The Many Talibans of Afghanistan: Mapping Peace, Violence and Power using Everyday Peace Indicators

Ms. Eliza Urwin

How do locals understand and measure peace in the villages of Eastern Afghanistan? How can this knowledge assist in the design of peacebuilding initiatives, and also inform our understanding of their success? The increasing academic focus on bottom-up approaches to peace emphasizes local, contextual understandings of peace and conflict dynamics, but we struggle to elicit this contextual knowledge, and struggle further to scale it. This paper outlines a community-centered, participatory research approach - Everyday Peace Indicators (EPI)- that was carried out in eighteen villages of Eastern Afghanistan. The goal of the research was to develop a better understanding of what metrics or indicators were being used by villagers to assess their security needs, and to measure the hard-to-define concept of peace. In other words, what indicators – consciously or unconsciously - does the average villager look to, in order to understand whether peace is increasing or diminishing in their community? Research findings were over 1,800 indicators in the form of micro-narratives that demonstrated significant sub-provincial variation in how civilians were interacting with violent actors –the state, the Taliban and ISIS– with varying implications for local peacebuilding. We found that the Taliban are not systematic in their enforcement of rules and have a wide range of civilian interactions that vary in levels of tolerance across villages. We also find that there is no strict split between government and Taliban goods and services; governance in Afghanistan can consist of a hybrid combination, with government and Taliban sometimes working together to provide services. This broad variation across villages informs local entry points for peacebuilding, but also supports academic arguments that highlight the importance of micro-level contextualization. The paper briefly explains the EPI methodology, detailing how it was carried out in Afghanistan . Next, we present research findings, discussing how results and approaches to peacebuilding differ when local communities are permitted to define both the issues and indicators themselves. Finally, we explore the issue of scalability, presenting how this research has been scaled in the context of Colombia, Sri Lanka and Tunisia.