealistic assumptions: a) that strong unity existed within the Kabul government, b) that the Mujahideen (all together15 parties) were united and spoke with one voice; c) that the neighbouring countries were sincerely supporting a political settlement without any regard to their national interests; d) that there was a conducive social and economic environment for peace and e) that Afghanistan had a democratic culture and the democratic institution were already in place to create a conducive environment for smooth transition of power.

The third phase of the UN led negotiation started in December 1993 to broker a ceasefire and search for a viable solution. This phase of peacemaking was launched at the most difficult and less favourable circumstances inside Afghanistan as well as in the regional context. The collapse of the USSR further complicated the situation. New regional actors emerged and Afghanistan as Keating (1998) notes did not remain a focus of attention for the international community. Violence and internal fighting was widespread so was the massive destruction and extreme poverty.

In the first chapter it was argued that peacebuilding in the context of protracted conflict should be based on a multi-strategy approach through which war, its effects and its root causes have to be simultaneously addressed. The United Nations has been only focusing on one-track diplomacy trying to negotiate among internal actors whereas the direct involvement of the regional countries has not been sufficiently addressed; the economic collapse and social disintegration of the Afghan society have only been given symbolic treatment. Extreme poverty and massive destruction of the social and economic foundations of the society are among many domestic factors contributing to the conflict. Therefore, ignoring these fundamental needs is obviously not enhancing the political process.

The context of conflict is characterised by a dynamic process that so rapidly changes and often overwhelms the involved actors, peacemakers as Philipson (1999) notes, should therefore, adopt a proactive approach that requires consistency and regular analysis of the situation. Due to lack of regular follow up and inconsistent efforts of the special envoys, the UN peacemaking efforts have been unexpectedly overwhelmed by the rapid changes in Afghanistan. According to some sources, after 1992 none of the special envoys during their peace missions stayed overnight in Afghanistan. The UN peacemaking missions in Afghanistan have mostly suffered from uncooperative attitudes and irresponsible actions and decision of its member states particularly the regional countries and that of the US. The UN should have taken into account the regional dynamics of the conflict more seriously than the internal dynamics. Negotiations according to (Rubin 1995) must have taken place within a framework of regional co-operation with sufficient backing and support of major powers, as was the case in Central America (see box 3.2).


Box 3.2: Framework of Regional Co-operation for Ending Wars in Central America
Costa Rican president Oscar Arias in August 1987 and formally launched at a meeting of Central American Presidents. The peace plan called for the end to outside support to Central American insurgencies, ceasefires, internal democratisation and elections, dialogue and reconciliation. The plan was essential in laying the ground for subsequent peace settlements. Under the terms of the 1987 Esquipulas II agreements, the government established the National Reconciliation Commission (CNR) with one government delegate, one representative of existing political parties, one prominent citizen and a delegate from the Guatemalan Bishop's Conference (CEG). In the same year, the commission facilitated the first ever meeting between the URNG and state representatives and then engaged in further talks with the rebels in 1988. In 1989, it inaugurated a Grand National Dialogue to discuss Guatemala's principal problems. The Dialogue created a unique forum for civil society and enabled it to set the agenda for all subsequent peace talks. The creation of a broad Civil Society Assembly (ASC) was promoted by the government and the URNG in early 1994 to discuss the substantive agenda of peace talks, to draw up consensus documents and to submit recommendations which, though not binding, were intended to 'facilitate understanding among parties. A round table meeting between civil society and the URNG was to lay the foundations for the subsequent involvement of civil society organisations in the peace process.
Sources: Azpuru Dinorah 1999; Ardon Patricia 1997; Wilson Richard et al. (editors) 1997


With rhetoric the regional countries have been declaring support for the UN led negotiations but local realities suggest that the same countries are aggressively fuelling the conflict.

An opportunity for creating a social foundation for peace was missed during 11 years of unsuccessful peacemaking. The sole focus on military and political leaders diminished the possibility of the Afghan civil society to flourish and to become a civic force with appropriate capacity for promotion of peace. As argued in the first two chapters peacemaking at the political level should have been complemented with social and physical reconstruction at the grass root, but the UN treated political negotiations as an isolated activity.

In addition to the UN there has been some scattered political negotiations by the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC), joint Pakistan-Saudi initiative, and the Ningarhar Shura.

Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC)

The OIC, missions were even less consistent than the UN, because most of its member states had declared their so-called support for the UN, and saw no reason to engage in a parallel effort. Second OIC is institutionally so weak that it has been unable to generate genuine interest for a political solution of the conflict among directly involved countries let alone create an additional enthusiasm in the Islamic world for resolving the ongoing wars in Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan and in other Islamic countries. Unlike the UN the OIC does not enjoy a massive institutional and financial capacity to engage in a protracted effort of peacemaking or to address the strategic components and support implementation of the operational aspects of peacebuilding.

Similar to the UN OIC's efforts were constrained by the lack of political will on the parts of its members particularly neighbouring countries for a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan. In spite of all these institutional weaknesses, the OIC, by mobilising religious organisations of the Islamic countries (most of whom are closely associated with the warring factions) could have opened another window of opportunity for the promotion of political settlement. This possibility was particular relevant since the warring factions have always justified their armed strife as necessary for the establishment of an Islamic government in Afghanistan.

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia

After the collapse of Najibullah government in April 1992, both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were instrumental in brokering the Peshawar agreement on a transition mechanism between the Mujahideen parties (see Bukhari 1995). While both countries were strong supporters of Mujahideen and were still enjoying good relationships with all major parties they failed to produce a comprehensive agreement for the establishment of power sharing transitional mechanism and take realistic steps for confidence building among contending parties. Perhaps, the sudden collapse of Kabul government and earlier efforts of the UN and the US limited the abilities of these countries to properly negotiate a comprehensive plan. On the other hand the confrontation of strong military forces of Hekmatyar and Massoud in Kabul reduced the possibilities of a comprehensive agreement being devised. However it seems inconceivable that both countries should have had no prior knowledge of the developments in Afghanistan. The Peshawar agreement was also seriously flawed on the ground that Hezb-e-Wahdat (a coalition of 8 Shi'ite parties) was not given any role in the transition government; the role of Iran was also ignored.6 This deliberate negligence and marginalisation of Iran by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia testifies to the regional competition and rivalries that resulted in a perpetuated human tragedy in Afghanistan.

The second joint peacemaking venture of these countries is known as Islamabad Accord reached in March 1993. This initiative was taken after a severe round of violent conflicts in the capital Kabul. This negotiation only focused on dealing with the symptoms rather than the real issues. The resultant agreement was to facilitate re-participation of Hekmatyar as prime minister in the power-sharing transition government of president Rabbani.

Even though the leaders "took an oath in Mecca to adhere to the agreement" they failed to respect it due to major shortcomings (Rubin 1995: 143). First, Ahmad Shah Massoud the then Defence ministry and a main adversary to Hekmatyar was not a signatory of the agreement. His position as defence ministry was the most controversial point. Second, the agreement lacked any provision for implementation of operational aspects. Third there was no consideration of a solid plan on how the country should be governed in post-transition and how social and economic devastation of war should be addressed. Fourth, the agreement failed to end the incentive for war by offering incentives for peace. Again the agreement was brokered without the participation of Iran and other regional countries that had been aggressively intervening in Afghanistan.

Ningarhar Shura

The Ningarhar Shura in 1993 undertook a major peace initiative by inviting all party leaders to the negotiation table in Jalalabad city.7 This negotiation failed because the Shura did not have the backing of the foreign supporters of the warring parties as sources for leverage to influence and produce a settlement. The predominantly Pushtoon Shura of Ningarhar perhaps was not seen as impartial by some elements of Rabbani's government. Most importantly the Shura failed to follow up their peace efforts in a consistent way and to mobilise other commanders from the rest of the country in support of peace. However, the Shura in June 1995 began a similar initiative to negotiate among warring groups but failed to bring the concerned parties to the negotiation table. The potential of the Ningarhar Shura was to engage in a continued peace advocacy at the national level.

Peacebuilding in the Context of Humanitarian Aid

Peacebuilding in the context of humanitarian aid has gained wider recognition since the last decade. Where political will (at the national and international level) for a negotiated settlement of armed conflict is low, aid organisations are expected to fill the gap through their programming. In line with the political disinterest for resolution of conflict, humanitarian aid to Afghanistan has also become subject to political conditionalities. Particularly after the takeover of Kabul and other major cities by Taliban some donors countries started to use humanitarian aid as a weapon to pressurise Taliban authorities to change their policies towards women. This has led to further deprivation and sufferings of those whom the donors wanted to defend because concern for civilians has always been given second priority by the warring factions. But Taliban unlike former Mujahideen commanders does not have a beneficial relationship with aid organisations.

