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Reconciliation crucial to reconstruction

Looking ahead to 2003 and beyond, those involved in relief, development and human rights work in Afghanistan say a host of critical issues will require ongoing attention, including strengthening the central government, raising economic standards and improving education, particularly for women and girls.

But the most daunting and long-term project will be promoting “an approximate peace,” and finding ways to encourage reconciliation and respect among ethnic groups.

Both Catholic- and Protestant-supported agencies are emphasizing “peace-building” in their work, since levels of violence remain extraordinarily high in Afghanistan.

“Unless you address the issue of violence, nothing you do in Afghanistan will be sustainable,” said Paul Butler, former Afghanistan director for Catholic Relief Services and now a CRS public donor representative. “A culture of violence has existed for 25 years in Afghanistan, and the tensions we still see are the result of an era of lawlessness.”

Peace-building will be increasingly important for CRS as it continues its work in Afghanistan, Butler said, saying a commitment to reconciliation is grounded in the organization’s Catholic identity. A particular emphasis will be in integrating peace-building and conflict resolution into already-existing CRS relief and reconstruction programs.

“You just don’t send in relief supplies. You work through a community to do a common project,” he said, noting the need to ensure those of different factions and groups are involved together in a community’s reconstruction work.

The Cooperation Center for Afghanistan, a human rights group, receives support from Church World Service, the New York-based Protestant relief agency, for an after-school program in Kabul involving some 100 children. Among other things, the program promotes human rights awareness.

Sarwar Hussaini, the center’s director, said such education is needed not only because many of the children are war orphans and living in one of the least hospitable environments on the planet, the bombed-out environs of western Kabul, but many have experienced trauma. If Afghanistan is to have any hope at all of mending the blows of war, he said, young people must cherish rather than malign Afghanistan’s ethnic diversity.

If Afghans have learned anything, Hussaini said, it is that “it is destructive to be intolerant.”

-- Chris Herlinger

National Catholic Reporter, January 10, 2003