The sustainability of any peace agreement is, to no small extent, a function of the inclusivity of the peace process that led to it. It also dependent on a widely shared notion that the status quo must be replaced in the interest of the greater good, even if some sacrifices are required en route.
Consistent with the more inclusive and ultimately successful models of peace negotiations, visions of what the ‘greater good’ means in the context of Afghanistan need to be evidence-based, organic and consistent with the well-being of individuals as members of their communities and even with the good of the country as a whole. As such, visions of the greater good need to be civic discourse results at multiple levels throughout the country.
Historically, peace processes that have resulted in relatively sustainable peace agreements have been rooted in multiple levels of dialogue and negotiations. These engagement levels among various state and non-state stakeholders are referred to as Track 1, Track 2, and Track 3.
Track 1 consists of high-level engagement among state-level actors facilitated by highly visible mediators mutually recognized by the conflict parties. A functioning Track 1 examines the current political power structures and the resultant conflict to identify peaceful resolutions and define negotiation outcomes.
Track 2 refers to unofficial, informal interactions between constituencies of the conflicting parties. A functioning Track 2 aims to “develop strategies, influence public opinion, organize human and material resources in ways that might help resolve their conflict.” Track 2 provides a bridge between leaders that participate in Track 1 and people’s expectations about peace. Track 2 actors typically include individuals and organizations who are not necessarily formally connected to conflict parties.
Track 3 refers to engagement at the grassroots level between citizens in local communities who experience the day-to-day effects of conflict, including struggles in access to food, water, income, shelter, protection and safety.
Though insufficiently inclusive, the current intra-Afghan peace talks represent Track 1 of the peace negotiations. For a sustainable peace agreement to be reached, Track 2 and Track 3 diplomacy that engages citizen constituencies in their diversity will also be needed.
A Track 2 for the intra-Afghan peace talks would consist of civil society organizations including citizens’ groups from government-controlled and Taliban-controlled areas, rights-based NGOs, businesses, labour associations, think tanks, academics, religious institutions and actors, and local government officials and anti-government authorities in personal rather than official capacity.
Track 3 should consist of representatives from the grassroots level and include community-based organizations, local NGOs carrying out humanitarian aid projects, local health officials, and community representatives from various sectors of society, including the socially and economically disempowered, the internally displaced and returnees.
Track 2 representatives typically act as intermediaries between Track 3 and Track 1, ensuring that acute and chronic community needs regarding food, shelter and essential services are documented and registered with Track 1 negotiators and protected by Track 1 negotiators in making compromises to reach a consensus on peace.
Civil society, broadly defined, needs to intensify efforts to open up Track 1 of the Afghan peace process and initiate and maintain Track 2 and Track 3 for the intra-Afghan peace negotiations. Once established, Tracks 2 and 3 would need to be supported by civil society as a de facto framework and mechanism for peace negotiations, creating spaces and opportunities for debate and dialogue on the greater good for Afghanistan, defining a unifying plan to attain it, and undertaking advocacy and lobbying to mainstream it in the formal peace negotiations.