Posted By: Erica

Last week, an Afghan organization I’m helping here in Kabul co-hosted a conflict resolution workshop with a Washington-DC based institution. Two trainers flew out from Washington to lead the three-day training session for about 20 Afghan NGO employees — from both international and local NGOs.

I have to admit to being a bit skeptical initially. The DC institution was trying to train Afghans in the same negotiating techniques that I was taught as a first year law student for the purpose of negotiating business deals and contracts. Participants were taught compromise versus cooperation, how to identify bargaining positions versus bargaining interests, and how to identify their negotiating partners’ BATNA (Best Alternative to Negotiated Agreement). I wondered how Afghans were supposed to use these techniques to resolve disputes about, say, lost livestock, disarming warlords, persuading poppy producers to switch to alternative livelihoods, etc. Nonetheless, the participants were enthusiastic and seemed to see ways they could apply these tools, so I think I may yet be proved wrong.

At the end of the workshop, the Afghan organization organized a dinner for all the participants, with a full spread of food and local musicians brought in for entertainment. The women participants in the training sat together in a back corner gossiping. Another man was translating the words of the song to myself and the two American trainers. One of the program managers brought his 3-year-old son, Mujid, along. Mujid had never heard live music before. He alternated between standing directly in front of the musicians, fascinated, and retreating shyly to his dad’s lap.

After dinner, the lead musician played a rousing solo piece on his guitar-like instrument. It was apparently a popular Afghan folk song, and everyone in the room clapped along. The Director of this NGO told me the lead musician had been on an Afghan National Army bus last year when it was targeted by a suicide bomber. Of 30 people on the bus, he was the only survivor. I wondered how this musician still had the joy in him to play a song like this. But looking around the room, I realized it was likely everyone there had a story of a near brush with death, of a loved one lost, of fleeing as a refugee, of coming back to a destroyed home. I wondered if this group really would bring a new wave of peaceful resolution to Afghanistan, as the training intended, or if young Mujid’s life would turn out to be as marked by conflict and destruction as his elders’ had been.

Image courtesy of CIVIC