TransConflict is pleased to present research into peace education and peacebuilding efforts in Afghanistan, undertaken by the Peace and Human Rights Organization (PHRO) from Afghanistan, a member of the Global Coalition for Conflict Transformation.
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By Dr. Nezamuddin Katawazi
This article is a part of a broader research project, “Peace Education and Peace Efforts in Afghanistan”, undertaken by the Peace and Human Rights Organization (PHRO) in three Southeastern and Eastern provinces of Afghanistan: Nangrahar, Khost and Paktika. The survey intends to provide additional information for policy and decision-making processes pertaining to public education, with a view to create an environment conducive to sustained peace in Afghanistan.
The underlying assumptions is education is not an isolated part of the state-building process, but is embedded in the broader complex social, economic and political process, and its content and practices are shaped and led by structural engagements, the socio-political structure and power relations governing the country. Further, the article perceives peace education and peacebuilding as separate programs, pursuing the same goal to enable citizens to enjoy their fundamental human rights. Peace education can only be effective when incorporated into and becomes an integral part of the peacebuilding agenda. Hereby, the study reaches the conclusion that not the formal normative structure, but structural-relational factors outside the formal education system shape and explain better the governance processes in the educational sector. On the basis of this assumption, we avoided adopting a pure educationalist approach and have chosen a more holistic approach, taking into consideration factors that govern and control the education system, education structures, and educational content and processes in the provinces. These include in particular, the administration of schools, the relationships between schools and community members/parents, the capacity of teaching staff in teaching materials and conduct of teaching sessions, issues related to the management of the school environment and educational process by officials and community suhras (elders’ gatherings), an overlook on the curriculum, the recruitment process and remuneration of teachers, the proper and timely provisions of necessary educational materials and equipment for schools.
The objectives of the survey are to examine the role of education in peacebuilding in the case study provinces and to identify educational initiatives undertaken there. It identifies the weaknesses and strengths of the educational interventions made in the last decade, asking how education can be effectively delivered to serve the long-term goal of peacebuilding.
The survey draws on studying the documentation program, curriculum development and National Strategic Educational Plan introduced by the Ministry of Education of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the international efforts to promote education and a review of the relevant materials as well as structured interviews with concerned stakeholders, including officials, students, teachers, community elders, religious leaders, NGOs from the education sector and direct observations of the educational processes. The article is primarily based on field research and the information is gathered often amidst serious security and other concerns.
The Afghan context
More than three decades of civil war affected severely the economic, political and education situation across the country. After the defeat of the Taliban regime (1996-2001), the UN mandated and NATO-led military intervention in Afghanistan created conditions for donor countries to pledge assistance in various fields, including the reconstruction of educational infrastructure. International assistance was committed and regulated under the Bonn Agreement on Provisional Arrangements in Afghanistan Pending the Reestablishment of Permanent Government Institutions in December 2001.
During the first few years after the fall of the Taliban, an opportunity was created for the Afghan government to provide basic security and social services including education for all. Although this opportunity was unfortunately not fully-utilized, Afghanistan was able to achieve significant successes – the adoption of the Afghan Constitution (AC) in 2004; rebuilding the National Assembly; civil service reforms; establishing and training the National Security Forces (ANSF), conducting presidential, parliamentary and provincial council elections in 2004/5, 2009 and 2014; the adoption of the Elimination of Violence against Women Law (EVAW Law, 2009 per decree); a 25% share for women within the Lower House of the National Assembly (wolasijirga); the establishment of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MOWA, 2002) and its provincial departments (DoWAs); the establishment of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC, 2002), the significant advancement in health services that led to a reduction of child and reproduction mortality rate; and a reactivated educational system, including the enforcement of the Law on Education (2008). There has been extensive restructuring of education provision, with enrolment rates growing at all levels, including an expanded private primary education sector. The achievements in all these sectors could not have been possible without the assistance of the international community.
