Shouldering responsibility for sustainable peace: exploring Afghan ownership of peacebuilding activities in Afghanistan
Thiessen, Charles D.
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The international community has followed up its 2001 invasion of Afghanistan with a complex multi-faceted peacebuilding project. However, informed observers believe the Western-led mission in Afghanistan has failed to address the inherent peacebuilding needs of Afghanistan and has hindered the formation of a locally experienced sustainable peace. In response, emerging peacebuilding theory and rhetoric has pointed to an urgent need for revised peacebuilding paradigms and strategies that hold local (Afghan) ownership of peacebuilding activities as a central concern. This research project utilised a qualitative grounded theory methodology to explore perceptions of Afghan ownership of peacebuilding activities in Afghanistan. Research data was gathered in early 2011 through face-to-face semi-structured interviews with 63 local and international peacebuilding leaders in two Afghan urban centres. The participants included persons from the United Nations, the Afghan and foreign governments, local and international NGOs, a broad range of civil society groups, international donors, and the international military forces. Analysis of the interview narratives revealed several dilemmas on the journey towards increased Afghan ownership of peacebuilding. First, participants believed that the international community is performing important roles in Afghanistan, but is struggling to ensure Afghan ownership of peacebuilding activities. Second, international and Afghan peacebuilding actors have struggled to define who should be owning peacebuilding in at least two respects: (1) civil society or government; and (2) traditional- informal or democratic-formal institutions. Third, grassroots populations and Afghan civil society felt virtually no ownership of upper-level peace processes, and described a distinct lack of locally owned grassroots-level peace process activities. And fourth, inappropriate external forces and processes, the militarisation and politicisation of peacebuilding activities, local aid dependency, and inadequate local control over peacebuilding coordination have hindered the international-domestic inter-relationship in Afghanistan. However, the dilemmas of local ownership do not need to be viewed as unworkable barriers but can be re-conceptualised as holding constructive potential in designing sustainable peacebuilding solutions. To this end, this research study proposed the creation of a locally owned, broadly participatory, and strategic dispute resolution system that might transform international-local relations and forge the necessary space in which the transition to local authority and ownership might occur.