The Kabul Times.
Politics

A restorative framework for justice, peace, and reconciliation in Afghanistan

To end the decades-long cycle of violence in Afghanistan, justice must be part of any potential peace agreement. But instead of retributive justice that focuses on the wrongdoers, Afghanistan should consider a restorative framework that is centered on victims’ needs.
 Recent negotiations between the United States and Taliban indicate that they may be close to reaching a peace deal, but any deal will not last unless Afghanistan reckons with its past. As negotiations carry on, many Afghans are waiting for a long hoped-for peace. However, the many cycles of violence and terror have left many in Afghanistan harmed, and the victims are looking for justice. Afghanistan needs to consider seriously the precepts of restorative justice as a way to pair peace with justice.
A United Nations-developed peace deal for Afghanistan failed in 1992 and a factional war broke out soon after the deal. The Bonn Agreement of 2002, which brought a democratic order after the Taliban, was successful in the short term but has failed to bring durable peace. These attempts to end the violence rushed for a settlement and ignored the importance of justice and inclusive peace in which all Afghans have a say in their future.
Instead of being held accountable for the alleged human right abusers detailed in this landmark Human Rights Watch report, the perpetrators attained senior positions in the government following the overthrow of the Taliban. No one apologized, no one was tried, and no one received reparations for the atrocities. The result was a corrupt government that benefitted from a culture of impunity and an aggrieved public that was alienated from the state. A similar scenario is on the horizon with the Taliban, and it is important not to commit the same mistakes again.
The harm and suffering Afghans experienced under Taliban and the Afghan government is significant and needs to be addressed for peace and reconciliation. “Since I’ve become president [in 2014]… over 45,000 Afghan security personnel have made the ultimate sacrifice,” said Afghan president Ashraf Ghani at the World Economic Forum earlier this year. And more than 32,000 civilians have been killed and around 60,000 injured since 2009, according to Tadamichi Yamamoto, the special representative of the secretary-general for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.
Members of the Taliban and people living in areas under their control also have legitimate grievances, including illegal detention, destruction of property, and torture perpetrated by the Afghan armed forces and their international allied troops.
The suffering and losses inflicted on the Afghan people by the warring parties must be addressed. A culture of impunity breeds injustice and corruption. An enduring peace requires justice to be part of the deal. I propose a restorative justice framework where grievances are addressed and included in the peace process. In a restorative justice framework, justice is perceived as healing, not punishment or revenge. Unlike the traditional Western justice system which asks “What laws have been broken? Who broke the laws? What punishment do they deserve?”, restorative justice asks different questions: “Who has been hurt? What are their needs? Whose obligations are these?” Restorative justice is a more nuanced understanding of justice and involves multiple stakeholders, including the perpetrator, the victim, and the broader community.  It is victim-oriented and seeks accountability rather than punishment and revenge. This form of justice is conducive to the national character of Afghans because it seeks to restore the relationships which are paramount to unity and reconciliation in Afghanistan. I propose an adapted version of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), first pioneered by Bishop Desmond Tutu in South Africa after Apartheid, to promote justice, national unity and reconciliation in Afghanistan. The TRC in South Africa brought victims and perpetrators face to face, forcing them to confront their past. The TRC in Afghanistan will result in reconciliation with the past, put the truth on the public record, and create the path for collective healing. To build a shared future, Afghanistan as a nation-state must reconcile with its past.
There are several details that must be specified in a TRC in Afghanistan. At the village and district levels, local tribunals should help address localized grievances. But for larger, national-level abuses, the perpetrators should face national tribunals, possibly with media coverage and open to the public. The TRC leadership should include religious leaders, civil society representatives, government officials, Taliban leadership, and other opposition groups. The U.S. and other international stakeholders should provide technical and logistical assistance to the process.
Opponents of restorative justice would say that over-emphasis on justice will harm the quest for peace. For instance, a recent report by the U.S. Institute of Peace on peace negotiations between the Afghan government and former armed opposition group Hizb-e Islami lists full amnesty for the warring parties as an important incentive for them to engage in the peace talks. Opponents might even say that punishing and criminalizing the warring parties will prolong the war and violence. This is an important question, but it is not necessarily a mutually exclusive proposition. Justice and peace complement, rather than contradict, each other. As explained above, restorative justice is a victim-oriented approach which seeks reconciliation and addressing the grievances of the victims.
Justice is imperative for an enduring peace in Afghanistan. Mr. Khalilzad, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, should add justice as an agenda item in his peace talks with the Taliban. Addressing the justice issue is in the interest of the U.S., the Taliban, and the Afghan government. The restorative justice process will benefit all the parties while harming no one. The goal is not to punish but restore the relationship and reconciliation. Bahman Shahi

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The Kabul Times.