DDG Mediation Training in Afghanistan

Afghanistan has suffered for the last 40 years with conflict and displacement of its people emanating from multiple but distinct sources. From the Soviet invasion to the Taliban regime, through to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) intervention and its aftermath, Afghans have had to face not only the direct impact of armed violence but also waves of internal displacement, migration and refugee return. In 2016, an estimated 400,000 Afghans returned from Iran and 600,000 from Pakistan, many of whom did so involuntarily. The government of Pakistan has announced recently that all Afghan refugees must leave the country by December 31st 2017, meaning that the world’s largest forced return of refugees will come to a head in the depths of winter. This further increases pressure on a country still in the midst of an ongoing violent conflict that has created up to 1.2 million internally displaced persons (IDPs). Due to issues such as insecurity, lack of land, shelter and employment opportunities, it is estimated that up to 40% of these returnees will settle in places other than their place of origin, usually in larger cities like Kabul and Herat.


In response to the challenges of an influx of returnees from a variety of ethnic groups arriving into an already conflict vulnerable context, DRC-DDG has established urban service provision hubs in Kabul and Herat, building on existing government resources in these cities. The hubs aim to provide integrated support services such as humanitarian aid, legal and economic advice, mine clearance and risk education, psychosocial support and conflict mitigation. In the short term, DDG/DRC expects that vulnerable displaced persons will have improved access to services, which lays the foundation for the longer term goal of addressing structural drivers of instability.

DDG has a program dedicated to Armed Violence Reduction (AVR), in which one of the key areas is conflict prevention. We work towards this goal by supporting local and international conflict prevention and resolution efforts through conflict sensitive programming and conflict management training. Line Brylle, AVR advisor at DDG, has recently returned from Afghanistan after delivering mediation training to 140 participants in these hubs; the courses were done in collaboration with and were adapted from the Canadian Institute for Conflict Resolution (CICR) trainings. Trainees were certified by the institute upon completion of the courses. Participants were mainly internally displaced persons and returnees from different sites in Kabul and Herat, but also included host community members, authorities and personnel from different organizations.

Afghanistan has traditional systems of conflict management that have been practiced for hundreds of years. Shuras (traditional community committees in charge of conflict resolution), community leaders and religious leaders are generally responsible for resolving conflicts at the community level. In the traditional model of conflict mediation in Afghanistan the third party often referred to as the mediator is usually expected to provide opinions and advice, propose solutions or make a final binding judgement to the case. Therefore, the concept of a neutral and impartial mediator, facilitating dialogue between parties, was met with some skepticism when it was first introduced by Line and her team. Throughout the training period however, skepticism lessened considerably as participants learned a new way of approaching conflicts. 

The concept that was presented should be seen as an additional, rather than better tool for addressing conflict, and as an option rather than a replacement for traditional methods. The mediation model presented in the trainings aims to build long-term capacity by encouraging parties to find solutions by themselves. This model promotes a process in which the solutions found are acceptable and satisfactory to all parties of a conflict, while also aiming at restoring or maintaining relationships and collaboration. 

Participants expressed a high level of interest in the conflict mediation courses, and upon evaluation most participants showed appreciation of the approach and willingness to use it. However, it was also expressed that although neutral and impartial mediation could be useful in resolving conflicts in Afghanistan, it may be difficult to implement as there are other expectations for the mediator in the traditional model that are widely used and accepted. This shows us that courses should be further adapted to fit local contexts and strengthen existing skills in arbitration and negotiations, as well as complementing with alternative approaches.

The courses offer an excellent platform to foster dialogue around the need for sustainable conflict resolution.  They also give a better insight into community needs and help us to identify the deeper, structural sources of instability that need to be addressed. Vital to our efforts is the inclusion of women in the courses, whose role in conflict management has traditionally been limited.

The effectiveness of the mediation courses as an additional tool to traditional methods is still to be evaluated, follow up is needed to ascertain whether this approach can be useful and accepted in Afghan communities for resolving conflict. However as part of a broader, integrated development approach this type of training shows great promise as a means of gathering and sharing knowledge, and also normalizing conflict sensitive dialogue between people of many different ethnic, religious and socio-economic backgrounds.