Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

International Engagement

Afghan Civil Society Forum in Bonn (2): A Day of Messaging

Thomas Ruttig 9 min

The discussion about a possible peace process that would include the Taleban dominated the discussions on day 2 of the Afghan Civil Society Forum in Bonn on Saturday. While it became obvious that the Afghan organisations still have to do some homework, they professionally reacted to a smear campaign at home declaring that they do not claim a permanent lead of all civil society after Bonn 2. AAN’s Thomas Ruttig continues his reporting from Bonn.

The 34 civil society delegates had made their position on the ‘peace process’ clear yesterday already: a political solution – yes, but not at the cost. Today was the day of messaging. First, a panel of two women and two men presented the delegation’s position on this issue in more detail. Then the delegation’s two spokespeople, Selay Ghaffar and Barry Salam (who have been called ‘super-delegates’ by Ambassador Steiner on the previous day, another insensitivity that led to some unhappy comments from other members of the delegation who insist that they all represent civil society equally), hammered the message home first in a well-attended press conference and again in a panel with Afghan and German foreign ministers Zalmay Rassul and Guido Westerwelle. After this consistent barrage, it will be very difficult for governments to ignore the message, particularly as they will hear it again on Monday at the ministerial conference. (The following sentences have only marginally been polished but grouped from different presentations.)
‘Civil society thinks that peace should be based on justice, a just peace is what we want. We don’t want concessions that jeopardise basic rights of Afghan citizens. Most of these rights have been secured in our constitution, and that needs to be kept. We have nothing to change.’

‘We need the international community to be with us, to help us handle the regional causes of terrorism. The centre of violence has moved to Pakistan now.

Addressing the plight of Afghan war victims, not only of the past ten years, to us is a mechanism that makes sure that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past.

By joining a peace process, no one should be guaranteed an amnesty for ever, including those who now are serving in the Afghan government, ie Transitional Justice must be comprehensive and not only address the Taleban.

Civil society has not been asked to become part of the process and it wants to be integrated into it. We think that we have not been given a sufficient share because we are very critical of the process and have been so from the beginning because there is not enough transparency. We want our role to be recognised as an independent sector of society by the government.

Without fundamental reform of the institutions, including the judiciary, no sustainable peace is possible.’

Furthermore, there were demands to revive the Transitional Justice Action Plan, including the establishment of a day of remembrance for the war victims, memorials and museums and for revoking the shameful self-amnesty of the previous Wolesi Jirga.

ACRU’s Baryalai Omarzai added his assessment of the reintegration programme. Although he did not reject it outrightly, he criticised that the promised mechanism for social support of reintegrees was not in place yet, pointing to the negative example of Marja (in Helmand), and that what was offered was na-chiz (insignificant). Interestingly, he pleaded for giving those former Taleban with higher levels of education positions in local government.

Muhammad Saeed Niazi stated that ’sometimes Taleban leaders are like loudspeaker for other countries, translators of intelligence services of other countries.’ Later he clarified that he does not mean by that that they necessarily share all Pakistani positions but that they are not in a position to speak out independently.

Homaira Qaderi, a young member of the delegation, added an impressive emotional appeal why there mustn’t be an unprincipled peace: ‘I have lived under the burqa for seven years, and I am not ready at all to return to this kind of life.’

Afghan foreign minister Zalmay Rassul made remarkable comments on the civil society positions: ‘We are not going to compromise on what has been achieved. The red lines are not only of the government, but of the people.’ And on the question of a delegation member how the government would react if the Taleban joined the peace process and asked for a Loya Jirga to change the constitution, he replied: ‘There will not be going to be a new Loya Jirga, the constitution will not be changed. […] We are not to going to bargain on human and women’s rights, […] the democratic process is the wish of the majority of the Afghan people.’ This is basically a rejection of any negotiations because negotiations will require compromises. What remains open is where Rassul takes the conviction that he is talking from a position of strength. He also promised that the 2014 elections will be held on time.

