9/11, 16 years later: what should we learn about peace not war?

Wally Gobetz

16 years on the legacy of 9/11 continues to affect the world. As the US announces further troop deployments to Afghanistan, what can we learn from the local people building peace on the ground about avoiding terrorism and violent conflict?

 

Sixteen years ago, over 3,000 people died in the US during the multiple terrorist attacks of 9/11. Since then, the US has been in engaged in the longest most extensive war of its history, without an end in sight and with increasing military deployments as violence again escalates in Afghanistan.

As we commemorate the many lives lost on 9/11 and since, we ask what else – besides more troops and years of war – can be done to forge a peaceful future in Afghanistan.

On August 21, President Trump pledged to deploy 4,000 more troops to the existing 11,000 troops in Afghanistan. The 16-year war that has preoccupied the minds of three US presidents is embroiled in a stalemate, and those bearing the brunt of the violence and caught in the crossfire of the war are civilians. Over 104,000 people have been killed since the US invaded in 2001, and corruption, unemployment and violence affect the daily lives of the rest of the population.

But violence and war are not the only stories in Afghanistan. In the seemingly despairing situation of counterinsurgency wars, we look to the efforts of local peacebuilding organizations working hard with communities to make peace possible. 

 

Start with the local

Peace Direct’s partner local organization, OSCAR, aims to build the capacity of youth in Afghanistan and Pakistan, training them to become peace activists who run peer-to-peer education projects against youth radicalization.

This grassroots organization works in provinces such as Kunar and Nangarhar where youth are highly susceptible to the influences of insurgencies. Their programs encourage students in high schools and universities to openly discuss tolerance, pluralism and non-violence. In 2016, OSCAR conducted workshops on nonviolence and held weekly meetings with young people, while helping translate books that helped increase community dialogue against radicalization.

Here is just one example of their work.  

Gul Khan, a student in the Kunar province, was struggling with extremist influences and wanted to join the extremist groups. That changed when Ahman Khan, who was regularly attending one of OSCAR’s community dialogues, approached him and persisted in encouraging him to attend the dialogues together.

With the companionship of Ahman, Gul turned away from violence and extremism and now encourages other students to join the meetings. Through individual efforts and direct peer-to-peer engagement like this, local peacebuilding can improve the social cohesion and change the narratives, one community at a time.

 

Address the roots

If the US wants to help stabilize Afghanistan and improve the Unity government, President Trump and Congress should consider increasing support to local, nonviolent, and capacity-building approaches that provide long-term solutions for peace in the region.

Stabilizing a country requires good governance, and the means for civil society organisations to shape their local environment and achieve long-term peace.

More US troop commitments and stronger Afghan military capacity cannot address the roots of radicalization, corruption, poverty, and conflict that continue to drive violence in the country. 

A new surge in support to civil society efforts that help communities strengthen social cohesion, promote nonviolence, resist radicalization, and lead the long-term, day-to-day work of building peace would go much further.

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