MEETING ON ROLE OF CIVIL SOCIETY IN CONFLICT PREVENTION HEARS CALLS FOR COORDINATION, PARTNERSHIP AMONG GOVERNMENTS, NGOS, UN BODIES
NEW YORK, 4 September (UN Headquarters) -- An open meeting this morning on the role of civil society in preventing armed conflict explored the future role of civil society in that process, including its growing potential for informing the timing and nature of international intervention, given its dynamic, daily experience on the ground.
Speaking from his perspective as Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Jan Egeland said that, in the post-cold war era, it was more important than ever that the three actors in conflict prevention and resolution -- governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and intergovernmental organizations -- went hand in hand. The first lesson learned from his involvement in several peace processes had been that there could be no peace without the participation and the will of the parties and the populations involved, for which participation of civil society was fundamental. A peace process often started with humanitarian confidence-building measures, such as prisoner exchanges, the free passage of refugees, or the vaccination of children -- all of which required that activist NGOs be “on your side”, he said.
The discussion, which was open to members of permanent and observer missions, Secretariat staff, representatives of NGOs, academia and the United Nations accredited media, was organized by General Assembly President Jan Kavan (Czech Republic) and co-chaired by the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Danilo Türk. It was intended as a follow-up to the adoption by the Assembly on 3 July of a wide-ranging resolution on the prevention of armed conflict.
In opening remarks, Mr. Kavan said that, through the consensus adoption of that resolution, the Assembly had recognized the important supporting role of civil society in preventing conflict. It had invited civil society to continue to support related efforts and to pursue practices that fostered a climate of peace, helped prevent or mitigate crises, and contributed to reconciliation. He hoped today to build on the momentum of that text and to explore, interactively, the future role of civil society in preventing conflict, leading to a better understanding of the possibilities and a concretization of future tasks.
Agreeing that the Assembly’s resolution had been a step forward towards the prevention of armed conflict, Mr. Türk said that, throughout the last century, the international community had developed a variety of mechanisms to help advance the idea of conflict prevention and make it more effective. What was new was the sort of discussion begun today. Partnership with NGOs, which had often offered important non-violent means to address conflicts, should be systematically explored. He urged consideration of the recommendation, contained in the Secretary-General’s 2001 report on conflict prevention, to organize an international conference on the subject.
Representatives of several regional organizations contributed to the ensuing discussion, including from the Coordinadora Regional de Investigaciones Economicas y Sociales (CRIES), Argentina. CRIES’ research on that question had led it to conclude that, over the past 20 years, civil society had had a growing impact, nationally and regionally. In that same period, however, priority had been given to economic and social topics, rather than to conflict prevention, especially given that, in Latin America, inter-State conflicts had been declining. Thus, civil society organizations had approached security issues in the context of human rights and democratization. Nevertheless, the 1980s Inter-American Organization for Peace had established a foundation for studying such issues.
The West Africa Network for Peace-building (WANEP) had a vision of West Africa where the dignity of the human being was paramount and where people held their destinies in their own hands, its speaker said. With the internal nature of most post-1960s armed conflicts in Africa -- spilling over borders into neighbouring countries and engulfing entire communities -- the role of civil society had been to understand the dynamics of such conflicts and complement the role of the State actors. In States on the verge of collapse, such as Liberia, civil society had striven to cope with the vacuum created by the conflict and raise the moral stakes, including through the engagement of women.
Several other points were raised by delegates in the interactive discussion, including that not all NGOs and civil society groups necessarily contributed positively to conflict prevention and post-conflict stabilization. A proper balance should be achieved between regional and local ownership of the process, on the one side, and global ownership, on the other. Also important was to listen to the local voices. The timing of interventions was critical, and no one knew better about timing than the local populations, it was emphasized.
NGO representatives hailed the Assembly’s resolution as having “opened the way” to a new working relationship on conflict prevention. The NGOs had taken seriously the commitment of State actors and wanted to respond to them. A participant from a West African-based regional organization stressed the importance for civil society organizations to make themselves credible, including by not being “political appendages”. Generally, however, in collaborative efforts between State and non-State actors in settling conflicts and building peace, civil society organizations were a positive force, he said.
