• Meeting the peacemakers: Afghan activists in Ireland

Meeting the peacemakers: Afghan activists in Ireland

27 February 2012

Seventeen Afghan activists travelled to Ireland to learn from the Northern Irish peace process.

Preparing to visit Irish parliament (Dáil)The group, which included six women, attended a peacebuilding workshop organised by BAAG and one of its member agencies, the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation.

Irish activists and politicians described how grassroots groups had helped to build and maintain peace after decades of conflict in Northern Ireland.

Speakers included Monica McWilliams, co-founder of the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition, which played a prominent part in negotiating the historic Good Friday Peace Agreement.

Ian White (left) & translator Jawed Nader in DublinGlencree’s Political and International Programme Director, Ian White, pointed out the similarities between the Irish and Afghan experiences.

“We both share a very turbulent history.  We are both hurting bad and deep.”  He said the workshop was aimed at giving the participants “a greater sense of the complexity of peacebuilding”.  But he stressed it was a two way process; peace activists from both nations could learn from each others’ strategies and techniques.

Pádraig Mac Lochlainn TDThe group also met Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, Sinn Féin parliamentary representative for Donegal North East in the Irish parliament, the Dáil.  He highlighted the crucial part played by civil society groups in pushing forward the peace process in Northern Ireland, suggesting that Afghan activists could play a similar role.

“Politicians have to learn that there is a critical role for civil society - and indeed civil society is more important than the ego of political leaders.” he said.  “Often we have to listen and follow the direction they have shown us.”

For the attendees, it was a chance to meet peace activists from other parts of Afghanistan and compare ideas, strategies and experiences.

Sue Williams & Fahim Hakim with Ian WhiteThe delegates took part in workshops facilitated by Sue Williams, who has decades of experience in mediation and reconciliation in war-torn countries around the globe.  Ahmad Fahim Hakim, an outgoing Commissioner at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission acted as co-facilitator.

Omaid Sharifi, whose 'Let’s Talk!' campaign brings together young Afghans of different ethnicities to talk over their differences, said the workshop had taught him two major lessons.

“The first thing I will tell my people is that we shouldn’t expect an answer, a solution, the next day - it’s a long process and we all need to be very patient”, he said.  “Secondly, we need to compromise and sometimes sacrifice for peace - because no matter what, this is the right path to choose.  And if we lose our supporters, if the people hate us, still we have to follow this path.”

BAAG's Executive Director Nadeem Kazmi said "We would like to think that the people attending this event will be able to return to Afghanistan invigorated with new hope, and new ideas for building peace in their country."

 

Delegates at workBAAG’s peacebuilding workshop ran from 22-26 February 2012. Thanks to our funders who enabled this event to take place; the UK's Department for International Development; The Network for Social Change; The Polden-Puckham Charitable Foundation and Christian Aid.


 

Conference delegates relaxing at Dun Laoghaire

But it wasn't all work. 

Relaxing by the sea

During a well-earned break from the workshop, the delegates had the opportunity to got to see a little of Ireland. 

Relaxing by the sea

A quick visit to the port of Dún Laoghaire, just outside Dublin, proved popular with the Afghans, whose country is landlocked.