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Building Sustainable Peace in a Divided Society: Cross-ethnic Dialogue among Afghanistan’s Ethnic Intellectuals

On February 1, 2019 Afghanistan, Human Rights and Democracy Organization launched the project: Building Sustainable Peace in a Divided Society: Cross-ethnic Dialogue among Afghanistan’s Ethnic Intellectuals.
The project helps address the potential for conflict at the inter-group levels, ethnic communities of Afghanistan, through launching an initiative for dialogue and communication. Conflict management and transformation between important social actors and groups is one of the underlying objectives of FFOs intervention in Afghanistan.
Afghan ethnic leading actors and intellectuals, comprising journalists, writers, academics, and social and political activists have great potential to influence the scope, nature, and prospects of inter-ethnic relations in Afghanistan. Ethnic elites often view their ethnic group as a single constituency, acting as self-declared ethnic representatives, promoting the ethnic interests, views, and preferences of their own ethnic groups. The expression of their views and their interactions with their ethnic constituents often polarize the ethnic environment, affecting cross-ethnic relations and increasing the potential for inter-ethnic hatred, hostility and conflict.
Increased access to and use of print, visual, and virtual media has provided these elites with strong platforms to express themselves and has helped their voices be heard across a broad spectrum of people all over the country. The media in it various templates has transformed into one of the most powerful instruments of change in the country, augmenting the impact of the voices of the ethnic elites. Furthermore, they have access to non-media platforms like civil society, academia, and cultural and social clubs that play equally important role in influencing and shaping the nature and prospects of inter-ethnic relations.
The ethnic leading actors have great potential to tap into for a structured cross-ethnic dialogue and communication to de-escalate inter-ethnic hatred, tensions, and hostilities and instead promote inter-ethnic harmony, solidarity, and peace.
To help the ethnic elites change into a positive force for inter-ethnic relations, three factors stand in their way:
First is the limited exposure of the ethnic leading actors on ethnic cause of tensions, hostilities, and conflict in a multi-ethnic society. Ethnic diversity is as much a social capital as it is a social liability. The way ethnic elites speak on behalf of their ethnicities and reach out to their rival ethnic groups can change this social liability into a social capital or vice versa. There is an urgency for ethnic elites in Afghanistan to develop better theoretical and conceptual understanding on how ethnicity can cause conflict and what important roles ethnic elites paly in both escalating and de-escalating the ethnic conflict.
Second, ethnic leading actors in Afghanistan suffer from a lack of cross-ethnic dialogue and communication. The activities of these elites are largely restricted within the ethnic frontiers of each ethnic group. They rarely step across their own ethnic constituency and interact with their rival ethnic groups in a substantive way. The views of the ethnic elites within such an inward-looking, and isolationist environment get more radical and extremist, therefore, leading to the evolution of hostile discourses on inter-ethnic relations and increasing the potential for ethnic conflict. Cross-ethnic dialogue will moderate the voices of ethnic elites, creating opportunities for cross-ethnic cooperation and solidarity.
Third, there has been no structure in place to facilitate a structured dialogue among different ethnic leading actors from among different groups and different regions of the country. A network that cuts across different ethnic elite groups, representing different ethnic regions of the country can redress this significant gap.
Unless a moderate and realistic understanding develops among ethnic leading actors and ethnic entrepreneurs on a harmonious and cooperative inter-ethnic relations, the prospects for a stable peace will look grim and any peace attempts will prove to be shaky and short-lived. Theoretical training, structured dialogue among ethnic leading actors and the establishment of a durable platform for a sustainable Cross-Ethnic Dialogues among Afghanistan’s Ethnic Elites will constitute the key components of this project.
The theoretical training will consist of lectures and workshops on ethnic conflict with case studies such as Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Afghanistan. Ethnicity and ethnic elites have played important roles in triggering, escalating and perpetuating conflict in these countries. Major theories, frameworks and approaches to ethnicity and conflict will be explored in this section in order to expose the participants to greater conceptual understanding of ethnic conflict and comparative ethnic conflict experiences.
The workshop will provide opportunities for structured dialogue on ethnic causes of conflict in Afghanistan and how to tackle ethnic conflict and foster cooperative and harmonious inter-ethnic relations in Afghanistan. Following the workshop, there will be a public event, a conference on harmonious inter-ethnic relations in Afghanistan, with the aim of sharing the outcome of conference and the potential plans of participants of Cross-Ethnic Dialogue among Afghanistan’s Ethnic Elites on how to improve inter-ethnic relations in Afghanistan.
Objectives:
1- De-escalate and reduce potential for inter-ethnic conflict among Afghanistan’s major ethnic groups,
2- Improve and strengthen inter-ethnic peace and solidarity among Afghanistan’s major ethnic groups,
3- Improve policy discussions and debates on vitality of inter-ethnic dialogue and communication for sustainable peace and stability.

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