The Afghanistan Peace Education Program aimed to address the root causes of armed conflict by conducting training programs, and workshops, publishing storybooks for Afghan children to establish a normal relationship acceptable to all parties involved in Afghanistan.
Problems and Purpose
The conflict in Afghanistan has been ongoing for over four decades, with foreign troops engaging in violence and successive governments proving incompetent and illegitimate. The people of Afghanistan have face threats to their survival, dignity, and religion daily. For forty years, ethnic repression and political exclusion have oppressed the Afghan people, resulting in devastated economic and social structures and widespread illiteracy. Poverty and unemployment have led to thousands of young men taking up arms to survive, and the absence of law and order has fueled deep-rooted hatred and prejudice. To achieve long-term reconstruction in Afghanistan, it is crucial to understand all the variables that have kept the conflict alive for so long. Without a holistic understanding of the nature of conflict, development goals such as reviving the education and health sectors, building a healthy civil society, and promoting social and economic growth will remain unfulfilled. To achieve lasting Peace in Afghanistan, it was crucial first to understand the Afghan people's needs, fears, and perceptions. Conflict mapping was a necessary first step in this process. Efforts toward reconstruction and development must be based on this fundamental understanding. Dr. Weera, who worked as a research fellow at McMaster University in the mid-1990s, joined the Health REACH project to contribute to capacity enhancement and institutional development in Afghanistan. The Project funded reconnaissance visits to Hirat and Jalalabad in Afghanistan and Peshawar in Pakistan as part of a partnership between the Centre for Peace Studies and the Centre for International Health at McMaster University.[i]
The Project's main objective was to improve Afghans' capacity to promote peaceful conflict resolution and post-conflict reconciliation and to replace violence, hostilities, and hatred. On a political level, the aim was to help Afghans dig deeper for the layers and roots of their conflict, focus on finding win-win resolutions, and consider regional and global dimensions of the war in peace efforts. Examples of other violent conflicts and best practices in ending war and durable Peace were used to stimulate thinking beyond zero-sum games of war thinking.[ii]
[i] Afghanistan Peace Education program, University of McMaster: web page: https://www.humanities.mcmaster.ca/%7Empeia/afghanistan.html
[ii] Weera,Sediq. The Afghanistan Peace Education Project. Interview with Sediq Weera by Muzhgan Hamraz, 2023.
Background History and Context
The Global Peace and Social Justice Center (The Center for Peace Studies) at McMaster University, strived to explore the underlying reasons behind social injustice, conflict, violence, oppression, politics, and culture locally and globally.[i] 
In 1999, the McMaster team had meetings and trial sessions with Afghan specialists at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in Peshawar and the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (SCA). During the week-long consultation and training, both male and female producers and program writers from the BBC Reach program and teacher educators from the SCA attended. The training included various topics such as managing stress, effective communication, analyzing conflicts, resolving conflicts, and achieving reconciliation. This visit eventually led to creation of the McMaster University peace program for Afghanistan. The first phase of the Peace Program for Afghanistan was initiated as the 'Media and Culture of Peace project' in collaboration with the Afghan University in Peshawar. This initial phase had two main objectives: a) to impart conflict analysis and transformation best practices to Afghan politicians and b) to enhance the capabilities of civil society organizations, university students, and faculty members to foster a culture of Peace and reconciliation.
Professor Johan Galtung conducted a week-long workshop with senior members of the Peshawar-based Mujahideen parties, where he guided them through the causal factors of the Afghan war and introduced win-win options for achieving enduring Peace. A series of workshops focusing on conflict analysis, conflict transformation, empathy promotion, and national reconciliation were conducted with a group of women, educators from non-governmental organizations, and students and faculty members from Afghan University. The Afghan Women Organization of Fatana Gailani brought the participants together. The Project Project also had the support of three peace-focused NGOs, namely CPAU (Council for Peace and Unity), SDA (Sanayee Development Foundation), and RACA (Research and ...), who remained partners throughout the Project Project.
