House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee Inquiry: Government policy on Afghanistan

About Peace Direct

  1. This submission has been prepared by Peace Direct, a UK based international NGO dedicated to supporting locally-led efforts to stop violent conflict and build sustainable peace. Local voices and approaches are at the heart of all our work, which encompasses three core areas:
  2. Peace Direct is a registered charity in England and Wales, charity number 1123241. For more information please see www.peacedirect.org.


  1. Peace Direct welcomes this opportunity to submit evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) on the UK government’s policy on Afghanistan. Ever since Sunday 15th August 2021, when the Taliban declared that Afghanistan was under its control, Peace Direct has continued to monitor the situation as it develops in close communication with Afghan civil society networks (unnamed in this submission in order to preserve their anonymity).
  2. Peace Direct was motivated to make this submission through its solidarity with local peacebuilders, human rights defenders, community activists and the communities they serve, who are working tirelessly for a peaceful and stable Afghanistan.[2] We also seek to address a perceived gap in the current political response and media coverage of the crisis. While there has been an understandable focus on the evacuation from Kabul and the national humanitarian response, there has been too little emphasis on the importance of grassroots and local civil society efforts - particularly by women, girls and youth - in responding to conflict and generating and maintaining sustainable peace. We sincerely hope the FAC can help to redress this gap by raising the voices of local actors through this inquiry.
  3. Our submission is based on Peace Direct’s monitoring of the situation in Afghanistan, communication with local actors, particularly women’s networks, and our broader research and experience of working with local organisations in fragile and conflict-affected countries.[3]

Locally-led peacebuilding

  1. Peace Direct defines locally-led efforts as ‘initiatives owned and led by people in their own contexts’. This definition, developed by Peace Direct almost ten years ago, has recently been adopted by the UK international development network, Bond, and its members as the working definition for locally-led development. Peace Direct views ‘locally-led efforts’ in terms of the relationships, agency and power structures of the participants, not in terms of geographic location. This definition draws a distinction with activities that are in fact ‘locally-implemented’ or ‘locally-managed’, where the priorities, approach and/or strategic direction are driven by external actors. Locally-led efforts tend to have the following characteristics. They:
  2. Peace Direct believes that supporting locally-led peacebuilding is not only the moral and ethical thing to do; it is also the most cost-effective, impactful and sustainable approach to addressing conflict and fragility.  The participation of grassroots, local, national and international actors is key to creating sustainable peace; however, grassroots and local voices are too often neglected (or even in a best-case scenario under-represented).
  3. Peace Direct believes that local people need to be at the centre of defining and driving peacebuilding in their communities and countries for it to be truly sustainable. Peacebuilding strategies designed with deep knowledge of specific context and cultures are more likely to have a positive and lasting impact. This is because local actors experience conflict on a day-to-day basis, live with its consequences and best understand the dynamics at play.[5]
  4. Local peacebuilding also has a role to play in the prevention of genocide and mass atrocities. Local actors are best positioned to see the signs of potential mass violence: they are closest to sources of information and the first to witness emerging patterns. They are more able to take preventive actions, including engaging in dialogue with all parties to the conflict, drawing on existing inter-faith or inter-ethnic relationships, and activating networks to monitor and document abuses. [6]
  5. Although locally-led peacebuilding has gained more attention and traction in recent years, a radical shift is needed in the international sector to remove barriers to local leadership and create an environment where local peacebuilders are genuinely respected, heard and supported.

What are the humanitarian and human rights implications of the Taliban takeover? How can the UK support those at risk – particularly women and girls – both in the immediate and longer term?

  1. Peace Direct is deeply concerned about the safety of peacebuilders, activists, human rights defenders and civil society – particularly women, girls and youth - in Afghanistan at this time, who are courageously working to protect their rights and democratic space in the aftermath of the takeover.[7] As well as the increased risk of being targeted under Taliban leadership, women and youth-led organisations are also more likely to bear the burden of increased humanitarian needs and human rights concerns. Urgent measures must be taken to ensure that the rights, education and safety of women, girls and youth are protected, both now and in the weeks and months to come.
  2. In keeping with its 2019 cross-government ‘Leave No One Behind Promise’,[8] as well as commitments in its national action plan on Women, Peace and Security[9] and Integrated Review,[10] the UK government, coordinated by FCDO, should prioritise the protection and defence of local peacebuilders, civil society and human rights defenders throughout its diplomatic and development objectives for Afghanistan. In particular, it should prioritise both direct and indirect support to women and youth peacebuilders, in full recognition of their transformative potential for building sustainable peace.
  3. In addition, the UK government should find ways to courageously, rapidly and flexibly fund local efforts to protect Afghan civil society to: address immediate humanitarian needs; support local actors to continue their work and adapt to the continually changing context; and enable a longer-term defence of human rights, peacebuilding and community protection.
  4. The UK government should also use its diplomatic influence through multilateral bodies including the United Nations (in particular the Security Council), its coordinated diplomacy with allied governments, and its bilateral talks with the Taliban to ensure that women and youth-led civil society organisations, peacebuilders and human rights defenders are able to move freely and safely throughout the country and receive funds to sustain their work.[11] This is especially relevant in the immediate term given local CSOs are reporting a situation where bank accounts are being frozen and they are not able to access resources.
  5. In its talks with Taliban leaders, the UK government should urge them to uphold commitments to peace and respect for human rights for all, including women, youth and minorities. At the same time, the UK should meet and expand its own commitments to refugees and displaced people from Afghanistan, with explicit measures to meet the specific resettlement needs of civil society leaders, peacebuilders and human rights defenders – particularly women, girl and youth.[12]

What should the UK’s objectives be in its relationship with Afghanistan? How should these be prioritised, and what trade-offs should be made to achieve them? What does the withdrawal from Afghanistan mean for future UK foreign policy, and the strategic approach to overseas aid?