Particularly the mute panel about Afghanistan regional relations which had started the morning was a vivid example that civil society still has a lot homework to do. (It did not bring anything beyond common places and even lacked the only too often-experienced Pakistan-bashing. We can’t be sure whether this was only a lack of expertise on the part of the panellists or a reflection of subtle messaging by governments to refrain pushing the Pakistani government even more after its Bonn2 boycott.) Basically, Afghan civil society needs to develop well-grounded and detailed positions on all of Afghanistan’s key issues on the basis of which it can advocate more effectively and convincingly. Or in short: it needs to move from strong opinions to detailed knowledge.

At the panel with the two ministers, another weakness became obvious: Afghan civil society is just too polite. It doesn’t want to offend the organisers and therefore uses very soft language, also on issues that would require much more outspokenness.

Another important homework, the group that had travelled to Bonn did today. It reacted to a campaign that puts their inclusiveness in doubt (I briefly reported about the background yesterday, read the blog here) and declared that they were not planning to continue to act as the Afghan civil society representatives after their return. This is a very well-considered approach because, if implemented, it takes the wind out of the sails of the said critics. Without any question, however, the momentum and growing cohesion that has started to develop before Bonn 2 must not be lost again. It is good to turn it into a ‘mechanism’, as they called it here, to make functioning structures of discussion, of forming joint positions and of communication coordination permanent, without closing the door for others to join on an equal footing.

Meanwhile, and that should not go unnoticed, Germany’s peace groups held its anti-Afghan war demonstration around midday, too. Claiming 4,500 participants many of whom had come by busses from different cities, reporters attending the demo said that 1,500 was more realistic. The November rain and storms that had arrived a few weeks late but just in time for this event might have prevented better local participation. The organisers were further embarrassed by an egg thrown and slightly cutting the nose of Green member of parliament, Christian Ströbele, who the protesters claimed had ‘blood on his hands’ although he consistently had voted against German troops being deployed in Afghanistan, and most of the time against a majority even in his own party’s Bundestag group.

The discussion about a possible peace process that would include the Taleban dominated the discussions on day 2 of the Afghan Civil Society Forum in Bonn on Saturday. While it became obvious that the Afghan organisations still have to do some homework, they professionally reacted to a smear campaign at home declaring that they do not claim a permanent lead of all civil society after Bonn 2. AAN’s Thomas Ruttig continues his reporting from Bonn.

The 34 civil society delegates had made their position on the ‘peace process’ clear yesterday already: a political solution – yes, but not at the cost. Today was the day of messaging. First, a panel of two women and two men presented the delegation’s position on this issue in more detail. Then the delegation’s two spokespeople, Selay Ghaffar and Barry Salam (who have been called ‘super-delegates’ by Ambassador Steiner on the previous day, another insensitivity that led to some unhappy comments from other members of the delegation who insist that they all represent civil society equally), hammered the message home first in a well-attended press conference and again in a panel with Afghan and German foreign ministers Zalmay Rassul and Guido Westerwelle. After this consistent barrage, it will be very difficult for governments to ignore the message, particularly as they will hear it again on Monday at the ministerial conference. (The following sentences have only marginally been polished but grouped from different presentations.)
‘Civil society thinks that peace should be based on justice, a just peace is what we want. We don’t want concessions that jeopardise basic rights of Afghan citizens. Most of these rights have been secured in our constitution, and that needs to be kept. We have nothing to change.’

‘We need the international community to be with us, to help us handle the regional causes of terrorism. The centre of violence has moved to Pakistan now.

Addressing the plight of Afghan war victims, not only of the past ten years, to us is a mechanism that makes sure that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past.

By joining a peace process, no one should be guaranteed an amnesty for ever, including those who now are serving in the Afghan government, ie Transitional Justice must be comprehensive and not only address the Taleban.

Civil society has not been asked to become part of the process and it wants to be integrated into it. We think that we have not been given a sufficient share because we are very critical of the process and have been so from the beginning because there is not enough transparency. We want our role to be recognised as an independent sector of society by the government.