The greatest amount of international assistance was, however, focused on the wider state-building agenda for rehabilitation and re-construction, especially fighting terrorism. The international community was reluctant to deliver assistance in other areas than military operations, ignoring to a greater extent the issue of institution building necessary for delivering basic social services, justice and ensuring a quality education across the country. As a consequence, heavy emphasis on military assistance/operations was carried out at the expense of an effective strategy for political, economic and social development. The country’s political and socio-economic recovery was not a priority for international assistance. Little attention was paid to basic issues of structural reforms and institutional development to enable the government to win over the trust of the population through service delivery and strengthening the rule of law. The Oxfam/America Group studied US security assistance for Afghanistan and writes that, “between fiscal years 2002 and 2009, the United States provided more than $21 billion in aid to the Afghan National Army and Police. In contrast, US support for rule of law, democracy, and governance in Afghanistan during the same period came to $2.5 billion. To date, it is clear that US security assistance to Afghanistan has not fulfilled the SSR objective of improving citizens’ safety in a transparentandaccountable manner.”  This gap of assistance between political and economic areas and military spending shows the priority of the US government, one of the biggest donors for post-conflict reconstruction of Afghanistan.
Additionally, international donors to Afghanistan adhered to the development policy of their own choices, without coordinating their assistance in the same sector with the Afghan government or with donor community to avoid, for instance, fragmentation and unbalanced development processes. The former Special Representative of the Secretary General of the UN for Afghanistan, Kai Eide (2008-2010), referred to the lack of coordination in the international donor assistance for Afghanistan:
In 2008 the Ministry of Finance of Afghanistan published a report on civilian assistance. The government was unaware of the one third of this assistance which amounted to 5 billion dollars, did not know where it was spent, of more interest was that donor countries did not give information about their expenditures, even if they give such information, it was not sufficient. Afghan authorities were not informed about planning and implementing projects.”
The agenda for assistance did not match with the conditions and needs of the country in many instances, and was developed and realized without taking the needs and views of the beneficiary population on the ground. International assistance was not designed strategically to contribute to peace building. As Jason Fritz, a consultant and analyst of U.S. stability operations stated, “As a result, the U.S. has focused myopically on defeating insurgent groups in order to stabilize the country sufficiently for it to withdraw its military forces. In this process, it lost sight of the essential peacebuilding activities required to bring a lasting peace to Afghanistan.”  Thus, the focus on the security aspect of the reconstruction led in subsequent years (2005-onwards) to an unbalanced and fragmented agenda for peacebuilding.
Afghanistan has passed the initial phase of rewriting its constitutions and legislation in the past 14 years, but has not been able to enter the deeper phase of institutional reform to respect and apply these laws across the country. It was not able to address the root causes of the conflict, such as structural and urban/rural inequalities. The majority of the population living in rural Afghanistan remained excluded from development, in particular deprived of their basic social rights, such as quality education and health services. The real power of governance remained mostly with former fighters of mujahedeens groups who destroyed the country through inter-group clashes after the fall of Dr. Najib’s regime in 1992. Illegal armed groups vying for control of this Islamic country have further contributed to the division of the nation along ethnic and religious lines.
The aid strategy of donor countries under these political structures and prevailing power relations failed to bring peace and security. Instead, the situation in various areas became volatile. The fragility of the situation in security and political terms, the higher level of unemployment across the country, the ongoing violence and lack of rule of law have hugely impacted the Afghan society. According to World Bank’s 2014 report on economic growth in Afghanistan, the economic situation has deteriorated steadily in the past few years: “The political and security transition continues to take a heavy toll on Afghanistan’s economy. Economic growth is estimated to have fallen further to 2 percent in 2014 from 3.7 percent in 2013 and an average of 9 percent during 2003-12”. The armed conflict was intensified after the withdrawal of International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) by the end of 2014. The present situation in Afghanistan is volatile and at any time could change for better or worse. Education was not exempt from this situation. That is why the need for peace education and its contribution to conflict mitigation assumes an ever greater significance to promote tolerance among members of different ethnic groups and to ensure an inclusive and sustained peace.
