In a digital session organised by Big Tent Ideas on Wednesday 27th January, Tom Tugendhat MP Chair, Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Rahela Sidiqi Founder and Director, Farkhunda Trust and Dr Farid Homayoun HALO Afghanistan Programme Manager all came together to discuss the importance of the ongoing Afghan peace process, and the key role played by engaging local communities in the demining of the country.

Councillor Peymana Assad, Founder Labour Foreign Policy Group, kicked off the session with a reminder that the fighting still ongoing in Afghanistan: “90 Afghan soldiers are killed every day in the fighting. That’s 90 families with fathers and brothers. The casualties are the same on the Taliban side.”

Peymana, who came to the UK as a child refugee at age three, continued by explaining that many Afghans are looking to the UK Government to help with the transition out of this crisis and arguing that more needs to be done. She cited recent announcements suggesting that the UK has told its ambassadors to cut foreign aid budgets by 50-70 percent makes it unclear what level of aid will be sent to Afghanistan in the near future.

The councillor was followed by Dr Farid Homayoun, of The Halo Trust, who outlined how understanding the war is essential for stabilisation: “The war in Afghanistan is not an ideological war; it is about power and the control of resources.” He expanded on how The Halo Trust plays a crucial role in stabilising Afghanistan by engaging with all sides of the conflict as a neutral body: “Weather they are government controlled, Taliban controlled, or contested areas, mine clearance work is critical.”

He continued: “Demining is crucial as it provides security through the development of jobs, particularly for young men of fighting age. We have recruited over 250 former Taliban and ISIS members to help de-mine Afghanistan, and most of these men still work with the HALO trust today.”

Rahela Sidiqi, Founder and Director of the Farkhunda Trust, talked about the importance of women in the Afghan peace process, and why they are the ones most severely affected by the war: “The Afghan people lack economic opportunity, as well as access to healthcare and education. This tends to affect women more.”

In terms of the peace process, Rahela Sidiqi continued: “To get this peace process on track, there must firstly be a ceasefire from all sides of the conflict. Afghans want peace with dignity, and this means that the peace talks should not be rushed, and countries around the globe should help and contribute towards a resolution.”

Tom Tugendhat MP, Conservative MP and Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee discussed the time he spent in Afghanistan, and how he sees the UK Government helping the country going forward: “I spent four very happy years in Afghanistan working with some fantastic people. What we’re looking at now, is a moment of great hope but also great tension.”

While being cautiously optimistic, Tugendhat also mentioned recent setbacks and the continued unwillingness of the Taliban to engage in the process: “The peace talks raise hope, but also serious questions – most released prisoners go back to the frontline. The Taliban are not seriously talking of peace, but of victory.”

It’s important for us to make clear our political support for Afghanistan and to continue to enable the lawful government to continue to exercise power and influence not only in cities but in rural areas too. If we are going to have a success, I hope we’ll see the government in Kabul strengthened.”

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