NATO supports dialogue between Allied military cadets and Afghan citizens
Over the last three years, military personnel from Allied nations and civilians from Afghanistan have been involved in a direct dialogue meant to facilitate communication between people from differing cultural backgrounds. This project was financed through the NATO Science for Peace and Security Programme (SPS) and ended in December 2017.
The underlying idea of this activity has been that the success of military operations is heavily dependent on two inter-related factors, namely civilian support for those operations and the ability of officers, soldiers and mission planners to understand, build trust and effectively communicate with populations in operational theatres.
The interactions between the people concerned were facilitated by trained professionals in divisive issues related to personal and cultural identity and understanding. The facilitators helped them to navigate complex communications across different cultures and supported them in effectively communicating with one another. These dialogues were dynamic, happened in real time through video conferences and before soldiers deployed in theatre. They relied on cost-effective methods to train participants in better understanding within-group cultural differences.
Dialogue has proved to be an effective method for improved communication with Allied soldiers in Afghanistan. One colonel in the United States Army affirmed that it is “essential that my young cadets have the opportunity to speak directly with civilians in these facilitated dialogues. They need this experience.” When asked for an overall assessment of his dialogue, one Italian participant concluded the following: “In my opinion the most significant moment was when the Afghans told us that the thing they needed most was to have a closer and more direct dialogue with the military forces that are in Afghanistan. It was a revelation… This dialogue will influence my future decisions.” A cadet from the Netherlands noted that he felt more self-assured and self-confident after the dialogue and added that he wanted to use this experience to “avoid making stupid mistakes in the field.” A French Air Force participant stated that he was especially satisfied with the experience because he “was able to talk about everything without any restriction, including topics like terrorism, war, corruption, and women's rights. This was a great experience and we highly recommend it.”
The response has been equally positive among Afghan civilians. As one young man stated, “this has direct consequences for my future and my safety and so I want to be involved in these dialogues and know what NATO soldiers are thinking.” Female participants in Afghanistan were especially motivated to participate. One stated that the “conversations with NATO gave me hope that we can bring peace to my country.” Another young woman noted that the dialogues were a critical source of empowerment for her and her female colleagues.
The Science for Peace and Security (SPS) Programme promotes dialogue and practical cooperation between NATO member states and partner nations based on scientific research, technological innovation and knowledge exchange. This research project was directed by experts from the United States and Afghanistan. The NATO country co-director of the project, Dr Samuel Richards, is the Director of Development at Penn State University’s World in Conversation Center for Public Diplomacy (WinC). The NATO partner country co-director, Rafi Nadiri, manages the Herat office of the Afghanistan Independent Bar Association (AIBA).