A group of Afghan Fulbright Scholars began an initiative in July 2015 called Afghan Fulbrighters for Peace (AFP), an effort to mobilize Afghans in the United States to engage in policy debates relevant to their country.
First, AFP established a steering committee comprised of seven Afghan Fulbrighters to lead the initiative. The students come from different backgrounds, and geographic locations within Afghanistan. They are pursuing different fields of study in the U.S., but they are all deeply concerned about the challenges and the opportunities facing Afghanistan today.
The steering committee then shared its vision with the wider Afghan Fulbright population in the U.S.—about 150 students—who welcomed the initiative. As its first activity, AFP designed a conference with the primary objectives of:
- Studying the peacebuilding strategies—spearheaded by the U.S. and Afghan governments—for Afghanistan, and providing recommendations;
- Developing a support network among Afghan Fulbrighters in the U.S. to strengthen their efforts for achieving peace and stability in Afghanistan.
As they prepared for the conference, AFP members met with Afghan and American diplomats, policy-makers, think tank directors, students, and the Afghan population in Washington D.C., New York, and other U.S. cities.
Many think tanks and individuals welcomed and endorsed the AFP initiative. The Center for International Policy (CIP) provided space for AFP meetings. The U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) and the Institute of International Education (IIE) provided funding for the initiative. Other entities that endorsed and encouraged the conference included the Afghan Embassy in Washington DC, the U.S. Department of State, the Counter Extremism Project (CEP), the Institute for State Effectiveness (ISE), the Alliance in Support of the Afghan People (ASAP), and the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.
Convening the Conference and Beyond
The AFP conference was held February 15-16, 2016, and focused on two specific topics: the insurgency in Afghanistan, and the country’s governance and rule of law. Fifteen Afghan Fulbrighters spent February 15 discussing and summarizing their recommendations. On February 16, a panel of four AFP members presented the group’s recommendations during an interactive event with an audience of Afghan and American diplomats, activists, journalists, and students at the USIP. The group also met with Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Jonathan Carpenter at the State Department, and Afghan Ambassador Hamdullah Mohib at the Afghan Embassy, to share its policy recommendations and discuss future plans and collaboration.
Summary of Recommendations:
The AFP’s recommendations concentrated on two challenges in Afghanistan: insurgency, and governance and rule of law. Below is a summary of our recommendations.
The AFP recommends that the Afghan government and its international allies seek a politically negotiated settlement to the problem of insurgency, rather than pursue the same military strategy which has failed to bring peace over the past 15 years.
The AFP believes that the Afghan government and its international allies must confront the insurgency on three coordinated levels—national, regional, and international—and enter into negotiations from a position of strength.
On a national level, the Afghan government must emphasize a “population-centric” strategy over an “enemy-centric” strategy. This would include a) delivering social and security services and building state capacity to perform these tasks; b) increasing the developmental budget; and c) creating jobs and opportunities in which people can thrive. Simultaneously, the Afghan government must build national consensus and gain popular support among citizens, religious leaders, and civil society activists. In addition to consenting that negotiations should be pursued, these groups should work together to create the framework for an agreement.
On a regional level, Afghanistan and its neighbors must focus on socio-economic cooperation versus a security-centric strategy. This would mean creating shared economic interests through joint investments. If implemented successfully, the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline might be a strong example of their proposed strategy. Furthermore, it would mean increasing joint social and cultural activities through academic exchange programs, debates, and sharing of arts such as holding joint concerts, etc.
Finally, the AFP members recommend that the international community, particularly the U.S., continue to support Afghanistan’s national and regional initiatives. Building peace in Afghanistan is a long-term process, therefore, the country needs continued support. The international community should invest more in Afghanistan’s nonmilitary sectors such as governance, rule of law, education, and economy.
These strategies will ensure that the political negotiations have the support of the Afghan people and their international allies, and make it more difficult for the insurgent groups to recruit from the population. It will pressure the insurgent groups to seek a politically negotiated settlement and strengthen the Afghan government’s position in the negotiations.
2. Governance and Rule of Law:
Under governance and rule of law, the AFP focused on combating corruption and promoting local democratization in Afghanistan.
To fight corruption, the Afghan government must a) review and update outdated and ineffective legal systems; and b) create an independent commission to combat corruption. To promote local democratization, provincial and district governors and mayors must be elected rather than appointed by the central government. Decentralization will send powerful people to their provinces and quell the power struggles within the central government. This will allow the central government to shift its focus to macro-level projects that can move the country forward. Moreover, local democratization will increase accountability and society’s participation in the political processes.
AFP’s plans include publishing and sharing the group’s recommendations with Afghan and American media, research centers, universities, and policy makers, as well as expanding the initiative throughout the U.S. and Afghanistan. AFP’s members will return to Afghanistan with a vision—and an action plan—to bring a lasting peace to their homeland.