Participants in today’s meeting included: Paul van Tongeren, Executive Director of the European Centre for Conflict Prevention; Andres Serbin, Coordinadora Regional de Investigaciones Economicas y Sociales (CRIES); Raya Kadyrova, Foundation for Tolerance International in Kyrgyzstan; Emmanuel Bombande, West Africa Network for Peace-building (WANEP); Mary B. Anderson, President of the Collaborative for Development Action; and representatives from A Safer World and Community of Santi Egidio. Several members of permanent and observer missions also participated in the discussion.
An open meeting was held this morning on “The role of civil society in the prevention of armed conflict”, organized by the General Assembly President as a follow-up initiative to the resolution on the prevention of armed conflict (document A/RES/57/337). Members of permanent and observer missions were invited to participate, and Secretariat staff, representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), academia and the United Nations accredited media were invited to attend.
In an annex to General Assembly resolution 57/337, adopted without a vote on 3 July, the Assembly recognizes the important supporting role of civil society in the prevention of armed conflict, and invites it to continue to support efforts to prevent armed conflict and to pursue practices that foster a climate of peace, help to prevent or mitigate crisis situations and contribute to reconciliation.
The meeting is co-chaired by Assembly President Jan Kavan (Czech Republic) and Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Danilo Türk. Its principal goals are to: build on the momentum from the success of the General Assembly resolution on the prevention of armed conflict; explore how best to link the work of civil society in preventing armed conflict with the work of governments and the United Nations in that arena; offer substantive content for the missions to consider the core issues; and update Member States about the ongoing preparatory work for an international conference devoted to the role of civil society in conflict prevention, which is planned for 2005 at Headquarters in New York.
United Nations representatives and regional NGOs are expected to make opening statements and present regional reports. An interactive discussion and conclusions by the Assembly President will follow.
General Assembly President JAN KAVAN (Czech Republic) said that, by adopting the resolution on the prevention of armed conflict, the Assembly had recognized the important supporting role of civil society. The Assembly had invited it to continue to support related efforts and to pursue practices that fostered a climate of peace, helped prevent or mitigate crises and contributed to reconciliation. Those very concrete tasks had been specified and agreed upon consensually during the Assembly’s discussion, leading to the adoption of the text.
He said his intention in organizing today’s meeting was to give Member States an opportunity to concentrate on that important issue once more, to use the momentum from the success of the Assembly’s resolution and to explore interactively the future role of civil society in preventing conflict. He hoped that the views presented during the discussion would help participants to better understand the possibilities and to concretize future tasks.
Well aware of the fact that there were different views on the role of civil society in armed conflict prevention, he said he believed that “we are not here to blame each other, but to try to find solutions to help ourselves become more effective in our important task”. Member States were obliged by the United Nations Charter to prevent armed conflict. He hoped the discussion would provide new interesting ideas and recommendations, which would enable the United Nations to fulfil expectations and become more effective in preventing armed conflict.
DANILO TÜRK, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said the resolution adopted by the General Assembly represented a step forward in the long historic march towards the prevention of armed conflict. When the Secretary-General’s report on conflict prevention was presented in 2001, he knew that the relevant discussion would be lively and diverse, but not without difficulties. The 2001 report reaffirmed the principle of the primary responsibility of Member States for the prevention of armed conflict. At the same time, the role of the United Nations and its partners was also recognized.
Throughout the last century, the international community had developed a variety of mechanisms to help advance the idea of conflict prevention and make it more effective, he said. The United Nations, as an institution, had been created with the purpose of saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war. Other institutions, such as the European Union, had also developed an advanced and sophisticated set of norms that had been effective in the prevention of armed conflict. He saw such ideas advancing in other areas, as well, such as within the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the African Union and the Organization of American States (OAS). It was not a new idea for the United Nations or the international community at large.
What was new, he continued, was the sort of discussion begun today -- that of the role of civil society in the prevention of armed conflict. Non-governmental organizations very often offered important non-violent means to address conflicts. It was important to rely on the assistance of civil society organizations in organizing “track II” processes, which were often just as important as the intergovernmental process for conflict prevention and resolution. That partnership had not been systematically explored, and more discussion was required.