Politicians asked the McMaster University team to facilitate dialogue between warring factions in Afghanistan. At the same time, civil society groups requested assistance in creating peace and reconciliation resources, including storybooks for children. The Building Peaceful Societies project (2001-2002) extended the first Project's efforts to educate and consult on conflict analysis, resolution, and national reconciliation to include senior officials of the new government in Kabul. The Project also involved creating peace storybooks and manuals for schools in Afghanistan. The Cooperation for Peace and Unity (CPAU), the Sanayee Development Organization (SDO), and the Research Council of Afghanistan (RACA) were solidified as partners during this phase. Drs. Johan Galtung, Jack Santa Barbara, Joanna Santa Barbara, and peace educators held awareness and consultation sessions with senior members from the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Information and Culture, and Ministry of Higher Education of the Afghan Interim Administration. These sessions covered peaceful conflict resolution, peace journalism, and international examples of national reconciliation programs.
Through partnerships with the Afghan Interim Administration institutions, UNICEF-Afghanistan helped pilot-test peace storybooks and manuals in Kabul schools and printed a package of storybooks for every school in the country. Help the Afghan Children (HTAC) also replicated this training in Kabul and Kapisa provinces and provided follow-up peace education activities for years to come. In 2003, the Ministry of Education mandated incorporating peace messages into language, social, and religious textbooks. HTAC trained its teacher educators on using storybooks and added pre- and post-assessments for their schools. An international advisor to HTAC created a teacher manual to use storybooks in classrooms better and reprinted 16 in Pashto and Dari languages.
[i] Global Peace and Social Justice, McMaster University: Website page:https://gpsj.humanities.mcmaster.ca/about-global-peace-social-justice/
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The Centre for Peace Studies at McMaster University approved plans, handled administrative tasks, managed finances, and submitted reports to the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). CIDA founded the project and requested reports at mid-year and end-of-year.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The Project had diverse participants, including representatives from non-governmental organizations specializing in peace education and conflict resolution, university professors and students from Afghan University in Peshawar and Polytechnic University in Kabul. The Workshop was multi-day, and women-only sessions were held for female participants, which included schoolteachers and community members. Many Peshawar-based non-governmental organizations were also represented in a more extensive civil society session. Kabul sessions had participants such as senior members of the Ministry of Education, seniors from the Ministry of Information and Culture, and faculty members from the Ministry of Higher Education. The Workshop was co-organized and co-facilitated with peace educators from partner organizations, mainly CPAU, SDO, and RACA—international experts such as Professor Johan Galtung, Drs. Joanna Santa Barbara, Jack Santa Barbara, and Graeme MacQueen offered examples of best global practices. Afghan organizers translated the material into Farsi and Pashto and elaborated on local examples and application aspects. Some sessions were led by Afghan peace educators only.
Methods and Tools Used
The Project has used an educational and, more specifically, a "train-the-trainer" approach aimed at the following: Afghan intellectuals, religious and political leaders, members of political parties and factions, writers, journalists, and teachers; and a variety of Afghans and non-Afghans active in NGOs working in Afghanistan. The basic ideas about peacebuilding and psychosocial approaches to peaceful living were transmitted through workshops and written material to empower participants to spread them through their workshops and apply them in their work and day-to-day living.
To better understand the connection between violent conflict and beliefs that promote war, a university group partnered with an educational institution and civil society organizations, particularly those promoting a culture of Peace. Together, they organized workshops in Peshawar with Afghan politicians to explore dialogue options for creating a nationwide peace platform. Discussions on the peace platform continued in Rome with Dr. Zalmay Rasul and Mostafa Zahir. Following the events of September 11, the Project expanded to include work with the Kabul Interim Administration through collaboration with partnering peace NGOs. Furthermore, the role of media and peace journalism was introduced to complement peace education in schools and communities. Finding common ground, an ideal future for all, and using creative thinking to find multiple solutions were some strategies introduced and tested through small group discussions. Another tool used a hierarchy of position (rigid and less flexible) versus objectives (why they want it) versus fundamental rights for all as bases for peace negotiations. This tool-assisted participants in moving away from the dialogue around position more toward the objectives, which would hypothetically allow warring factions to use creativity and find win-win options that would allow a peace agreement to meet all parties' objectives. Most participants liked the idea of negotiations based on fundamental rights because it could bring hostile parties to work together. Another tool was the promotion of empathy to deal with biased views of hostile parties and reduce hatred, allowing parties to work together and move away from the blame game to focusing on real unresolved national issues.[i] 
[i] Weera, Sediq. The Afghanistan Peace Education Project. Interview with Sediq Weera by Muzhgan Hamraz, 2023.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The project team collaborated with several organizations from March 11 to April 14, 2002, to develop a partnership. They finalized a work plan and timeline and provided "first-exposure" training to a diverse group of Afghan beneficiaries. In addition, the National Reconciliation program was explored with the Afghan Interim Administration. Meetings were held in Peshawar and Kabul with the partner organizations, which included the Sanayee Development Foundation (formerly Sanayee Institute for Education and Learning-SIEAL), Research and Advisory Council of Afghanistan (RACA), Cooperation for Peace and Unity (CPAU), Afghan University in Peshawar, and Cooperation Centre for Afghanistan (CCA). To maximize the efforts, a working group was formed called the Building Peaceful Societies Group (BPS-Group), which consisted of one representative from each of the five agencies mentioned earlier.