Barakat and Strand (1995) argue that during the Soviet occupation much of the international assistance to Afghanistan was politically motivated. The prime beneficiaries appeared to be the military commanders more than the suffering communities. Due to perceived security risks inside Afghanistan aid organisation partnered with Mjuahideen commanders in the delivery of humanitarian aid to inside Afghanistan. This kind of direct association of humanitarian aid with commanders has served as an incentive for war rather than peace.

After the Soviet withdrawal, collapse of Kabul government in 1992 and subsequent military developments the role of commanders to a large extent diminished. This provided an opportunity for aid agencies to directly interact with the focused communities. But operating with the same mentality "suffering requires urgency" projects have been implemented without proper study and social, political and relational analysis of their target beneficiaries (Anderson and Woodrow 1989). Such ignorance often led to further divisions and tensions within the communities over aid resources.

In spite of the shortcomings and unfavourable politics of the donors, a number of aid agencies have in recent years attempted to enhance the impact of aid programming on peace. These efforts will be analysed under two headings; direct peacebuilding and indirect contribution of humanitarian programmes to peace. Building on the notions of capacity development, local capacities for peace and strategic components discussed in first chapter and second chapter respectively these efforts will be analysed. Table3.2 ranks the level of activities against the criteria to determine the impact of humanitarian aid on the conflict in Afghanistan. The ranking is between 1(*) and 3 (*** ) to determine both the long-term contribution of these programmes to peace and their immediate impact on conflict.


Table 3.2 Analysis of Peacebuilding Efforts in Afghanistan Organisations, Level of Activities and Impact on Conflict
  Direct Indirect
  Indigenous Organizations (CCA, CPAU, SIEAL) Norwegian Church Aid NGOs with Community Based Approach NGOs Involved in Relief & Rehabilitation Establishment of Rehabilitation Shuras UNDP P.E.A.C.E. Initiative UNDP
Capacity Development *** ** *      
Economic Development   * * * * *
Confidence Building *   *      
Education * * * * * *
Strengthening of Local Capacities for Peace ** *        
Strengthening of Civil Society ** ** *      
Impact on Conflict ***+ *+ *+ **- **- *+
Source: Author


Peacebuilding in the Context of Humanitarian Aid

Direct Peacebuilding

In terms of direct peacebuilding there are a few indigenous organisations that have mandated themselves to the promotion of peace (see table 3.3). These organisations represent local capacities for peace in their own rights and at the same time their operations are all geared towards developing and strengthening of local capacities at the community level. The strength of these organisations comes from their knowledge and understanding of the Afghan social, political, cultural, and economic realities as well as their capacity to design and execute culturally sensitive and politically sound and economically cheap programmes.


Table 3.3: Indigenous Organisations Involved in Peacebuilding in Afghanistan
Agency Activities
Co-operation Center of Afghanistan (CCA) Human Rights Advocacy, Capacity Development
Sanaee Institute of Education and Learning (SIEAL) Peace Education, Publications and Educational Programs
Co-operation for Peace and Unity (CPAU) Capacity Development for Peace Advocacy, Research, Peace Education


These programmes are well targeted for example peace education programme for school children is in fact responding to the need for promotion of a culture of peace and peaceful attitudes among future generation. Similarly CPAU's district based training workshops on Working With Conflict and Do No Harm for a mixed audience of aid workers, village Mullahs, teachers and community leaders is directed at developing community's capacity for peaceful transformation of conflict and confidence building. Moreover, these activities are directly contributing to the growth of civil society in Afghanistan (see table 3:2).

However, their impact on the overall situation due to various reasons is not so visible. It might be unrealistic to expect a dramatic impact from such relatively small initiatives on a protracted conflict with its strong national and international actors. Therefore, it is worth attempting to identify institutional and operational strengths and weakness of these organisations (see table 3.4). This analysis will particularly help us to identify more realistic and achievable strategies for peacebuilding that will be discussed in the next chapter.


