There has been an emerging consensus since around 2011 among international donors, numerous academics, other researchers, and Afghanistan experts that peace must be negotiated between the Government of Afghanistan and AOGs mainly because international aid and military presence of NATO forces cannot be sustained indefinitely. There is much talk among these actors of making the High Peace Council more empowered and inclusive, particularly of women, in its dealings with the myriad of AOGs whose two main sources of discontent are the international military forces in Afghanistan and the Government of Afghanistan.
APPRO’s research suggests that there is a wide and sizable constituency of Afghans who wish to hold on to most of the key gains made since 2001 including the right to vote, women’s place in society, public health, and basic and higher education. Ordinary Afghans worry that these gains may be used as bargaining chips in peace negotiations. The unprecedentedly high numbers of voters in the first and second rounds of presidential elections, despite the serious threats of violence by AOGs, confirm this worry.
The strong showing at both elections, particularly in the first round, was a clear indication that the overwhelming majority of Afghans want free elections despite the cheating, and are defiant against threats to exercising their democratic right to vote. Given this simple but powerful indicator, it is rather remarkable that there is such a strong consensus among the international donors on promoting peace negotiations, with or without a high presence of women in the High Peace Council and most certainly without any representation of the young and educated Afghan individuals who have come of age in the last 13 years.
An estimated 80% of the voting population came out to vote on the first round of elections on April 5 and of that around 38% were women. In absolute terms these are the highest numbers ever in any election in the entire history of Afghanistan. Also, according to demographic estimates between 60-70% of Afghanistan’s population is under the age of 25. A sizable number of young people in Afghanistan who have grown up to be adults in the last 13 years want to keep what they have accomplished in education and material well being. There appears to be no empirical grounds for assuming that the youth or women would agree to arbitrary terms of a peace negotiated at the expense of these gains. Afghans are weary of threats and instability but they are also wary of forced peace.
There remains a desperate need to first establish what Afghans, particularly the youth and women, want before prescribing solutions to their actual or perceived problems.
Peace negotiations, like all sound decisions, need to be grounded in empirical evidence. No one has ever really asked how ordinary men, women, and youth think about the peace negotiations, and what these thoughts might imply for the terms of engagement between the parties negotiating for peace. With 2014 coming to a close, and the imminent and full departure of the international military forces and many aid providing organizations from Afghanistan, there is an urgent need for allocating adequate resources to catalogue the hopes, aspirations, and concerns of ordinary Afghans about the future of the country.
This will not require carrying out comprehensive and many pages long national public opinion surveys but a series of rapid assessments to monitor the thinking among the populace about the issues that concern them the most. The assessments may well reveal that the desire for peace at all costs is indeed the prevailing sentiment among the general populace. If that is the case, then peace making can be advocated on the basis of popular sentiment and not because the departing international organizations think that is what Afghanistan must have.