Seminars

What goes on behind closed doors in Doha, where representatives of the Taliban and the Afghan government gather to negotiate the end of more than 40 years of war? Will Afghanistan’s powerful warlords support, sabotage or co-opt a negotiated settlement? How might the Taliban seek to Islamicize Afghanistan’s constitution and legal framework, and what would be the consequences for women and human rights? How much space is left for free speech and political activism in Afghanistan? And can any peace deal be sustainable without broader involvement of the Afghan population?

These are amongst the themes that will be explored during the 2020 Afghanistan Week, which takes place between the 16th and 19th of November.

SEMINAR 1: A Close-Up of the Peace Process

16 November, 11:30 – 13:00 CET, 15:00 – 16:30 AFT

In early September, the Afghan governments negotiation team arrived in Doha for formal peace talks with the Taliban. However, the conflict in Afghanistan seems resistant to resolution. The positions held by the parties are far apart, the actual fighting is intense, external actors keep hedging their bets, and the rest of the world appears to be losing interest. Agreeing to talk has been challenging, defining the ground-rules for the talks is no less difficult, and the substantive negotiations will be extremely hard. The opening seminar for the 2020 Afghanistan Week takes a close look at the peace process, how fault lines, debates and alliances are taking shape, and the role of the key actors – Afghan as well as international – in this unfolding drama.

What have been the most difficult questions so far, and what can they tell us about the road ahead? What resources and support do the teams have at their disposal in Doha, and to what extent do they coordinate with (or report to) external actors? What will it take for the Afghan government and the Taliban to conclude a peace agreement acceptable to both? Even more importantly, what will it take to forge a sustainable agreement? And, watching the talks from Oslo, why was Norway replaced as a host site for the first round of talks, and what role might it play in the future?

Opening statement:
H.E Mr. Youssof Ghafoorzai, Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to Norway, Denmark and Iceland.

Main speakers:
Mujib Mashal, NY Times senior correspondent in Afghanistan
Kai Eide, Former UN Special Representative to Afghanistan, Norwegian diplomat, writer and analyst.

Comments:
Torunn Wimpelmann, Senior Researcher at Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI)
Yasir Ghulami, political scientist

Facilitator:
Kristian Berg Harpviken, Research Professor at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)

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SEMINAR 2: Islam vs Rights? The Taliban’s Negotiation Agenda for Law and Justice

17 November, 11:30 – 13:00 CET, 15:00 – 16:30 AFT

An Islamization of Afghanistan’s constitution, legal framework and justice sector is likely to be at the center of the Taliban’s demands in the peace negotiations. Many in the Taliban leadership are trained in Islamic law and the movement’s promises to implement Sharia appears central to their claim to legitimacy. Exactly what changes the Taliban will propose are not yet known, and the implications are unclear. How and whether any formal changes are likely to affect the lives of men and particularly women’s access to rights and justice remains uncertain. The judiciary is one of the more conservative sectors in Afghan society and the Afghan legal framework, particularly criminal and family law, is already rooted in Islamic law. The sector is often accused of corruption and arbitrariness, as well as for being particularly inaccessible to women.

This panel will explore what is at stake in Taliban demands that Islam is given a more central role in law and in the administration of justice. To what extent is the current legal framework and justice system ensuring legality and women’s rights in reality? What could be the consequences if the Taliban insist on an elevation of Sharia – or specifically Hanafi fiqh – as a source of law, a theological vetting of the legislative process or reforms of the judiciary or legal education?

Speakers:
Siavash Rahbari, HQ Program Lead for Afghanistan at the International Development Law Organization (IDLO)
Prof. Lutfurahman Saeed, Assistant Professor at the Sharia (Islamic Law) School at Kabul University, Kabul, Afghanistan.
Jamila Afghani, Executive Director of Medica Afghanistan, and president of the Afghan section of the International Women’s League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)

Comments:
Ashley Jackson, Research Associate at the Overseas Developmental Institute (ODI)

Facilitator:
Torunn Wimpelmann, Senior Researcher at Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI)

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SEMINAR 3: Warlords and Survival Politics

18 November, 11:30 – 13:00 CET, 15:00 – 16:30 AFT

With talks underway in Doha, former warlords, and other power holders – many with a history of changing alliances and wrecking past peace settlements – are positioning themselves in Afghanistan. Some are represented in the talks. Others declined to take part, and yet others have been excluded. The political uncertainty is both reflected in and worsened by rising insecurity and criminality in Afghanistan. Armed men roam the streets of Kabul, military groups defect to the Taliban, peace proponents are assassinated, and former warlords engage in talks with neighboring governments.

