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How $5 Billion Could Build Peace and End America’s Longest War

Words: Bridget Moix
Pictures: Darío Martínez-Batlle

The US has signed a long-awaited agreement with the Taliban to end the 18-year conflict in Afghanistan. But the deal won’t succeed unless long-term, locally led peacebuilding efforts in Afghanistan can flourish – and those efforts need funding. The Afghanistan peace agreement has opened an important window to shift away from militarized approaches that have failed to deliver peace and instead focus support on the critical work of strengthening societal relations, improving civilian governance, ensuring protection for the rights of women and minorities, and addressing the root causes of violence at the local level – where it matters most.

Plenty of these locally led peacebuilding efforts are already underway. Organizations like the Afghan Women’s Network, with more than 3,500 members and 125 organizations working to advance women’s issues and reduce gender-based violence, demonstrate the power of local action at work in Afghanistan. The Afghan Civil Society Forum works to ensure the inclusion of civil society in peacebuilding, reconciliation and democratic governance efforts. And groups like the Afghanistan Justice Organization are helping to strengthen the rule of law and governance accountability to bolster the chances for enduring peace. Peace Direct has supported and mapped local peacebuilding efforts in Afghanistan.

But these efforts need resources to succeed. Funding for preventing war and building peace continues to be a tiny portion of overall US foreign assistance. Just as peace is within sight, ending two decades of war, the Trump administration has proposed a budget that slashes foreign aid by 21 percent, which could seriously hinder humanitarian, development and peacebuilding efforts. Fortunately, a new bill in the House would take one step toward correcting that misplaced proposal by providing much-needed funding to peacebuilding efforts worldwide, including in places like Afghanistan.

Increasingly, policymakers are recognizing that pouring billions more into endless war is not a strategy for success.

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., recently introduced HR 5948, the Global Peacebuilding Act of 2020. The legislation would authorize a transfer of $5 billion from the Pentagon’s Overseas Contingency Operations fund to a newly created Global Peacebuilding Fund to invest in “multilateral, public-private, or locally led civil society peacebuilding initiatives.”

Moving $5 billion out of the Pentagon’s budget and into peacebuilding is a smart investment in global security. Increasingly, policymakers are recognizing that pouring billions more into endless war is not a strategy for success. Pentagon officials like Gen. Tony Zinni, former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and Adm. Mike Mullen have urged greater investments in the civilian tools of diplomacy and peacebuilding to find lasting solutions to the complex conflicts facing the US and the world.

Smart investments in peacebuilding projects such as Radio AZAD 97.8, which broadcasts independent voices on themes such as social change, human empowerment and sustainable peace, help build the conditions needed for sustainable peace in Afghanistan. Other peacebuilding measures, such as local peace councils and facilitated dialogues between local religious and community leaders, resolve more local land disputes and small-scale armed conflicts than formal systems. In order for a broader deal to succeed, grassroots peacebuilding efforts in Afghanistan must be set up for success.

The Global Peacebuilding Act would take an important step in realigning American foreign policy to focus on getting ahead of the greatest global security challenges to come, including rising levels of violence, hate and polarization. The legislation affirms a future vision of US foreign policy defined by multilateral cooperation, locally led peacebuilding and innovation in the face of these challenges.

The bill is simple and straightforward in its message: War isn’t working. Peacebuilding can.

The United States can and should help secure the Afghan political peace deal for the long term by providing more funding for locally led peacebuilding. By passing the Global Peacebuilding Act, Congress could take the lead in ending America’s longest war and preventing its next one.

Bridget Moix is the US Executive Director of Peace Direct, an international nonprofit dedicated to working with local communities to stop violence and build long-term peace.

Bridget Moix

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