The 2001 report had recommended that NGOs that had an interest in conflict prevention consider organizing an international conference to discuss ways to assist in that area. That process had begun about 18 months ago. It was an important initiative, and the Secretariat would like to see it succeed as an inclusive and broad initiative. The name of the initiative -- Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict -- emphasized partnership between the United Nations, NGOs and other civil society actors. It was clear that the United Nations could not do everything itself, and partnership was a major requirement for success.
JAN EGELAND, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said that, in the post-cold war era, which was perhaps neither better nor worse than previous ones, it was more important than ever that the following three aspects go hand in hand -- governments, NGOs and intergovernmental organizations. He knew of no successful peace process where those three forces had not gone together. The United Nations could not do it on its own, nor could individual governments or alliances, or well meaning NGOs. Although it was dangerous to generalize too much since the peace processes in some African countries might be different from those in the Balkans or the Middle East, he had nevertheless distilled some basic lessons from his 10 peace processes.
He said his first lesson was that there would be no peace without the participation and the will of the parties and the populations involved. Peace could not be imposed by the outside, and, in that regard, civil society was fundamental. Peace could not be achieved with only the positive involvement of parties and movements; in today’s globalized world, peace required the active solidarity and support of the international community. He urged participants not to underestimate the real interests of the actors in a conflict. People were often fooled by the parties saying that their greatest wish was reconciliation and peace, when their interests were really tied to continued conflict.
The next lesson was the need to carefully define the goals, he said. The ultimate goal was peace, but there might be 50 or 60 steps along the way. Often, the process started with humanitarian confidence-building measures, whether an exchange of prisoners, the free passage of refugees, or the vaccination of children tied to a ceasefire agreement. Another lesson was the need for the alliances for peace to be heterogeneous, with strong powers and activist NGOs on your side. Most present-day conflicts were protracted and difficult to stop, and the “carrot and stick” approach required such a heterogeneous alliance. Flexible funding was also needed. In Norway, that had been called the “venture capital” for peace.
Also, he said that participants in peace processes should be willing to take risks, especially when approaching civil society. He urged involved parties to choose their role well, whether as facilitator, mediator or technical host. Non-governmental organizations were becoming increasingly effective as facilitators and mediators. Also important was to carefully plan how to treat the warlords and the conflict entrepreneurs. That was also a warning to civil society that asymmetrical power relationships must be treated with caution. Finally, he said implementation of agreements was crucial.
PAUL VAN TONGEREN, Executive Director of the European Centre for Conflict Prevention, said the Centre had been established about six years ago with three functions. The first function was networking. A European network had been established to identify who the key actors were in the field of conflict prevention. The Centre had 100 members in Europe. He was convinced that regional networking was crucial. The Centre also had a service and facilitating function. The Searching for Peace Programme was an initiative that had been developed recently, since it was important to make known local actors who were working for peace in conflict situations. Thirdly, the Centre played a convening role and organized international conferences on issues, such as lessons learned.
When the Centre saw the Secretary-General’s 2001 report, especially the chapter on the role of civil society, it was motivated to begin organizing the 2005 global conference on conflict prevention, because it was important to raise the profile of civil society organizations in peace processes, he said. The overall objective was to improve the response of civil society to preventing conflicts and to link it to what governments and international institutions were doing. Its goals were to explore fully the role of civil society groups, to strengthen regional networks, and to look for ways to improve interactions between civil society, governments and the United Nations. Conflict prevention was too large and too complex for one actor to do it alone.
He said the preparatory phase of the process leading to the conference had just concluded, and the second phase, which involved organizing regional conferences in some 12 regions, had begun. It was hoped that the regional conferences would have as broad participation as possible from governments and other actors. As to the outcome, the regional conferences would prepare draft regional action agendas, which would then be integrated at the end of next year into one global agenda. It was hoped that during that process, several regional networks would take shape and link up with each other.
ANDRES SERBIN, Coordinadora Regional de Investigaciones Economicas y Socialies (CRIES), Argentina, said that CRIES had carried out regional investigations of various subjects, on the basis of the participation of civil society. CRIES had launched initiatives, including research projects and public policy-making at the regional level. Joint work had been undertaken with governments and inter-governmental organizations from the region. Such initiatives had made CRIES a founding member of a broader network, known as “The Forum”. Overall, CRIES’ experience had prompted the view that, over the past 20 years, civil society at both national and regional levels had had a growing impact.
