In United Nations-backed radio and television broadcasts and community events to mark this year’s International Day of Peace, Afghan women, men and children came together in a spirit of solidarity to make their voices heard on peace, development and a conflict-free Afghanistan.
To mark the 30th anniversary of the General Assembly’s Declaration on the Right of Peoples to Peace, the theme of this year’s Peace Day – the ‘Right of Peoples to Peace’ – was at the forefront of the events organised by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), in partnership with Afghans around the country, to highlight the commitments, purposes and principles upon which the world body was founded.
“Peace and security are essential foundations for social progress and sustainable development,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a statement to mark this year’s Peace Day. “That is why, three decades ago, the United Nations affirmed the right of peoples to peace.”
The General Assembly established the International Day of Peace in 1981 to coincide with its opening session. In 2001, the Assembly unanimously voted to establish 21 September as an annual day of non-violence and cease-fire – a day devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace, both within and among all nations and peoples.
Across Afghanistan, participants in a series of UNAMA-sponsored radio, television and outreach events leading up to Peace Day, and held on the day itself, talked about the dire consequences of conflict, the desperate need for durable peace and their necessary role, as individuals, in laying the foundations for a conflict-free Afghan society.
“Instability and war cause unemployment, weaken the education system and lead to increased corruption, criminal acts and abductions,” said the head of the Labourers and Craftsmen Association, Shawali Salarrzai, during a radio roundtable discussion in Kunar, in the country’s east. “There can be no sustainable development without peace and tranquillity.”
In another radio roundtable held in Nangarhar, a women’s rights activist, Nilofar Azizi, highlighted the indelible link between peace and prosperity.
“Peace is what every Afghan needs, especially the women and children who are suffering from the savage consequences of war,” she said. “Schools should be places where adults teach children peace by word and by example.”
During similar roundtables and at various outreach events, discussions not only focused on peace and development, but also on the issue of women’s participation, at all levels of Afghan society, as a way to foster social progress and sustainable development.
In one such discussion, a journalist in the eastern province of Laghman, Nilam Muska, lamented the small number of women currently involved in peace-related issues in Afghanistan.
“There should be enough women in the peace councils throughout the country if we want to have successful progress,” said Ms. Muska, who works for Taban TV. “The government should draw more attention to this issue, as it is important for achieving durable peace, reconciliation and development.”
In addition to focusing on Afghanistan’s ongoing conflict and the way forward, participants at the various events discussed accomplishments related to peace at the community level.
During a radio discussion in Nangarhar, the deputy to the chairperson of Nangarhar’s Peace Council, Mawlawi Muhamad Abas, said that since the establishment of the council three years ago, more than 350 anti-government insurgents have handed over their weapons and have participated in the province’s peace and reintegration process.
In the northern province of Balkh, during a radio debate, a college professor and a member of the province’s Peace Council, Abdul Hamid Safowat, described how unique security issues affect peace differently in each Afghan province.
“We have been successful in some provinces but not everywhere,” he said. “For example, we could reintegrate illegal armed groups in villages along the Sheberghan-Mazar highway where people can now commute safely; but in Faryab, some Taliban prisoners who were freed after Peace Council mediation returned to war and destabilized the entire province.”
In the observance held in north-eastern Kunduz, pooling local resources with the personal contributions of UNAMA staff members resulted in the construction of a playground and a volleyball court for the Disadvantaged Children’s Education Centre. The new facilities, officially inaugurated on 21 September, are designed to provide additional recreation opportunities for the 38 boys and 32 girls, age seven to 14, all of whom come from disadvantaged families.
“Peace for me means that we can play with our friends,” said one of the students, Idress, age 12. “Before establishing the playground, we didn’t have any equipment to play with, so I am very happy and my classmates are happy as well.”
Children from Idress’ school and other schools around Afghanistan marked Peace Day with various activities, including flying kites and painting ‘peace walls.’ Masouma, age 17, was among the Kunduz students who creatively visualised messages of cooperation and development through brush and paint.
“I am happy that our leaders signed the national unity government agreement on Peace Day,” she said. “I hope we never again witness conflict and violence in our country.”
Also in Kunduz, UNAMA worked with local partners to organise cricket, volleyball and football tournaments. Others enjoyed Peace Day celebrations at various UNAMA-sponsored events around the country by listening to poetry recitals and traditional music performances.
For their part, religious leaders attending the events highlighted the ulema’s approach to peaceful coexistence. The head of Takhar’s Ulama Council, Mawlawi Abdul Samad Mohammadi, said he believed religious scholars can play a major role in bringing peace and stability to local communities.
“In traditional societies like ours, religious scholars should promote development, as they play a significant role in the peace process,” he said.
Recognising the importance of Afghan religious leaders in civil society, UNAMA organised a Paktya University seminar in the province’s capital, Gardez, drawing participants from civil society, religious groups, and the university’s student and faculty bodies, along with representatives from local government offices.
“Afghanistan can only be constructed by peace,” said religious scholar Maulavi Khaliqdad during the seminar, urging those in attendance, especially the students, to pursue education.
In southern Afghanistan, the Kandahar Film and Theatre Group staged several shows around area to commemorate Peace Day. Among the many theatrical presentations with themes related to cultivating peace, one drama performance focused on breaking the spiral of revenge.
“A society doesn’t progress if there is no peace,” said one of the audience members following a performance in Kandahar’s Arghandab district. “This drama made me think a lot, and I would like to take these messages to my friends and family.”
In the province of Herat, in the country’s west, at a UNAMA event geared to journalists in the area, members of the media community turned out to discuss how to involve more people in promoting a culture of peace. To generate more lively debate, the journalists jointly launched a new Facebook page titled ‘Right of People to Peace in Afghanistan’ as an initiative driven by Herat’s Centre to Support Journalists. Since the launch of the page, the journalists, and others, have been posting their opinions about ‘Peace Journalism’ and have been debating the issue of how to involve more people from the media community.
In addition to these events, as part of its work to support Afghanistan in advancing peace and reconciliation across the country, UNAMA organised Peace Day events in the provinces of Badakhshan and Bamyan.