Strengthening approaches to combating violent extremism in Afghanistan

Strengthening approaches to combating violent extremism in Afghanistan

Cooperation for Peace and Unity, a member of the Global Coalition for Conflict Transformation, is implementing a comprehensive approach to combating violent extremism in Afghanistan. 

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By Cooperation for Peace and Unity

CPAU is fundamentally an organization dedicated to peacebuilding initiatives. Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) is an essential aspect of this in today’s changing landscape, and as such, CPAU seeks to integrate CVE best practices in all of our projects as an educated and resilient people is less likely to resort to extremist actions. CPAU is therefore dedicated to encouraging the linkages between peacebuilding measures and CVE practices.

While the countering violent extremism objectives originally stem from the security and defense arena, the expanding scope of CVE efforts is increasingly touching the area of peacebuilding and both the UN and US have acknowledged the inexorable connection between the two. While CVE focuses on building resilience among populations vulnerable to radicalization, peacebuilding – in its broader agenda of conflict prevention – also focuses on CVE, since violent extremism oftentimes is a driver for conflict and a hindrance for building sustainable peace. CVE in the context of its security efforts brings the conditions for effective peacebuilding which in turn plays an important role for building the capacity of civil society.

CPAU focuses on the aspects which build the resilience and capacity of civil society and thus represents the point where peacebuilding and CVE meet. We are convinced that our peacebuilding experience is beneficial for our CVE work, since peacebuilding practices help us to develop a more in-depth understanding of violent extremism, its causes in localized contexts, and helps us to develop tailored and sustainable approaches to counter violent extremism.

According to this practice CPAU has created a dedicated Department for Countering Violent Extremism.

CPAU’s Countering Violent Extremism Department (CVED)

Through its established CVE Department (CVED), CPAU taps into its community network as well as collaborating with national, regional, and international key stakeholders to implement various CVE initiatives throughout the country. Our work on preventing and countering violent extremism reflects established and overarching regional and international PVE and CVE efforts, shaped by the U.S. State Department, UN General Assembly, and Human Rights Council.

Our CVE efforts are grounded in long-term community trust gained by CPAU over the last two decades through our peacebuilding and peace education activities. This gives us unparalleled access to communities across Afghanistan and thereby, the CVED is able to use existing and trusted social and religious platforms for the implementation of our approaches and programs on preventing and countering violent extremism. CPAU’s network grants us access to influential leaders and, more importantly, provides us with an intimate knowledge of the issues facing communities across different regions in Afghanistan. This in turn is essential in identifying local drivers for radicalization and extremism and coming up with targeted and tailored methods to countering violent extremism.

CPAU’s CVE Department has also proven to be a substantive platform for promoting and enhancing tolerance, community cohesion, social inclusion, pluralism, gender equality, and moderate religious perspectives which we believe are core principles of a democratic society and key tools for eliminating radicalization and extremism. This is also where we are able to link our peacebuilding and CVE efforts through enhancing the people’s awareness of their basic rights and by giving them the tools to become advocates for social change. Thus, we are not only increasing the community’s resilience but also provide the groundwork through capacity building within the society.

Within the global CVE agenda, CPAU places specific focus on the following items due to challenges Afghanistan faces in its country-specific context. These agenda items are:

  1. Challenging Traditional Thinking

We are consistently working to break with traditional and patriarchal norms in Afghanistan especially in regards to traditional gender norms. Our approach is to facilitate systemic transformations and to build capacity among the Afghan female population which, in turn, will have a positive spill-over effect on increasing the community’s resilience to radicalization. In past projects we provided training and peace education for female politicians and media workers, established the first ever Afghan Amateur Women’s boxing Association (AAWBA), and are currently working on providing women with the tools to become agents within the informal justice sector against gender-based violence. We are furthermore strengthening the position of female Afghan security forces within society as we believe that women in their various roles will be vital for the shaping of a national CVE strategy.

  1. The Promotion of Moderate Religious Views and Religious Tolerance

In connection with challenging traditional thinking, we are also working for the promotion of moderate religious views and religious tolerance in order to increase the spread of mainstream Islamic knowledge. To achieve this, we are working closely with the Ministries of Religious Affairs and Hajj, and the Council of Ulema and have excellent working relations with national and international religious scholars. One of our main CVE projects – the Afghanistan Forum—is based on tackling issues affecting Afghan lives, including CVE, conflict resolution, peace building, and women and youth empowerment based on a moderate Islamic perspective.

  1. Empowering Women and Youth

In line with our first agenda item, we acknowledge the important role women and youth are playing for preventing and countering violent extremism. Especially in Afghanistan – with one of the world’s youngest populations – youth are the primary target group for violent extremist recruiters. This means that young men and women need to build resilience against radicalization tendencies and therefore play an important role in CVE. Linking capacity building with increasing resilience of the most vulnerable populations in Afghanistan, CPAU has provided peace education classes to more than 30,000 male and female students across Afghanistan. CPAU’s Peace Education Program promotes a culture of peace, reconciliation and peaceful conflict resolution amongst elementary, secondary and high school children, their teachers and parents. Through using teaching and training materials grounded in the socio-cultural reality of Afghanistan this program generates a sense of shared responsibility amongst youth for constructive transformation of conflicts, to prevent violence, to encourage individuals and communities to deal with violence proactively, and ultimately build a sustainable peace at the local level.

  1. Strengthening the Counter-Narrative of Violent Extremist Messages through Creative and Innovative Media Strategies

For the successful implementation of various projects we have collaborated with our partner Twan Media Productions. Twan Media Productions is an Afghan-based production house which is undertaking a selection of significant and challenging media engagements, including the production of radio soap operas and the creation of simple animations for children and regional public discussions about the role of religious leaders. Twan Media produces relevant Public Service Announcements (PSAs) as well as radio shows for us and disseminates mentioned media outputs in order to strengthen community awareness as well as social cohesion which are essential tools for countering violent extremism messages.

  1. Conducting in-depth Research to Identify Local Grievances and Drivers for Radicalization

CPAU is convinced that thorough research on local grievances and drivers for radicalization is essential for both peacebuilding as well as CVE efforts in order to allow for those measures to be effective, long-lasting and sustainable. As Afghanistan’s first locally led research organization, CPAU has extensive experience in conducting quantitative and qualitative research on a community, district, and provincial level. This has included original research on conflict trends, livelihood issues, and human rights, as well as conducting monitoring and evaluation of education, governance, and rule of law projects implemented by international donors, other NGOs, and by CPAU itself. So far, CPAU has conducted more than 70 high-quality research projects with the latest reports including the “Road to National Peace Report” and an assessment of the security and justice situation in Kunduz Province from 2011 to 2014/15 in light of the Dutch Integrated Police Training Mission (IPM).

  1. Building the Civilian Criminal Justice Capacity

Strengthening the rule of law, awareness of such, and the people’s access to the formal and informal justice sector is a basic prerequisite for good governance and thus for building resilience to radicalization and violent extremism. One of the key works CPAU undertakes, in light of our peacebuilding and CVE works, is establishing what are known as Peace Councils, based on the traditional justice system of village elders gathering in community councils called “Jirgas” or “Shuras” to mediate disputes between parties. Where individuals engage with the formal justice system, we also provide assistance through Justice Support Workers (JSW) –individuals fully trained in either formal or Sharia Law. To date, CPAU has created or worked with around 10,000 shuras/Councils across the country as a significant pioneer in the informal justice sector, using innovative programming to establish long term relations between formal and informal justice sectors.

Cooperation for Peace and Unity is a member of the Global Coalition for Conflict Transformation from Afghanistan.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of TransConflict.

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