He said, for example, that new constitutions had been drawn up in Colombia and Venezuela, and cooperative had grown between governments and civil society groups in various public policy areas throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. The regional role played by civil society groups was also growing in a way that affected the entire hemisphere. Those organizations were also undertaking environmental studies, particularly in the Caribbean region. In the course of the past 20 years, however, priority had been given to economic and social topics, rather than to conflict prevention. There was a very limited tradition in Latin America in that connection, compared to other regions. Moreover, inter-State conflicts in that region were fewer in number and on the decline.
When addressing security issues, civil society organizations had approached that process from the context of human rights and democratization, he went on. Nevertheless, the 1980s inter-American organization for peace had looked at peace and development and had established a foundation for studying related issues. Civil society groups had also carried out studies, which had flagged the fact that regional inter-state conflict was on the decline. Transnational conflicts, however, had been growing in his region. That had led his and other civil society groups to undertake studies, leading to recommendations on conflict prevention.
RAYA KADYROVA, Foundation for Tolerance International, Kyrgyzstan, said that the Foundation had been established to help achieve the resolution of ethnic conflicts in Central Asia and worked in all five Central Asian nations. It implemented projects in partnership with other NGOs in the area. It was not only the largest NGO in the region but in the entire post-Soviet “space”. The Foundation was the first NGO in Central Asia dealing with conflict prevention.
She said that destabilizing factors in the region included the shortage of natural resources. Water and soil were the main causes of conflict. Territorial disputes, international terrorism and religious extremism were also among the causes. The region was also seeing an increase in arms flow, drug trafficking, mining of border territories, poverty and ethnic tensions.
The experiences of her organization, along with other NGOs in the region, demonstrated that problems were so complex that they were impossible to solve by one sector or organization. Experience showed that the expertise of civil society organizations was being more and more recognized. Also, conflicts in Central Asia required a regional approach and a regional solution. The Foundation also provided services in passive diplomacy, meaning that it offered its offices for meetings between officials from neighbouring States. Civil society should never substitute for state structures but work along with them.
EMMANUEL BOMBANDE, West Africa Network for Peace-building (WANEP), Ghana, said the Network was one of the civil society organizations working in various disciplines related to peace-building and the prevention of armed conflict. Its vision of West Africa was one where the dignity of the human being was paramount and where people held their destinies in their own hands. Since the civil war in Nigeria in the 1960s, most armed conflicts in Africa had been internal, spilling over borders into neighbouring countries and engulfing entire communities. The role of civil society was to understand the dynamics of those conflicts and to complement the role of State actors.
In that regard, he said civil society’s role had assumed increasing significance over the past decade. The WANEP had sought to coordinate civil society organizations, and there were some 300 persons working in the Member States of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). In 10 of them, there were full time coordinators, which enabled a pooling of efforts that, in turn, allowed for synergy between State and non-State actors. Certain core activities of the Network were anchored around key ECOWAS programmes, such as programmes to build capacity and good governance and improve early response mechanisms. Another programme sought to enhance the capacity of regional civil society groups to respond to conflicts. The active partnership with ECOWAS had allowed a civil society liaison office to be established in Abuja.
Many lessons had been learned from that cooperative process, including that the nature of conflicts today demanded that civil society organizations, which experienced daily the dynamics of conflicts, were able, in collaboration with State actors, ECOWAS and the United Nations system, to deal comprehensively with conflict. In States on the verge of collapse, such as Liberia, the role of civil society had been to take the vacuum created by the conflict and raise the moral stakes, including through the engagement of women, who had prompted international intervention. Another example had occurred in vibrant and functional Ghana, where inter-clan conflict in the north had threatened the modern political system. Civil society had facilitated a dialogue of all of the actors involved to define a framework for peace there.
MARY ANDERSON, President of Collaborative for Development Action, said that due to the huge variety of conflicts, the ways to prevent them also varied widely. To do conflict prevention, it was necessary to look at what was driving it and who was preventing the conflict from escalating. On lessons learned, she said there was information on those NGOs involved in conflict prevention.
Also, the provision of development assistance by itself did not reduce conflict. There was no reason why international assistance agencies should exacerbate conflict through the provision of assistance. She had also looked at those NGOs who did explicit conflict prevention work. While conflict was complicated, there was no “automaticity” in the way that it all added up. What was required was a strategic analysis of each individual conflict. International actors were in a good position to make that happen with local counterparts.