The Afghan conflict became known as a war against terrorism, grounded in deep ideological, cultural and political antagonisms in the belief systems, values and attitudes of the warring parties. The conflict is fought out brutally without taking the provisions of the International Humanitarian and International Human Rights Laws to which all parties to the conflict are bound. The parties to the conflict used indiscriminately weapons of indirect systems and adopted methods of warfare leading to massive civilian casualties and huge damage to civilian property.
The conflict in Afghanistan is further characterized by its complexity and multiple-levels, with recurring cycles of violence at different times throughout more than the last three decades. These features have turned the Afghan conflict to a more challenging obstacle for peacebuilding and achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), including the right to primary education for all.
The survey of opinions pointed to several interrelated causes of insecurity in the case study provinces. These factors can be divided into security, political and socio-economic categories of conflict drivers. They constitute a set of circumstances, reinforcing each other within which various actors interact. These include structural issues, power relations and the creation of opportunities for plundering by powerbrokers that have led to violent reactions by those who are disadvantaged. These system inherent components and a series of sporadic and randomly-adopted programs and agendas that work as counterproductive to peace constitute challenges to sustained peace and stability in the country.
Multiple armed groups in opposition to the Afghan government and international military presence are involved in conducting hostilities in the case study provinces. The main anti-government elements involved in armed conflict are the Taliban. In addition, other armed groups with a variety of labels, including the Haqani network, Hezbi-Islamis’ opposition armed faction and the warriors of the so-called Islamic State for Iraq and Syria (ISIS), known as ‘Daesh’, are involved in armed conflict. The latest group entered Afghanistan from Eastern and Southern borders, and have become one of the main source of serious threats against security; not only in the Southeastern and Eastern, but also in the Northern and Northeastern provinces of Faryab, Saripul and Badakhshan as well. The Taliban and the Haqani groups are present in Khost and in some districts of Paktika provinces. These anti-government elements receive the support of foreign fighters, in particular of Pakistani Taliban that are present in huge numbers in Shkin, and Barmal districts of Paktika, in Spera district of Khost and in Achin, Haska Mina and Bati-Kot districts of Nangrahar province. All these armed opposition groups follow their own, political, ideological and economic objectives. Armed hostilities are not only limited to military engagement between these groups and the Afghan government and/or international military forces. Recent developments show, in particular after the news of the death of former leader of Taliban, Mullah Mohammed Omar, that armed clashes between different groups of Taliban in the Sothern parts, Zabul took place.  Additionally, clashes between ISIS and the Taliban have also been reported by media in the last few months. This situation deteriorated the security further.
The lack of coordination between the Afghan National Police (NPA) and the Afghan National Army (ANA), plus clashes between different rival armed groups, are essential threats to security. Illegal armed forces from the past have further deteriorated security in the areas. These forces have not been disarmed and are still active in areas under their control. This situation resulted in attacks by insurgents on schools, teachers and students, or the closure of schools. The UN-led task force on monitoring and reporting on children in armed conflict reported 19 attacks on schools and educational personnel in Afghanistan during 2014 alone. The Eastern region of the country was, according to the report, the most heavily affected area. The attacks happened between 16 August and 15 November 2014. “The anti-government elements (AGE) are Taliban who, have intensified their attacks from the beginning of 2014 throughout the year and focused on targeted attacks across the country. The attacks of the insurgents have continued with more intensity in the first three months of the 2015 leading to more civilian casualties.  The Afghan government failed to maintain control over the legitimate use of means of violence to protect its territory and citizens.
During the opinion survey in case study provinces, many participants mentioned multiple security incidents and attacks by insurgents on school buildings and school staff in the past few years. These attacks have severely affected the education process in the provinces, in particular in rural areas, and for the female students across the regions. Radio Azadi( Radio Liberty) announced on 26 September that alone in Nangrahar province more than 58 schools remained closed because of insecurity in the area of Achin, Haska Mina and Kot districts. As a result, around 30,000 students were deprived of their right to education.
- Kai Eide, Power Struggle in Afghanistan, Kabul, 2013 (Pashto translation by Smiullah Ilam)
- J. Fritz , US Peace building in Afghanistan, p.2
- www.Taand.com, accessed on 09/09/2015