  1. For years, civil society actors have called on the UK, as well as the USA and the wider international community, to rethink its approach to security and shift away from overly-militarised approaches that have demonstrably failed to ensure peace and protect human rights around the world.[13] The withdrawal from Afghanistan after twenty years of conflict, and the recent Taliban takeover, have brought into sharp relief the failure of the hegemonic approach to counterterrorism, state fragility and insecurity, which has focused too often on military action and externally-driven intervention rather than supporting locally-led, inclusive approaches to deliver sustainable development, human rights and peace.
  2. Learning the lessons from the recent crisis, we call on the UK government to fundamentally shift its foreign policy approach towards Afghanistan to both recognise and prioritise the role of civil society in bringing about and sustaining peace. Any future international development programmes supported by the UK government in Afghanistan must involve local communities from the outset and at each stage of implementation. The impact of Afghan peacebuilders in particular women, girls and youth - must be recognised, their activities supported, and communities protected. The UK government should also support local peacebuilding structures and as part of this effort engage with religious and tribal leaders.
  3. More broadly, the UK government’s overall approach to defence, diplomacy and development should take into account the lessons learned from the failure of the previous twenty years in Afghanistan. The new International Development Strategy (IDS) must centre the role of local people and communities - especially women, girls and youth - as fundamental to building sustainable peace in conflict settings and put this understanding into effect throughout its multilateral and bilateral diplomacy and international development approach. Civil society should be placed at the heart of the IDS as well as the upcoming FCDO strategic approach to conflict, both of which should find ways to directly fund and support local peacebuilding organisations.
  4. We also urge UK parliamentarians, in particular the members of the FAC, to meet with local peacebuilders and civil society and in collaboration with them to advance a new narrative and approach towards shared security, centred on sustainable peace and human rights, which actively builds on lessons learned by the international community in Afghanistan. Through all these efforts, parliamentarians should reach out to, listen, and engage with actors working in-country in Afghanistan when agreeing a way forward.

For further information, please contact Kit Dorey, UK Policy & Advocacy Manager, Peace Direct (kit.dorey@peacedirect.org).






October 2021



[1] Peace Insight. www.peaceinsight.org

[2] Peace Direct (2020), In solidarity with the people of Afghanistan. https://www.peacedirect.org/solidarity-afghanistan/; Mirikian, V. and Paige, S. (2020). Recognize, fund and support Afghan peacebuilders now. The Hill. https://thehill.com/opinion/international/568530-recognize-fund-and-support-afghan-peacebuilders-now

[3] For example: Vernon, P (2019). ‘Local peacebuilding: what works and why’. Peace Direct and Alliance for Peacebuilding. https://www.peacedirect.org/us/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2019/07/PD-Local-Peacebuilding-Report-v2.pdf

[4] Peace Direct (2020). Towards locally-led peacebuilding: Defining ‘local’. https://www.peacedirect.org/publications/towards-locally-led-peacebuilding-defining-local/

[5] Vernon, P. (June 2019). ‘Local peacebuilding: what works and why’. Peace Direct and Alliance for Peacebuilding. https://www.peacedirect.org/us/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2019/07/PD-Local-Peacebuilding-Report-v2.pdf

[6] Peace Direct (2018). Atrocity Prevention and Peacebuilding. https://www.peacedirect.org/publications/atrocity-prevention-consultation/

[7] For example: A Kabul Resident (2021). “An Afghan women in Kabul: ‘Now I have to burn everything I achieved’”. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/aug/15/an-afghan-woman-in-kabul-now-i-have-to-burn-everything-i-achieved

[8] UK government (2015). Leaving no one behind: Our promise. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/leaving-no-one-behind-our-promise/leaving-no-one-behind-our-promise

[9] UK government (2018). UK national action plan on women, peace and security 2018 to 2022. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-national-action-plan-on-women-peace-and-security-2018-to-2022

[10] UK government (2020). Global Britain in a competitive age: the Integrated Review of Security, Defense, Development and Foreign Policy. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/975077/Global_Britain_in_a_Competitive_Age-_the_Integrated_Review_of_Security__Defence__Development_and_Foreign_Policy.pdf

[11] For example: ICAN (2021). Humanitarian response to Afghanistan must do no harm. https://icanpeacework.org/2021/09/29/humanitarian-response-to-afghanistan-must-not-do-harm/

[12] For background: Commons Library (2021). Afghanistan: Refugees and displaced people in 2021. https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-9296/

[13] For example: The Ammerdown Group (2016). Rethinking Security: a discussion paper. https://rethinkingsecurityorguk.files.wordpress.com/2016/10/rethinking-security-a-discussion-paper.pdf