KANDAHAR – Efforts by religious and community leaders to foster peace and reconciliation in the country’s south and nationwide were reinforced by a series of UN-backed events through 2019 enabling hundreds of Ulema and tribal elders to discuss best approaches in trying circumstances.
A tribal leader, Azeem Khan Samandar, told UNAMA in an interview that Ulema, as custodians of peace, will continue to preach unity and work for peace as they have done throughout history.
“We have been talking in our communities, expressing different views on the peace process,” said Samandar, a regular participant at UN-backed events. Samandar said that Afghans, despite their differences, are united in their demand for peace. “Despite our different perspectives, everyone is thirsty for peace,” he said.
Community elder, Haji Neamathullah, concurred. “In my engagements and private discussions with my fellow citizens, the first thing that always comes up is the demand and hope for peace in our country,” said Neamathullah. “Everyone in this country is fed up with violence and looking to a new chapter of peace.”
Afghanistan’s religious scholars known as Ulema play an essential role in setting moral and ethical standards for their communities. They often work as peace brokers and are respected at all levels of society, exerting influence on individual and community decisions. Traditionally, local disputes have been resolved with their intervention, a tradition which has continued today, especially in parts of the south with no formal judicial system.
Earlier in the year, during one of the discussions in Helmand, a scholar, Mawlwai Obaidullah Akhunzada, made the point that every Afghan has a religious duty to build and make peace. “This is the duty of a Muslim, to mediate between other brothers in conflict,” said Akhunzada. “If we do not contribute in creating peace, we will never have peace,” he said.
At other forums both in Helmand and Kandahar, participants reiterated the importance of dialogue and public discussions. “We need more discussions to keep the dialogue and momentum going,” said Mawlwai Mohammad Dawood Modaqeq, adding that although change may seem slow, “more people are discussing peace and how they can get involved.”
The events in Afghanistan’s south, organized by UNAMA’s Kandahar field office which were broadcast by local media are estimated to have reached 1.5 million residents in Helmand and Kandahar provinces. UNAMA partnered with local media outlets, Hewad TV and Radio, Bost Radio, Sabawoon TV and Radio, Milma Radio, Helmand RTA, Azadi Radio, Tatobay News Weekly and Kandahar RTA to broadcast the events.
At almost all the events organized by UNAMA’s regional offices, local media partners not only record the discussions and debates for later rebroadcast but also create new programmes around the issues that are raised, extending the conversation and creating new opportunities for local voices to be heard on issues such as peace, reconciliation, government transparency and the rule of law.
Media extensively covered one of the peace jirgas in Helmand, which brought over 300 religious scholars from many districts. Helmand Governor, Hayatullah Hayat and officials from the Hajj and Religious Affairs Department, took to social media to extend the peace discussion online. Milma Radio, which maintains an active and influential Facebook page, was abuzz with comments as hundreds of people responded positively to the online conversation.
UNAMA works with various institutions and individuals, including media stations, religious leaders, provincial councils, community leaders, youth groups and women to create platforms – using radio, social media, and television – for Afghans to engage in dialogue on pressing issues affecting their communities.
UNAMA provides 'good offices' and other key services, including diplomatic steps that draw on the organization’s independence, impartiality and integrity to prevent disputes from arising, escalating or spreading. The Mission coordinates international support for Afghan development and humanitarian priorities.