She said people worked at two levels -- at the individual level and at the socio-political level. Work that stayed at the individual level and was never linked to the socio-political level simply did no good for peace in the larger sense. Civil society represented one nexus where policies, such as those adopted at the United Nations, could be translated into action. That was why strategic linkages were important.
ALDO MANTOVANI (Italy), on behalf of the European Union and associated countries, said that resolution 337 was a “real landmark”. It would give new impetus to the shared commitment to improving the effectiveness of the United Nations system and help it to focus on policy issues, rather than only on emergency actions. Today’s meeting was a valuable follow-up. The Union was convinced that civil society and non-State actors played an important role in preventing armed conflicts. NGOs had been particularly active in areas such curbing the circulation of small arms and light weapons, and they were key actors in long-term conflict prevention.
He said that societies -- where good governance and the rule of law were applied and where political institutions were strong; where civil and political rights were fully recognized; where participation in electoral processes was guaranteed; and where human rights, freedom of expression and independent media were respected -- were undoubtedly less exposed to conflict potential. The protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms were crucial components of societal development, and contributed to conflict prevention. The same could be said where there were strong economic institutions and a stable and thriving economy, and where there was a democratic and democratically accountable security sector.
The Union was currently implementing an annual programme for the prevention of violent conflicts, he said. In that framework, it supported the work of NGOs and non-State actors in various regions of the world, in the conviction that their activities could foster a climate of peace, help prevent or mitigate crises, and contribute to reconciliation. As part of its support to civil society, the European Commission provided extensive assistance to initiatives by and/or for women in developing countries, particularly in Africa. A gender perspective was paramount, not only in emergency operations, but also in crisis prevention.
Responding to questions and comments by various delegations, including whether there was a compendium of experience about the contributions of civil society to conflict prevention and how the United Nations system could play a greater role in engaging civil society, Mr. EGELAND said that the enormous collection of literature on peace experiences and civil society involvement was not necessarily available to those who needed it in the field. And, those in the middle of the peace processes had little time to think and did not know about available “toolboxes” or experiences. Peace research institutions and universities were addressing ways of getting the information out to the people who needed it, including sending people directly to conflict areas for that specific purpose.
He said the United Nations had gone through a bit of an internal/cultural revolution over the last 10 years. In most countries he had visited, there was close cooperation between civil society and NGOs and some United Nations partners. That, however, could be more systematic, innovative, and creative, and could reach out more. His experience in Colombia had been that there was an enormously rich involvement of civil society, with thousands of registered NGOs, many of them doing “marvelously”.
Mr. TONGEREN added that, some years ago, a programme of searching for peace had begun, which had described conflicts concisely and had provided literature about them, including on the involvement of civil society locally in those conflicts. A book would soon be published on conflicts in south-east East Asia and the Pacific. He had learned a lot from its draft chapters. He added that he was glad to hear about the European Union's support of the engagement of civil society in conflict prevention.
Mr. TÜRK, addressing the issue of creating a compendium of civil society organizations, said that such a compendium could contribute greatly to conflict prevention. In that regard, a book on organizations in the Asia/Pacific region involved in conflict prevention, prepared by the Japan Centre for Conflict Prevention, had served as a resource for his Department.
As to what the United Nations could do to better engage civil society, he said the Secretary-General had been asked to prepare and submit to the Assembly a comprehensive report next year, which addressed some of the issues not fully explored in the 2001 report. Questions relating to civil society should be developed more, and civil society organizations should assist the Secretariat with ideas and concerns to be included in the report.
As to how to improve cooperation between civil society organizations and the Security Council, in particular, he noted the need to develop information and communication technologies between civil society organizations and the Council in the area of conflict prevention.
He added that, as mentioned by one speaker, sometimes civil society organizations were part of the problem. For example, in some conflict situations, it was civil society organizations that spread hate propaganda. In such situations, it was necessary to engage directly with those groups.
Asked how development assistance could actually exacerbate conflict, Ms. ANDERSON replied that one way was when aid was expropriated for conflict purposes, such as when food aid was stolen and distributed to armed groups. The onus on international assistance agencies was to figure out who was using what resources for what purposes. Also, every kind of international assistance had market effects, which could exacerbate existing tensions. In addition, some people received assistance and some did not. There were clear ways to address that issue to avoid being perceived as supporting one group or another.
