Peace in Afghanistan

Afghan media gearing up for peace

After 19 years with continuous conflict a peace agreement in Afghanistan appears to be imminent. Journalists need to exercise extreme caution at this very critical juncture

Both Afghan and international media are closely watching as the USA and Taliban are expected to formally sign a peace agreement on Saturday February 29. After 19 years with continuous conflict this is real news – but news that also serve as a reminder of the pivotal role media plays in societies marred by unrest.

Afghan journalists need to exercise extreme caution at this very critical juncture.

While there have been unprecedented breakthroughs in the peace talks with the Taliban, political disputes in Kabul surrounding the results of presidential elections has taken the country to new heights of political turmoil. Both two top contenders, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, considered themselves winners of the elections. Their lack of agreement over the results of the elections, held in September 2019, divided the country along ethnic and political lines, creating a very unfortunate impetus for a new round of civil war.

And although no ink has dried yet on any peace agreement with the Taleban, it is likely that such an agreement will be followed by intra-Afghanistan peace talks. In such a political climate, the role media can play in escalating or de-escalating political tensions and conflict is critical.

There have been numerous examples in history where unprofessional media has fueled political tensions and conflict, at times causing death of thousands of people – The Kenyan presidential elections in 2007, the Rwandan genocide in 1994 to name but a few.

Afghanistan has many similarities with other conflict-affected countries: It is a multi-ethnic society, governed by a fragile state. Add to that the fact that Taliban control more territory than at any time since 2001 and the human toll from two decades of fighting; tens of thousands of civilians have been killed and injured and around 2.5 million Afghans are registered as refugees abroad, with another two million displaced within the country. Additionally, two million widows are struggling to make a living.

Thankfully, Afghanistan enjoys a vibrant media scene. It has been ranked as the country with the greatest level of press freedom in the entire region and the achievements in the realm of press freedom and freedom of expression are considered as two of the greatest development achievements of the post-2001 era.

Now is the time for Afghan journalists to seize the moment and demonstrate their professionalism by remaining conflict sensitive and vigilant to the principles of fair journalism. Afghan media have an opportunity to use their platforms so that peaceful communication is encouraged and enhanced between the contending parties.

Media can bridge misconception and help alleviate tensions by refusing to provide space for figures that incite hate and fuel divisions and prejudices.

IMS and Afghan Journalists Safety Committee are currently arranging a series of talks with Afghan editors and media workers on the important role of professional media in a fragile situation.

Look here for more information about IMS’ work in the country.