Table 3.4: Institutional and Operational Analysis of the 3 NGOs Involved in Peacebuilding
  • Institutional Commitment
  • Developing of Local Capacities
  • Right Targets
  • Local language
  • Consideration of Cultural and Political Sensitivities
  • Financially Cheap Operations
  • Main focus inside Afghanistan (CPAU)
  • Taking Other Organisations on Board (CPAU)
  • Application of Foreign Training Models and other Projects
  • Limited Institutional Capacity
  • Dependency on External Resources
  • Inconsistency and lack of proper follow up
  • Inability to raise the interest of other organisations to incorporate peacebuilding in their programming (SIEAL & CCA)
  • Political Vulnerability


Peacebuilding, as argued in the previous chapters should be concerned with building and strengthening social, political, and economic structures for constructive transformation of conflict and promotion of social values such as, benevolence, compassion, co-operation, and justice among persons and groups. Given the working definition of peacebuilding and the institutional/operational strengths and weaknesses the activities of these organisations are to some extent directed towards creating and strengthening a social foundation for a lasting peace in Afghanistan. In similar circumstances aid organisations have been instrumental in preparing the ground for peace (see box 3.3).


Box 3.3: Strengthening of Local Capacities in Guatemala
An important initiative was the training of human rights promoters. In Guatemala, many of these were trained by church-based agencies while they were refugees in Mexico. This enabled them to present human rights education as central to the life and development of their communities.
Source: Ardon (1997:82-110)


Therefore such operations have to be substantially improved and expanded in order to meet greater challenges of peacebuilding facing war-torn Afghanistan.

Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) is the only international NGO that has taken a number of significant initiatives in this regard. Organising a workshop on "NGOs and Peacebuilding In Afghanistan" in early 1994 in Swat Pakistan NCA took the first initiative in the aid community working in Afghanistan.8 This workshop was a significant step in many ways, it for the first time initiated a discussion in the aid community on how aid deliveries could be improved in order to make a positive impact on conflict (see Barakat et al 1994). The workshop served as a foundation for future undertakings by NCA. In the aftermath of the workshop NCA joined the Local Capacities for Peace Project (LCPP) known as "Do No Harm" that was initiated by Mary B. Anderson. 9 One of the most significant contributions of NCA to the aid community and to Afghanistan is the promotion, advocacy and training aid personnel on the concept of do no harm. An important step was the translation and widespread distribution of the 1996, publication of LCPP "Do No Harm: Supporting Local Capacities for Peace Trough Aid" that is a direct contribution to peacebuilding and capacity development.

In 1996 NCA took another important initiative and organised a three weeks training on Working With Conflict that resulted in the creation of an Afghan network called Co-operation for Peace and Unity (CPAU) that has been supported and strengthened by NCA at the early stages. 10 NCA as a donor agency has been in the forefront of not only financially supporting peace related initiatives but also working closely with the partner in the development of the programmes.

As illustrated in table 3.2, NCA's peacebuilding initiatives combined with its relief rehabilitation and development activities are geared towards promotion of education, capacity development, promotion of local capacities for peace, strengthening of civil society in Afghanistan.

Though highly innovative and successful in implementation of the mentioned activities Norwegian Church Aid has not been able to institutionalise either do no harm or peacebuilding. NCA as a donor agency has the potential to influence its implementing partners to incorporate peacebuilding in their relief and rehabilitation programmes and to set example for others. Unfortunately, the organisation treated peacebuilding in isolation from its core programming in which business continues as usual.

NCA as an international organisation in spite of being involved in a few successful peacebuilding processes in other parts of the world has not been able to intellectually support locally initiated efforts in Afghanistan. The cross-fertilisation of ideas in this field has been totally ignored and in spite of stated policy and commitment to peacebuilding NCA has also not been able to allocate sufficient financial resources for peacebuilding. Such activities were financed as predatory projects from the emergency and rehabilitations funds allocated by Norwegian foreign ministry.

Indirect Contribution to Peace

In addition there are a number of local and international NGOs that are primarily involved in community-based rehabilitation and development programmes. Their approach to peacebuilding has been to use aid as leverage for resolving inter-communal conflicts and promoting community cohesion. In some cases this group of NGOs has been able to resolve a potentially violent conflict at the community level. 11 Through participatory methods this group is in a better position to minimise the negative impact of their programmes on local level conflicts. The weakness of this group of NGOs is that in most cases they are involved in short-term projects that limit their abilities to develop a local mechanism for conflict transformation or even to ensure sustainable self-help capacity within the community. Lack of meaningful co-ordination according to Strand (1998) is a major weakness of aid community in Afghanistan. Aid organisations mostly suffer from the inability to learn and benefit from each-others potentials and to ultimately promote a culture of sharing and co-operation within the community and their target beneficiaries.

