Dr. Eileen F. Babbitt, assistant professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a PON faculty affiliate, will be one of four facilitators leading a Civil Society Conference for Peace and Reconstruction in Afghanistan from 29 November to 2 December in Bonn, Germany. The objective of the meeting is to give important groups in Afghanistan’s civilian society and particularly women a voice in the peace process. The meeting will take place parallel to the official United Nations Conference on Afghanistan in which representatives of the political groups will participate.
The Conference for Civil Society was prompted by the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi. The concept and organization of the meeting have been handled by the Swiss Peace Foundation (SPF) in Berne in cooperation with the Foundation for Science and Politics (FSP) in Berlin. About 80 people from Afghanistan’s civil society–roughly half of them women–will take part. Two thirds of the participants come from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and Dubai. The rest are representatives of the Afghani Diaspora in Europe and the USA. In selecting delegates, organizers emphasized balanced representation.
The event will be supported financially by the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) within the framework of its civilian peace-building policy. Other contributions come from the Dutch Foreign Ministry as well as from American and European foundations.
According to Babbitt, the delegates to the Conference for Civil Society face a daunting but exhilarating task, following a decade in which their country was devastated by war, drought, increasing isolation and poverty, and authoritarian government. “The objective,” she said “is to construct a society hospitable to democracy and modernization but respectful of the identity and traditions of the many groups within this complex nation.” Afghanistan is home to 500 distinct tribes.
Prof. Babbitt has a particular research interest in the trust-building process among parties to long-term conflict, especially those in which identity and security are the primary issues; she also brings many years of experience in the facilitation of problem-solving workshops involving members of groups engaged in protracted conflict.
The conference will initiate reconstruction and confidence building at the civil society level in Afghanistan. In view of the challenges facing political reorganization, the inclusion of a civil perspective is of crucial importance for the success of the peace process.
To the extent permitted by confidentiality, Prof. Babbitt will be relaying her experiences in Bonn via the Internet to her Fletcher students, who will witness the unfolding of an important international decision making process “live”–a rare and exciting addition to classroom learning. “I take their spirit and energy with me” says Babbitt of Fletcher’s international negotiators of tomorrow.