This panel will look at the latest chapter of Afghan armed politics in the context of the peace talks. What is the historical record of long-time power holders in placing themselves in relation to Afghan governments? When and why did they change sides and alliances? How are these elites positioning themselves today? How is their relationship with the Afghan government and the Taliban, centrally and locally? What is the nature and role of their relations with foreign powers, in the region and beyond, as this affects the prospects for concluding a sustainable peace agreement? While not a consolidated group, are these strongmen in a position to make or break a negotiated agreement?

Main speakers:
Dr. Romain Malejacq, Centre for International Conflict Analysis and Management (CICAM)
Emran Feroz, independent journalist and the Founder of Drone Memorial

Comments:
Emerita Dr. Astri Suhrke, Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI)

Facilitator:
Arne Strand, Deputy Director, Research Director, U4 Director, Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI)

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SEMINAR 4: Red Lines and Shrinking Spaces: Activism under Threat in Afghanistan

19 November, 08:30 – 10:00 CET, 12:00 – 13:30 AFT

The spread of social media and a certain level of openness provided new opportunities for activism and civil engagement from 2001 onwards. However, in 2019, the UN Human Rights Council added Afghanistan to the list of countries where civic freedoms are under serious threat. Across the country, journalists, activists, and intellectuals are being attacked and killed, and in recent months a series of targeted assassinations have shattered the relative safety of Kabul. Despite these risks, civil society continues to make its voice heard, with social media providing platforms for debate and activism.

In this panel, we will explore in what ways the space for civic engagement is transforming political processes and discuss how artists, poets, journalists, and activists deal with the new risks. What new opportunities – and pitfalls – have social media provided for activism and dialogue in Afghanistan? What issues are most sensitive or dangerous in today’s Afghanistan? What are the sources of danger, and what resources and support are available to those at risk for speaking out or raising a sensitive topic? Are there any topics on which Afghan activists can speak more freely now than five or fifteen years ago?

Main speakers:
Aziz Rafiee, Executive Director for the Afghan Civil Society Forum
Samiullah Hamidee, Founder and President of OSED

Comments:
Arne Strand, Deputy Director, Research Director, U4 Director, Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI)
Hasina Shirzad, journalist

Facilitator:
Liv Kjølseth, General Secretary for the Norwegian Afghanistan Committee (NAC)

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SEMINAR 5: Peace from Below: How Can Communities Reconcile?

19 November, 11:30 – 13:00, 15:00 – 16:30 AFT

If and when signed, a peace agreement will be an important step towards sustainable peace. Sustainability will require trust and support from ordinary Afghan citizens and their commitment to building peaceful communities. All over Afghanistan, across political and ethnic divides, there are victims of war, living with family loss and physical injuries, and lacking support and recognition. With no plan to hold war criminals accountable, might the wounds and divisions of war heal? In the absence of an inclusive, broad-based peace process, can peace and reconciliation take place at the local level?

This session will explore what peace looks like from the perspective of afghan citizens: women and men from different ethnic groups, living in rural and urban areas. Despite multiple challenges of poverty, insecurity, lack of trust and basic rights, there are local initiatives that bring people together and bridge divides. The panel will explore such initiatives and the experiences of those involved. It will feature Afghan peace activists working both in Kabul and in locations such as Badakhshan, Faryab and Ghazni. They will share from experience and reflect on potentials of peace from below and how Afghan communities can reconcile. The session is designed to be participatory. The audience can direct questions to the panelists who will respond during the Q&A section of the event.

Main speakers:
Hadi Marafat, Executive Director of the Afghan Center for Memory and Dialogue
Jamila Afghani, Executive Director of Medica Afghanistan, and president of the Afghan section of the International Women’s League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)

Digital Dialogue:
Abdul Ghafar, Head of the Norwegian Afghanistan Committee’s (NAC) Regional Office in Ghazni City.
Wahida Ghorob, Head of the Norwegian Afghanistan Committee’s (NAC), provincial office in Faryab
Ehsanullah Zahir, Head of Programs for the Norwegian Afghanistan Committee’s (NAC) at the north-eastern regional office in Badakhshan
Khadija Safi, Senior Health Officer with the Norwegian Afghanistan Committee (NAC) in Kabul
Bashir Shoor, Head of Rural Development Programs for Norwegian Afghanistan Committee’s (NAC) in Kabul

Facilitator:
Norunn Grande, Acting Director of the Nansen Center for Peace and Dialogue (NCPD)

Co-facilitator:
Ibrahim Sakhi Afridi, Co-founder of Together We Build It – Norway

Closing remarks:
Terje Magnussønn Watterdal, Country Director for the Norwegian Afghanistan Committee (NAC)

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