There are also a large number of NGOs only concerned with delivery of aid without proper consideration of what causes the sufferings. For such organisations their very presence within the country is a contribution to peace though most of their headquarters are based in Pakistan and some of their actions and decisions are in fact contributing to conflict rather than peace. These NGOs mostly seek to work in conflict free areas. Regions and villages with even low-intensity inter communal, tribal or disputes are often ignored. Because, conflict resolution is political while NGOs are non-governmental, non-political and should not be involved in such activities. This group of NGOs are strictly bound by their mandates and procedures that do not allow any deviation. At best their conventional operations are serving as short-term relief without any prospect of future. The long term contributions of such activities to peace and their immediate impact on conflict seems to be negative because there is no indication that such programme has made a positive contribution towards capacity development, promotion of local capacities for peace or strengthening of civil society in Afghanistan (see table 3.2).

The UN agencies led by UNDP implemented an experimental programme of community participation in the north of Afghanistan. UNDP funded programmes would be only implemented in a district if people established district Shura to priorities the rehabilitation projects and decide the location. Establishing and working through local Shura is an excellent approach for project implementation and can be a highly effective tool for peacebuilding, provided that the Shura is representative, treated as an equal partner, and actively involved in the planning, design and implementation of the programmes. But apart from this symbolic role the Shuras did not have any decision-making power on how the projects were to be implemented and monitored. With the completion of the projects the so-called Shuras also disappeared. In most cases it was district leaders, commander and rich landlord who dominated the Shuras and encircled the benefit of the programmes. In such a situation programmes are likely to increase tension within the community or strengthen the commander's position than reduce the sufferings of vulnerable families (see table 3.2).

UNDP in 1997 embarked on a well-publicised three years programme entitled PEACE Initiative (Poverty Eradication And Community Empowerment) implemented in 32 districts and 5 urban centers. This programme with its massive budget and ambitious aim created a widespread enthusiasm and high expectations that peace was imminent in Afghanistan. Poverty alleviation, good governance, and community empowerment are the three fundamental requirements for a lasting peace and Afghanistan urgently needs such crucial programme. To achieve this aim UNPD and its implementing partners within the UN family and NGOs concentrated in the target areas (32 districts). Integrated approach with a high degree of co-ordination and huge budget were the main features of PEACE Initiative that has undoubtedly affected a positive change in terms of improved infrastructure, increased agricultural products and economic development. However, in the social sector the programme did not make much progress, and certainly did not meet the needs for capacity development, promotion of civil society and strengthening of local capacities for peace.

There is heavy emphasis on community participation and empowerment and building of human resources throughout the programme document that prompted many people, myself included to present discussion papers to UNDP on how participatory approaches can be promoted and what are the crucial steps to be taken. Though UNDP seemed appreciative of the ideas and circulated the papers within the UN family but it practically failed to implement the suggested ideas or even to translate its stated ambitions into practice in the field. The most important aspect of the programme should have been capacity development of the implementing actors on participatory approaches and also of the communities and local structure.

Good governance is a stated objective of the programme but was very smartly interpreted as working with local NGOs and Shuras that were later narrowed down to a very symbolic role for these institutions. Local NGOs were treated as commercial contractors and local Shuras might have been consulted about the projects.

The overall aim of PEACE Initiative was set to "contribute to the restoration of peace in Afghanistan through poverty alleviation, good governance building and community empowerment…" (UNDP Afghanistan 19997-1999). With this clarity of goal one would expect that the programme to be based on a thorough analysis of the causes of bad-governance, poverty and factors that are dis-empowering people and communities and would seek to address these on a long-term basis. Unfortunately PEACE Initiative falls into the traditional UN operations of ‘business as usual’ where wide ranging projects were implemented without a critical assessment of how these projects would enable the achievement of the immediate objectives, poverty alleviation, empowerment and good governance let alone restoration of peace. PEACE Initiative by many accounts was not successful. Restoration of peace as discussed in the first chapter requires a multi-strategy approach with capacity development as its overarching goal to enable the communities to build and sustain their own peace.

It is appropriate to conclude with this popular saying: When the only tool in your toolbox is a hummer - all problems start to look like a nail. 12 It is very clear that UNDP's toolbox did certainly lack the most crucial tool (capacity development) for successful implementation of PEACE Initiative.