Furthermore, three primary training and workshops were conducted on March 29 and April 09, 2002, in Peshawar, Pakistan, and Kabul, Afghanistan. The first Workshop on March 29 was attended by about 100 male and female faculty and students from Afghan University. The Workshop was designed to be participatory and covered various topics, including "Understanding the Afghan Conflict," "Rebuilding Relationships among Afghan Ethnic and Political Groups," and "Conflict Prevention on an Interpersonal Level." The audience was divided into seven groups, and each group discussed the topics and provided written summaries of their discussions.
On March 29 and April 9, 2002, a workshop was held in Peshawar, Pakistan, followed by another session on April 9 in Kabul, Afghanistan. The first session focused on identifying thirteen factors contributing to violent conflict in Afghanistan and asked participants to suggest solutions. The second session discussed the psychosocial sequence of hostility, hatred, and prejudice and identified approaches that may have contributed to the ongoing conflict. The third session explored factors that damage interpersonal relationships during armed conflicts. The goal of the Workshop was to raise awareness and obtain feedback from the audience. All participants requested written materials and additional training for all Afghans. The feedback was encouraging.
A daylong workshop was organized in collaboration with the Afghan Ministry of Information and Culture, where 30 critical personalities from the ministry participated. This included heads of various departments, national radio and TV directors, and representatives from Afghanistan News Agency, Kabul Times, Hewad, Anis, and Arman-e-Mili newspapers. The Workshop focused on three themes, and feedback from participants was overwhelmingly positive. All leaders expressed interest in either a national peace education program jointly developed by McMaster University and the Afghan Ministry of Culture and Information or training on Peace and reconciliation for key leaders and producers in the ministry.
The Afghanistan Women's Council partnered with the third Workshop, which had around 200 participants, primarily women from Peshawar-based schools for Afghan girls, NGO communities, social and advocacy groups, and local Afghan media. The first two themes discussed were "Understanding the Afghan Conflict" and "Rebuilding Relationships among Ethnic and Political Groups," while the third theme was changed to "Understanding the Geopolitics of the Afghan Conflict" at the request of the partner organization. The Workshop received positive feedback from the participants, who requested that such education be expanded to the national level and incorporated into the curricula of schools, colleges, and universities. Additionally, several seminars were conducted for small groups, including representatives from various organizations such as Harvard University, United National Special Mission for Afghanistan, and leadership from different ministries of the Afghan Interim Administration. The editors of Sahaar, a Wahdat reporter, and an association of Afghan publishers and newspapers also requested peace journalism training for their staff. Moreover, A delegation from BPS-group and McMaster University consisting of four members went to Kabul for meetings with the leadership of the Afghan Interim Administration. They conducted training sessions for personnel from various ministries, including Education, Higher Education, Information and Culture. In addition, they held separate meetings with the Afghan University in Peshawar, Nangarhar University, and the Ministry of Public Health in Kabul. These meetings resulted in specific follow-up actions.[i] 
All participants found the discussions, consultations, and workshops to be informative. They recommended expanding such activities to all national educational institutions, mosques, and government levels. Some suggested that the Afghan government should launch a peace and reconciliation program. A member of the McMaster University team met with Hamed Karzai, the head of the Afghan Interim Government, and suggested a temporary Ministry of Peace and Reconciliation for five to ten years. The same team member advocated for a national reconciliation program with religious leaders Peer Gilani and Hazrat Mojaddedi.
