One year ago, on 2 June 2010, Afghanistan’s peace council - the National Consultative Peace Jirga or NCPJ - brought together 1,600 delegates from across Afghanistan’s political and social spectrum to pave the road for reintegration and reconciliation. Three questions were posed at the NCPJ, which dictated the discussions and future objectives of the peace process. These were: how can we bring sustainable peace to Afghanistan, what kind of framework do we need to speak with our disaffected brothers, and what kind of mechanism do we need for reconciliation? To address these questions, the NCPJ set the following guidelines: discuss the framework for peaceful dialogue, establish rules for dialogue with the insurgency, and create mechanisms for initiating dialogue with the insurgency.

The overall objectives of the NCPJ were to attain peace through a political approach, encouraging regional and international cooperation to create the necessary political conditions for peace and reconciliation. So the NCPJ programme looked at the smooth transfer of security from international to local forces, how to disarm and disengage insurgents, create a national political consensus and engage the cooperation of international and regional players to accelerate the peace process. To accomplish its objectives, the NCPJ created the Peace and Reintegration Program (APRP). APRP is led by the High Peace Council and implemented by the joint secretariat. The HPC is composed of tribal elders, jihadi leaders, civil society representatives, women and other social and political groups.

Thus far, gains by the HPC stretch from the grassroots to the national and regional level, and include successes in the political, reintegration and development sectors. In terms of the latter, development progress has been slow and ineffective, but there have been significant gains in the political and reintegration realms.

Politically, the HPC began an outreach programme in various provinces, such as Badgish, Baghlan, Nooristan, Farah, Herat, Jalalabad and Kandahar. The programmes in these provinces aim to recruit locals (ie tribal elders, Shura members and influential figures) to help the HPC in indentifying independent recruits who can assist and facilitate the peace process in these provinces. In Badgish, the HPC, with the help of tribal and religious leaders including civil society members, was able to disarm 1,000 insurgents to date. Since its initiation, this programme has effectively reached out to tribal and religious leaders in numerous provinces in the north and south, connecting their efforts with that of the HPC in building an opposition to the insurgency, and creating a bridge between the HPC and the insurgency.

Nevertheless, one of the most significant criticisms of the HPC is that it has fallen short of holistically incorporating the opinions and perceptions of civil society in the reconciliation process. Many individuals and groups, both within Afghanistan and from the international community, have argued for a stronger role for civil society in the peace process. This role can assume the task of ‘building a national consensus through dialogue and can monitor the government’s performance’. Members of Afghan civil society have stressed that the reconciliation process lacks transparency and, though it has acknowledged that the negotiation process must be carried out in secrecy, the Government should still make clear the framework for talks and the conditions that are being negotiated.

Civil society can be effective in this process by not only illuminating the principles of the framework for talks, but can by holding the government to account, to ensure that people’s freedoms and rights are not being bargained away in the process.