This assessment of peacebuilding approaches and the role of international humanitarian aid, first testifies that the 'moment is ripe' for community-based peacebuilding and there are ways and means to integrate peacebuilding into the aid programming. Second, it shows how little is happening in terms of peacebuilding while there prevails a condition of negative peace over more that 90 percent of Afghan soil. Third it enables us to further explore the how of peacebuilding in the context of Afghanistan and to come up with a realistic strategy in support of peace.


Building on the second chapter in which how of peacebuilding was discussed, this chapter set out to assess the various peacemaking and peacebuilding efforts in Afghanistan. An analysis of the conflict, it's dynamics root/proximate causes as well as it's effects and manifestations revealed that the international co-operation, which turned Afghanistan into a buffer state, planted the seeds of the protracted armed conflict. While it is breakdown (international co-operation) resulted in continuation of war and has turned the country into a battleground of its neighbours and regional powers. The failure of the Geneva negotiations to produce a comprehensive political solution testifies to the lack of international concern for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Afghanistan.

Peacemaking efforts of various actors over the last 18 years have mostly suffered from the lack of strong international patronage as leverage for a political settlement and termination of hostilities. Such efforts have also suffered from the absence of systematic and steady follow up and rigid focus on high-level political negotiations without addressing the institutional, social and economic components of peace. The international apathy for resolution of conflict in Afghanistan has also constrained the efforts of aid organisations to engage in peacebuilding at the community level. This lack of progress in peacebuilding by humanitarian organisations is also due to inadequate understanding of the conflict and its external and internal dynamics. In addition, insufficient considerations to the need for capacity development of the local staff and those of the communities has been a contributory factor to the failure of aid organisations in peacebuilding.

Given the enormity of involved actors, absence of political will for resolution of conflict, lack of incentives for peace, inability of the international assistance to influence a positive change, the prospects of peace in the foreseeable future seems to be very gloomy in Afghanistan. Therefore, it’s the responsibility of Afghans and Afghan NGOs particularly those already involved in peacebuilding to further expand their activities, capitalise on the prevailing conditions and focus on the establishment of peace constituencies to uphold peace accords that may be reached at leadership level.


1. For details please see UNDP PEACE Initiative document 1997-1999
2. Ningarhar province is located in the east of Afghanistan, the province between April 1992 - July 1996 was controlled by a coalition of local commanders known as Ningarhar Shura (council).
3. The agreed four point agenda for the Geneva negotiations included: "withdrawal of soviet forces, non-interference in each other's internal affairs on the part of Pakistan and Afghanistan, international guarantees concerning non-interference, and the return of refugee" (Ted Morello 1981 quoted by Khan 1998:236).
4. First "in July 26, 1986, Gorbachev called for the formation of an Afghan government with the participation of all political forces"(Bokhari 1995:239). Second according to Bukhari (1995) by the Pakistani president General Mohammed Ziaul-Haq in 1988 during the last round of talks. Since formation of a transitional government was not part of the Geneva agenda the parties could not resolve this issue.
5. In May 19991 the Secretary General in a statement called for 'an intra Afghan dialogue' to facilitate the establishment of a "credible and impartial transition mechanism and free and fair elections for the establishment of a broad-based government"(Maley 1998:187).
6. Hussain Mushahid 1992 states: Although Iran was not too happy with the Peshawar peace plan since it did not include any role for the Tehran based Shi'ite Hizb-i-Wahdat party, which has been claiming a 25 percent share in any future government on the basis of Shi'ites numerical strength in Afghanistan, it has been following a pragmatic policy. The Saudis are going along with the agreement on two accounts. First, the pro-Iranian Shi'ite parties have a negligible role in the set-up, and second, Saudi Arabia no longer views Afghanistan as an ideological battleground with Iran.
7. See Kayhan weekly Vol.XIV.3577 Wednesday May 19th 1993 Published in Iran
8. Dr.Sultan Barakat Director of PRDU and Simon Fisher Director of Responding to Conflict (RTC) facilitated this Workshop.
9. The workshop was case-studied by Mary B. Anderson in 1995
10. For details see Workshop Report NCA Afghanistan Programme 1997.
11. For details see Annual Report 1998 of Afghan Development Association (ADA)
12. See Carl 2000


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