In 2001, the Peshawar, Cyprus, and Rome groups initiated a peace dialogue after they visited Rome. The McMaster peace projects served as a valuable pilot and feasibility exercise that led to the development of numerous small-scale initiatives. These initiatives include the HTAC's use of peace resources for many years to come, the development of the Life Skills textbook for grades one to three, which a McMaster team member authored in 2003-2004, Canadian efforts to coordinate peace civil society organizations in 2010, and consultations and advocacy for a national reconciliation program in Afghanistan. [ii]
[i] Afghanistan Conflict Analysis, McMaster University: Website page: https://www.humanities.mcmaster.ca/%7Empeia/afghanistan.html
[ii] Weera, Sediq. The Afghanistan Peace Education Project. Interview with Sediq Weera by Muzhgan Hamraz, 2023.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
- The Project developed criteria to recruit up to 100 Potential Peace Education Leaders (PPEL). Around 33 individuals from the Ministry of Education participated in two training rounds, five days and one day, respectively. These participants produced 12 draft documents as samples of materials to be included in the national curriculum.
- Additionally, 20-25 people participated in two training rounds, which lasted for four days and one day, respectively. The team negotiated with the Minister and obtained a letter of support to establish a Centre for Peace Studies at Kabul University.
- Furthermore, 19-25 participants, including heads of government departments, district governors, and community leaders, participated in two training rounds that lasted for two days each. Finally, 22 persons, including heads of government departments and community leaders, participated in one round of training that lasted for two days.
- From the NGO community, 22 people from OMAR and Co-AR underwent two training rounds, each lasting one day. Additionally, 13 people from AWC participated in one round of training that lasted for half a day.
- uring the training, the project team discussed and applied the determinants of the Afghan conflict, from background factors to intervening and triggering factors, in wars of the past 23 years. Participants recognized the importance of addressing people's grievances and establishing balanced relationships with neighbouring countries. They identified ways Afghanistan could take advantage of current regional and international developments. Participants suggested that such delicate issues be discussed with higher authorities in the Afghan government.
- Additionally, the project created a series of storybooks for children and a manual for teachers and parents. Both sets of materials aimed to improve abilities to cope with loss, fear, depression, anger, and hatred and develop skills in resolving conflicts peacefully. Sixteen stories were developed for children, and a peace manual for teachers and parents produced 200 copies and put the latest version on the internet. Overall, the participants worked actively at the exercises, focusing intensely on reconciliation's "peace" component and finding ways to reduce tension and hatred.
- By August 2001, the translation of the stories and the peace manual into Pashto and Dari was well-advanced, Peace Education workshops and meetings were held. The Workshop was aimed at demonstrating that the conflicts Afghans have been experiencing were not intractable and that the discourse of mutual blame and the psychology of retaliation was not inevitable. It was expected to see more peaceful approaches to conflicts resulting from these workshops,
- Roughly 100 Participants from Afghan NGOs, the Afghan University of Peshawar, Afghan Community Leaders, and members of political parties learned about "Conflict Transformation, Reconciliation and Peace Journalism."
- A group of 21 female teachers attended a "Psychosocial Approaches to Peacebuilding" course at a high school. Several important meetings related to Peace were organized in various locations, including Peshawar and Islamabad in Pakistan, Rome in Italy, Washington in the U.S., and Ottawa and Toronto in Canada. The field partners identified key themes while the team developed vital ideas that were tested in workshops. Feedback from participants was gathered, and changes were made accordingly. An English version of the Peace Manual was completed, which was later translated into Pashto and Dari. Essential meetings were held with the Canadian High Commissioner in Islamabad on February 26, 2001, with the UN Special Mission for Afghanistan (UNSMA) on February 23, 2001, and in Rome, Italy, on March 3, 2001.[i] 
[i] Building Peaceful Societies (2002-2003), McMaster University: Website page https://www.humanities.mcmaster.ca/%7Empeia/peaceful_societies/overview.html
Analysis and Lessons Learned
The focus of the Project was on educating people about emotional well-being, with an emphasis on preventing conflicts between different groups. Dr. Weera received training from Johann Galton and tested his ideas by working with Afghan refugees in Pakistan. His main goal was to promote education and conflict resolution in Afghanistan, specifically through professional development for teachers and public education. He believed it was essential to understand the root causes of conflict and find creative, win-win solutions. Dr. Weera spent 18 years in Afghanistan, experiencing life as a refugee and an immigrant to Canada. His experiences in both countries underscored the need for investment in Peace to prevent bloodshed and conflict. He stressed the importance of psychosocial education in promoting Peace and the destructive mentality of win-loss.
