FBA contributes to the new EU Afghanistan Peace Support Mechanism

The EU is committed to promote an inclusive peace process in Afghanistan. Among other initiatives, the EU has put in place a new mechanism to support and fund activities contributing to this objective. The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Sida, is commissioned to carry out the work with support from FBA.

There are concerns that a peace settlement with the Taliban will negatively impact democracy and human rights, particularly women’s rights. The EU and Sweden therefore want to promote an inclusive peace process, and FBA is proud to be a part of the efforts, says Cecilia Hull Wiklund, Project Manager for FBA’s work in Afghanistan.

Peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government could be within reach. The EU, one of the largest development aid donors in Afghanistan, will invest approximately 60 million SEK to support the peace process during the coming 18 months, through the so called EU APSM – the European Union’s Afghanistan Peace Support Mechanism which launched in June. In addition, Sweden will contribute with 14 million SEK.

Part of the mechanism is intended to provide support to peacebuilding activities carried out by Afghan civil society actors. Sida will be in charge of this. The mechanism is also intended to be able to respond flexibly, in order to meet any needs that may arise in the efforts for peace during the coming 18 months. Sida has delegated the responsibility for this to FBA, Cecilia Hull Wiklund says.

Upon demand, FBA could provide different actors with expert advice regarding the peace process. Or FBA could be tasked to help enable civil society to participate in and influence peace talks, or to facilitate communication between civil society and formal peace actors.

– The flexible aspect means that we are offering our expertise but the evolving situation will determine how it will best be used. It has to be an Afghan-led process, where the Afghans identify their own needs. Afghan civil society organizations have already approached the EU asking for help to prepare their representatives for participation in peace dialogues, Cecilia Hull Wiklund says.

– As there is more and more talk about a peace process, many Afghans have turned to the EU as a guarantor for democracy, human rights and the inclusion of civil society in the process. So the EU created the APSM and then asked Sweden if we could help with the implementation of the mechanism. Apart from Sida and FBA, the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Swedish Embassy in Afghanistan will be involved. This will entail a new way of working in Afghanistan for Team Sweden.

The work will be focused on the involvement of various groups of the Afghan population in the peace process. Not the least women, a highly vulnerable group in Afghan society.

– The Taliban will probably try to limit the rights that women in Afghanistan have gained since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. Some Afghans may be tempted to agree to this in order to end the conflict, which was the world’s deadliest in 2018. The approach of Sweden and the EU is that peace is possible without sacrificing the rights of women. An important task for FBA will be to enable women’s organizations to influence the process. Research also shows that inclusive peace processes tend to be viewed as more legitimate, and therefore lead to more sustainable peace, Cecilia Hull Wiklund says.

Afghanistan has a long history of conflict. It begun in 1979 when the Soviet Union invaded the country to fight the mujahedin, an Islamist rebel movement that had emerged in protest against the communist regime ruling Afghanistan with Soviet support.

The invasion was the start of a bloody war that ended by mujahedin victory. The Soviet troops withdraw in 1988, and the communist regime in Afghanistan was overthrown in 1992.

A violent civil war followed between different mujahedin groups. The hardline Taliban emerged victorious in 1996 and declared Afghanistan their emirate.

– During the Taliban’s rule, women’s rights were almost non-existent. Shia Muslims were persecuted, because the Taliban are Sunni Muslims. Strict Sharia laws were imposed, Cecilia Hull Wiklund says.

Then came the 11 September attacks in the US. Al-Qaida, the terrorist group responsible for the attacks, was based in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime’s protection. The Taliban’s refusal to hand over al-Qaida’s leader Osama bin Laden to the Americans, led to an invasion of Afghanistan by the US and its allies. The Taliban regime was overthrown.

An interim government was installed and democratic elections were eventually held. Since 2006, Afghanistan has been ruled by an elected government supported by the US. In 2014, large numbers of foreign troops were withdrawn from Afghan soil, but approximately 14 000 American soldiers remain.

– The security situation remains dire. After their defeat in 2001 the Taliban escaped to neighboring Pakistan, from where they started to carry out attacks in Afghanistan. Today, the Taliban are back in Afghanistan, controlling approximately 40 percent of the land. Many Afghans live in fear of recurring fighting and attacks, Cecilia Hull Wiklund says.

– A ray of light in the darkness is the fact that women and girls have recovered some of their rights after the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. In 2003, women’s rights were included in the Afghan constitution. Girls now have the right to go to school, and women have the right to vote and stand for elections. The government has also committed to having 30 percent female employees in the public administration.

Despite the difficult security situation, the US wants to withdraw its remaining troops from Afghanistan. Talks between Taliban representatives and the US have been held since last year. In order to withdraw, the US seeks a promise from the Taliban that Afghan soil will not again be used to launch terrorist attacks.

The Americans have also encouraged the Taliban to initiate peace talks with the Afghan government. Hitherto, the Taliban have refused as they see the government as illegitimate.

– But now there is a possibility for peace talks. The US is pushing for it, Cecilia Hull Wiklund says.

– The EU mechanism for support to the Afghan peace process is intended to keep up this momentum. And if talks would lead to an actual peace agreement during the coming 18 months, the mechanism would re-focus support to the implementation of the agreement instead of support to the talks. That would be a fantastic outcome. The Afghan population really has a hunger for peace.

Photo: UN Photo/Eric Kanalstein

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