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Peace-building in Afghanistan

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Afghanistan, Governance

Kabul has just seen the end of the Loya Jirga - a mass meeting in which, traditionally, tribal elders meet to discuss matters of national and political importance.

During the three-day event, around 2,000 Afghan nationals from across the country gathered in Kabul to discuss, among other things, peace negotiations here.

It passed without incident - despite reports that there may have been attempts to destabilise it with an attack - and was yet another example of steps being taken to build a more peaceful, more stable Afghanistan.

Elders attend jirgas to make important decisions. Picture: Neil Chapman/RAF

Attending were politicians, traditional elders, religious leaders, civil society activists - and 500 of the participants were women, significantly more than at the last jirga. Each event like this which happens successfully is another blow to those who want this country to return to war - and another victory for the vast majority who are desperate to see peace here. It got me thinking about our own service of remembrance earlier this month, here at the Embassy in Kabul.

It was no grand affair. There were no marching bands, no flags, no centotaph, just some 60-70 of us staff at the Embassy gathered on our tiny lawn on a chilly but gloriously bright and sunny Friday morning.

The service was conducted by a British Padre from ISAF and the last post was played by a bugler from the Royal Signals Band. Working here in Afghanistan we are all extremely conscious that we are living in a conflict-affected zone and that British troops, alongside those of many other nations, and Afghans themselves, are being injured and killed out here. The focus of remembrance here was not on the two World Wars, or even other wars, but on peace and peace-building.

The gospel reading was from the Sermon on the Mount - the bit where Jesus spoke about 'blessed are the poor in heart, the meek and the peace makers'. The Padre, in his short sermon, said that peace was not a passive thing, a mere absence of war. Instead, it was something that had to be strived for, to be worked at; that the work we were all doing to build education, provide health services, tackle poverty and deprivation and instil justice and basic governance were essential in the struggle for peace.

With the ambassador away, it fell to the Head of DFID to lay our one, simple, poppy wreath.

If anything, the lack of pomp and the bare simplicity of the ceremony made it more poignant. I felt tears come to my eyes when the Padre read out the names of Abdul Rashid, Mohammed Ayub and Gulagha who had been killed doing their duty protecting the British Council when it was attacked on August 19th. I looked across to the Head of the British Council – his head was bowed.

I work on a new project to support civil society in Afghanistan , called 'Tawanmandi' which means 'strengthening' in Dari. The British Council manages the project and the whole programme is going ahead as planned, despite the attack earlier this year. None of the Tawanmandi team pulled out, and they arrived a couple of weeks later. Together we have been working hard to get the project up and running. The Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, officially launched the programme on his recent visit to Kabul and the Tawanmandi Programme Director has been out and about spreading the word about the project. His dedication is inspiring. He, and so many other British people, Afghans and of course the wider international community in Afghanistan, are very much living what was said at the service. That peace is something to be worked at, and to be strived for.

The Jirga went off peacefully. The Afghan police and army did a good job in keeping everyone safe. The Tawanmandi programme will be calling for proposals around peace-building and reconcialiation shortly and the focus will be on ensuring that women play an active part in any of the activities we will fund. In its own way, Tawanmandi will be helping to build peace here.

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