He got involved with the Center for International Health and believed collaborating with the Center for Peace Studies in Canada could promote Peace. UNICEF asked him to help write a textbook on emotional intelligence for children in Afghanistan, which led to his involvement in the education sector, focusing on contributing to peace-related activities. Later, he became a research expert for a team of diplomats and peace experts working to help Afghanistan, using peace education as an intervention. Dr. Weera also felt the need to bring together the few peace NGOs in the country to work together, but progress was limited due to the government's lack of prioritization.
After promoting Peace and national reconciliation in Afghanistan by collaborating with NGOs and international support, he became involved in various related projects. The team researched critical issues that divided Afghans, such as power centralization in the government and language rights, including which languages are taught in schools and used as the instructional language. He believed that addressing these issues could unite people and promote national unity. During the project, four language-related issues were addressed, including the use of language in science, university, government correspondence, and signs. The team suggested finding creative solutions to these issues in Afghanistan. The Team was Inspired by Desmond Tutu's model in South Africa, and the efforts toward national reconciliation in Afghanistan were addressed. The project team attempted to convince the President of the need for a national initiative to address identity-related divides but were unsuccessful. They then worked with a policy advisor and approached Karzai to tackle the issue. Despite facing challenges in finding funding and support for peace initiatives, the project team worked with key politicians (Qanuni) and others to address the domestic dimensions of the Afghan War. He believes an effective government focused on rehabilitation, reconstruction, and development could have made a significant difference.
Peace advocates need to work together effectively, as the UN did not have a mandate for Peace. Psychiatrist Aaron Beck's work shows that hostilities can impact thinking. In Afghanistan, the conflict has led to layers of anger and violence, resulting in the destruction of cultural heritage and a loss of compassion and empathy. Dr. Weera notes that compassion is often the first victim, and a lack of concern for others' needs and futures is a sign of lost empathy. To combat this negativity, a culture of Peace is being promoted to replace negative and hateful thinking, beliefs, and behaviours. As a result, peace champions and spin-off initiatives have emerged among NGOs and ministries of education and higher education.
The Significant challenges were the monopoly of Peace and war by the warring factions that had restricted the activities of the three peace NGOs in the refugee communities of Afghans in Peshawar, Pakistan. The workshops with leaders of warring Mujahideen parties, also attended by civil society members, opened the door for broader discussions of peaceful options for ending the war connection of regional and international politics with the Afghan war. The challenges that still needed to be overcome were the inability to mobilize national and international players to support the country's peace and reconciliation agenda.
Lastly, McMaster's team was hoping for a global partnership for forging the peace agenda in Afghanistan; however, discussions with the political office of the United Nations in Afghanistan and the President of the country, Hamed Karzai, fell short of significant follow-up by these two entities.
Lastly, Dr. Weera expressed gratitude for his involvement in McMaster's Afghanistan project investment. He said: "I am as convinced today as I was in 1999 that a deep shift in thinking among Afghans is essential to allow them to focus on a common ideal for all and move away from issues that divide them,"[i].
[i] Weera, Sediq. The Afghanistan Peace Education Project. Interview with Sediq Weera by Muzhgan Hamraz, 2023.
[I] Afghanistan Peace Education program, University of McMaster: web page: https://www.humanities.mcmaster.ca/%7Empeia/afghanistan.html
 Global Peace and Social Justice, McMaster University: Website page: https://gpsj.humanities.mcmaster.ca/about-global-peace-social-justice/
 Building Peaceful Societies (2002-2003), McMaster University: Website page https://www.humanities.mcmaster.ca/%7Empeia/peaceful_societies/overview.html
 Afghanistan Conflict Analysis, McMaster University: Website page: https://www.humanities.mcmaster.ca/%7Empeia/afghanistan.html
 Weera,Sediq. The Afghanistan Peace Education Project. Interview with Sediq Weera by Muzhgan Hamraz, 2023.
Dr. Seddiq Weera, Project Director of The Afghanistan Education Peace Project, has participated in a Zoom interview. The questionnaire is now accessible on the web page.