Having worked in Afghanistan since 2004, Counterpart International has witnessed the heavy toll that violence has taken on the country’s economy, infrastructure, and social services. The past year saw increased efforts by the United States government and other key stakeholders to end the country’s eighteen-year conflict through a negotiated political pathway. A 2019 national poll conducted by Counterpart’s partner NAI and Ariana Television Network found that 98.4% of the Afghan citizens surveyed favored peace and an end to conflict in Afghanistan. There is clearly a hunger for peace in Afghanistan – and a lasting peace agreement among Afghans is needed to secure the country’s future.
Through the USAID-funded Afghan Civic Engagement Program (ACEP), Counterpart and our national networks of Afghan civil society partners took multiple tracks in the pursuit of peace, including facilitating community dialogue and development efforts; supporting individuals and organizations to engage in formal peacebuilding efforts; and launching a public messaging campaign in support of peace and conflict resolution. Counterpart’s work in Afghanistan also emphasized that the peace process should be inclusive, and that women and youth should be involved and their rights be represented throughout the process.
“Thousands of Afghan women nationwide have expressed a clear consensus on two points. They insist that the war needs to end, and that the peace to follow must continue to build opportunities for women.”Rula Ghani, First Lady of Afghanistan
Counterpart initiated efforts around a multimedia peace campaign in 2018 by including peacebuilding topics into voter education sessions for Afghan citizens at the community level. The objective of the campaign was to identify compelling messages for peace and use social and behavioral change tools to build grassroots support for tolerance, peaceful dispute resolution, and reconciliation. Through dozens of community-level sessions, our team identified the primary reasons people expressed for choosing peace: (1) keeping our families together; (2) preventing the burying of our children; (3) our religion teaches us love, not hatred; and (4) so we can unite to rebuild our homeland. These prioritized messages, in both Dari and Pashto, were printed on posters, fliers, and community message boards and were broadcast through television and radio messages throughout Afghanistan.
The peace campaign outreach was broad and included:
- 3,325 peace-focused civic and voter education sessions conducted by 35 partner organizations, reaching 133,028 people in 28 provinces;
- Four peace-focused radio scripts which were broadcast on Arman FM radio for 400 minutes in the two months surrounding the 2019 election;
- Four three-minute peace-focused video scripts that were broadcast through ACEP project and partner social media sites; and
- 4,080 posters and 4,120 flyers that Counterpart designed, printed, and distributed highlighting the prioritized peace messages detailed above – reaching an estimated 375,000 citizens.
While the ACEP-organized peace campaign reached more than one million people, more of this steady stream of peace messaging, tolerance education, and peace dialogues are needed, particularly as foreign troops leave Afghanistan. We found that at the community level, our partners had broad support for this work. Political, religious, and business leaders all showed interest and allowed the printed messages to be displayed publicly and on their property. In many cases, the posters became ad-hoc discussion starters and were used as the basis for instruction by religious leaders.
As the world celebrates the start of 2020, Afghanistan rings in the New Year with the hope for a more peaceful and prosperous future.