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People-to-people contact: Missing link in peace process

Disclaimer: This article was first published elsewhere and is republished here with recommendation and full permission of the author.

By Mushtaq Rahim

Originally published in Pajhowk New Agency Website 20 May 2015 (http://peace.pajhwok.com/ps/node/874)

The Afghan government continues to pursue peace efforts through track one and back-channel diplomacy over the last five to seven years. However, the efforts have been fruitless and the conflict continues to hamper peace, stability and security in Afghanistan. Each failure dashes hopes among Afghans before they are revived by a renewed process and thus the vicious circle continues.
Though, as per the common practice, each experience should be a source of learning, stimulate thinking about alternatives and adoption of new approaches, yet Afghan leaders have failed to learn from the past. While formal and secret negotiations have failed umpteen times over the past decade, the focus remains on the same failed formulas. While there is no denial of the fact that the two tracks remain an integral part of negotiations, other approaches are essentially required to back them.
One of the approaches that should have been used parallel with the ongoing effort is track-II diplomacy — or a people-to-people relationship. Track-II diplomacy remains one of important approaches to peacemaking in scenarios where leadership is not honest in its efforts and as such civil society, academic personalities, former officials, influential personalities, opinion leaders, journalists, religious scholars and think-tanks come together to pressure decision-makers into making the right moves.
It is widely acknowledged, and there is enough evidence, that Pakistan remains an important stakeholder of the Afghan conflict. It has significant influence over parties to the armed struggle against the current Afghan government. This reality has been the foundation of the Afghan government’s engagement with Pakistan on peace talks with Taliban. Unfortunately, lack of honest efforts on the part of the Pakistani government and establishment has been causing failures to achieve progress towards peace. The Pakistani establishment has been pursuing a hidden agenda in Afghanistan under the banner of strategic depth and as such is negatively affecting the Afghan peace drive.
Considering the fact that many efforts have failed to bear results vis-a-vis earning honest contribution from Pakistan to Afghan peace, there is a need for engaging the general public both in Afghanistan and Pakistan. People-to-people relations, or track-II diplomacy, will have to be established. Those with a voice can agree on a common agenda and undertake lobbying with their leaders to provide honest input for the peace campaign.
The Afghan conflict has also had bitter effects on Pakistan in the recent past. Instability in tribal areas, attacks on the general public and threats to its national security posed by the Pakistani Taliban have resulted in the emergence of a group believing that Pakistani’s security is linked to Afghanistan’s stability. Consequently, the ground has been paved for track-II diplomacy in Pakistan, which Afghanistan should capitalise on.
Similarly, effort for people-to-people contacts need to be initiated by the Western countries with stakes in Afghanistan. Efforts will have to be made to educate those with influence in order to help them lobby with the policymakers. Western policymakers will have to be convinced to pressurise those hindering the peace process. Western political influence has been vital to stability in the region at large, particularly to and ending the Afghan conflict.
Although ad-hoc measures have been adopted as part of track-II diplomacy in the recent past, the need for a sustained strategic approach remains unmet. Media channels in the two countries offer effective joint forums in the form of TV talk shows. Some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have also conducted joint meetings on the significant topic. However, lack of continuity and strategic approach has resulted in limiting the impact of the efforts.
Additionally, people-to-people links with primary stakeholders — the Afghan government and the armed opposition — are required to be made part of the process. The common, but influential Afghans, will have to come together to create a platform for getting rid of contentious issues and agree on commonalities. This will help create an environment of trust, enabling both sides to push for honest negotiations, where flexibility could yield progress toward an acceptable settlement.
For the peace endeavor to succeed, the political elite of Afghanistan will have to fill the gaps in peace infrastructure. Track-II diplomacy will have to be added to peace negotiations for the success of the overall process. Else, the vicious circle will continue resulting in destruction, instability and insecurity. In this situation, which will ultimately hurt not only Pakistan but whole region, people-to-people relations will have to be established to ensure a joint struggle for their survival

 

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