On preparations for the 2005 conference, Mr. TONGEREN said that work had begun on drafting a list of key organizations in the various regions and sharing them with each of the regions. Key organizations had been identified in several regions, and follow-up meetings would be held to bring together key organizations. The success of the conference could be measured not only in having the participation of key regional organizations but to have, in 2005, the support of governments in partnership with regional organizations leading to fruitful cooperation.
He added that relations between the United Nations and civil society organizations was one of the main issues to be discussed in the regional preparatory meetings. Research was being conducted on interaction between the United Nations and civil society, and that would be one of the inputs to the 2005 conference.
On the issue of small arms and light weapons, Ms. KADYROVA highlighted a study on the issue, covering the sources of such weapons and why people, such as teachers and doctors, needed those weapons. Citizens stated that they would not exchange weapons for money since they needed the weapons to defend themselves in case of conflict. They would not exchange them until they were reassured that they would be protected in case of conflict. She noted that the way to compel them to give up their weapons was to aim to resolve conflicts without resorting to violence.
Commenting on relations between the United Nations and civil society organizations, she said that, from her own country’s experience, certain types of activities done by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) could be carried out by local NGOs. Resources, both human and financial, were not being effectively utilized as local staff was not as expensive as international staff. Also, local staff could carry out programmes more effectively and be better received by the local population.
The United Nations, she added, could serve as a “good bridge” between civil society and governments, since there was still a lack of a culture of partnership between governments and civil society. Most governments saw civil society as a threat rather than as partners.
Several additional points were raised by delegates, including that not all NGOs and civil society groups necessarily contributed positively to conflict prevention and post-conflict stabilization. Given that civil society, especially in crisis areas, required the support of others outside the region, it was necessary to strike a proper ratio between regional and local ownership of the process on the one side, and global ownership on the other.
Also important, the delegate said, was to follow up the needs of local and regional populations. Sometimes their ideas were better than those designed in the international laboratories. Also, timing was critical, and no one knew that timing better than the parties concerned. The international community, one delegate asserted, came either too early or too late to make a real impact. So, it was crucial to listen to the voices in the region.
Another delegate highlighted the importance of NGOs and civil society in the work of the Security Council. The Assembly had dealt “very poorly” with conflict prevention and, thus, should consider establishing a mechanism, perhaps a working group, to enable it to have a systematic impact on that question.
Among the additional comments made by NGO representatives, one said that the General Assembly’s resolution had opened the door to a new way of working towards conflict prevention and had taken seriously the commitment of State actors in that regard. Civil society organizations wished to respond to those commitments.
In response, Mr. BOMBANDE agreed that it was crucial that civil society organizations make themselves credible. In that regard, he had been advocating that civil society actors should not be political appendages. It was not right to operate as a civil society group and also be active in a political party. That confused the issue.
Also critical was the need to listen to the voices of the local populations, he said. One aspect of the linkages in the partnerships was how international experiences were informed by the local dynamics. In that collaborative effort, civil society organizations were a positive force.
Mr. SERBIN called for the promotion of “internationalized places” where civil society groups, NGOs and governments could interact.
Adding to the comments made by Mr. Bombande, Ms. ANDERSON said the question was how to decide which local voices to listen to. Not all were engaged in conflict prevention. Some were engaged in conflict pursuit.
In closing remarks, Mr. TÜRK said that a decision had already been made to form an interdepartmental group within the United Nations to work with the Steering Committee of NGOs. In terms of the “poor” performance of the General Assembly in that regard, it should consider using Article 14 of the Charter, which gave it the power to raise any question it felt might impair friendly relations among States, and to recommend appropriate measures. Perhaps the time had come to revert to past discussions on that article.
Mr. KAVAN stressed that this morning’s discussion had made clear that interactive dialogue “does work”. Those who participated in the panel discussion on Afghanistan last year would agree that such illuminating discussions should be pursued and taken into consideration. Participants need not be worried about raising controversial or sensitive questions, as had been done today. Such discussions could not only refresh the thinking, but help everyone to see the problem from many different angles. Going forward, that would enable the “actors” to better understand the issues and help equip themselves to deal with them as efficiently as possible.
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