Without fundamental reform of the institutions, including the judiciary, no sustainable peace is possible.’

Furthermore, there were demands to revive the Transitional Justice Action Plan, including the establishment of a day of remembrance for the war victims, memorials and museums and for revoking the shameful self-amnesty of the previous Wolesi Jirga.

ACRU’s Baryalai Omarzai added his assessment of the reintegration programme. Although he did not reject it outrightly, he criticised that the promised mechanism for social support of reintegrees was not in place yet, pointing to the negative example of Marja (in Helmand), and that what was offered was na-chiz (insignificant). Interestingly, he pleaded for giving those former Taleban with higher levels of education positions in local government.

Muhammad Saeed Niazi stated that ’sometimes Taleban leaders are like loudspeaker for other countries, translators of intelligence services of other countries.’ Later he clarified that he does not mean by that that they necessarily share all Pakistani positions but that they are not in a position to speak out independently.

Homaira Qaderi, a young member of the delegation, added an impressive emotional appeal why there mustn’t be an unprincipled peace: ‘I have lived under the burqa for seven years, and I am not ready at all to return to this kind of life.’

Afghan foreign minister Zalmay Rassul made remarkable comments on the civil society positions: ‘We are not going to compromise on what has been achieved. The red lines are not only of the government, but of the people.’ And on the question of a delegation member how the government would react if the Taleban joined the peace process and asked for a Loya Jirga to change the constitution, he replied: ‘There will not be going to be a new Loya Jirga, the constitution will not be changed. […] We are not to going to bargain on human and women’s rights, […] the democratic process is the wish of the majority of the Afghan people.’ This is basically a rejection of any negotiations because negotiations will require compromises. What remains open is where Rassul takes the conviction that he is talking from a position of strength. He also promised that the 2014 elections will be held on time.

Particularly the mute panel about Afghanistan regional relations which had started the morning was a vivid example that civil society still has a lot homework to do. (It did not bring anything beyond common places and even lacked the only too often-experienced Pakistan-bashing. We can’t be sure whether this was only a lack of expertise on the part of the panellists or a reflection of subtle messaging by governments to refrain pushing the Pakistani government even more after its Bonn2 boycott.) Basically, Afghan civil society needs to develop well-grounded and detailed positions on all of Afghanistan’s key issues on the basis of which it can advocate more effectively and convincingly. Or in short: it needs to move from strong opinions to detailed knowledge.

At the panel with the two ministers, another weakness became obvious: Afghan civil society is just too polite. It doesn’t want to offend the organisers and therefore uses very soft language, also on issues that would require much more outspokenness.

Another important homework, the group that had travelled to Bonn did today. It reacted to a campaign that puts their inclusiveness in doubt (I briefly reported about the background yesterday, read the blog here) and declared that they were not planning to continue to act as the Afghan civil society representatives after their return. This is a very well-considered approach because, if implemented, it takes the wind out of the sails of the said critics. Without any question, however, the momentum and growing cohesion that has started to develop before Bonn 2 must not be lost again. It is good to turn it into a ‘mechanism’, as they called it here, to make functioning structures of discussion, of forming joint positions and of communication coordination permanent, without closing the door for others to join on an equal footing.

Meanwhile, and that should not go unnoticed, Germany’s peace groups held its anti-Afghan war demonstration around midday, too. Claiming 4,500 participants many of whom had come by busses from different cities, reporters attending the demo said that 1,500 was more realistic. The November rain and storms that had arrived a few weeks late but just in time for this event might have prevented better local participation. The organisers were further embarrassed by an egg thrown and slightly cutting the nose of Green member of parliament, Christian Ströbele, who the protesters claimed had ‘blood on his hands’ although he consistently had voted against German troops being deployed in Afghanistan, and most of the time against a majority even in his own party’s Bundestag group.

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Germany Civil Society Bonn

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