Heela Najibullah – Social Healing

In College, I had come across a proverb by an unknown monk from 1100 A.D. that said, “When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world. I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation. When I found I couldn’t change the nation, I began to focus on my town. I couldn’t change the town and as an older man, I tried to change my family. Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realize that if long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family. My family and I could have made an impact on our town. Their impact could have changed the nation and I could indeed have changed the world.” I printed the saying and posted it on my door for I was struck with the wisdom of the Monk and kept thinking at age 20, how do his words apply to me?

From a very young age, I was exposed to world affairs and global politics because I was born into a political family in Afghanistan. My country was the battlefield of the superpowers in the Cold War and the atmosphere was filled with mistrust, violence, uncertainty and also a desire for peace. It was at age 10 that I came across the word ‘reconciliation’ when the Afghan government had introduced its policy of National Reconciliation to find a durable solution to the ongoing conflict in the country. However, the hope of a peaceful Afghanistan remained an unfulfilled vision while the country went through the civil war, killing, maiming and uprooting hundreds and thousands of people including my own family.

The urge to write about reconciliation was due to personal loss. Both my uncle and father were killed and hung by the Taliban in September 1996 and the violent, inhumane act turned my family and I into silent observers. I had decided then to better understand the reasons why my loved ones were killed and what happened that fateful night.

The journey to find the truth gave me the opportunity to engage myself in an intellectual exercise and gain better knowledge of Afghan politics, culture and history.

The journey to find the truth gave me the opportunity to engage myself in an intellectual exercise and gain better knowledge of Afghan politics, culture and history. However, it was not until I started studying Transrational Peace Philosophy that I became conscious of the fact that like many other individuals from war-torn countries, I also belonged to a traumatized society and that my search for truth is linked to my own personal traumas.

Turning “the gaze inwards” is the main philosophy of Transrational Peace research – Professor Wolfgang Dietrich writes in his book Interpretation of Peace in History and Culture. With this, I decided to write my MA thesis about the reconciliation processes in Afghanistan. During my research I came across the concept of social healing by many peace researchers and scholars that drew my attention, one of those being Prof. John Paul Lederach.

Lederach and Lederach explain in their book When Blood and Bones Cry Out, the concept of social healing “as an intermediary phenomenon located between micro individual healing and wider collective reconciliation… it deals with wounds created by conflict, collective trauma, and large scale oppression.”

The process of writing my thesis was yet another opportunity to examine my past wounds and seek healing. I understood that the painful experiences life had offered me were unique and by owning and voicing those experiences, through the writing process, I was able to put in practice the concept of social healing for myself. As Jalaluddin Rumi says, “The wound is the place where the light enters you.”
My book analyzes the Afghan reconciliation processes through the lenses of the Transrational Peace Philosophy and Elicitive Conflict Transformation. The research highlights two Afghan governments’ reconciliation processes in 1986 and 2010 and underlines the political events that shaped the 1986 National Reconciliation Policy, drawing lessons for future processes. I point out the historical and geopolitical patterns indicating regional and global stakeholders’ involvement in Afghan politics. I conclude that social healing through a middle-out approach is the missing and yet crucial component to achieve sustainable reconciliation in Afghanistan.

Almost twenty years after putting up the Monk’s proverb on my door, I see how his words have applied to my life journey especially in my process of writing my book.

It goes without saying that the Afghan conflict is multilayered; therefore, a sustainable reconciliation in the country must consider not only a political approach but also a social and economic one. The Afghan reconciliation processes have usually been top-down approaches initiated by the Afghan government. However, it is important to highlight that none of the peace deals, accords and negotiations from the Cold War era up until now have ended the conflict in Afghanistan. This is mainly because of the involvement of regional and global actors in Afghan politics. Nevertheless, the peace research done to write my book, Reconciliation and Social Healing in Afghanistan, which is based on my MA thesis, allowed me to decipher the fact that a signature on paper can be useful when it is translated into action. Therefore, a political process to end the conflict through signing accords will succeed when it accompanies social healing instruments to link the individual to the greater social and political vision of reconciliation.

In other words, I conclude in my book that sustainable reconciliation in Afghanistan needs social healing instruments to connect the Afghans from a micro level to their larger motives and desires for peace. Ensuring that reconciliation in my country becomes a people-driven process involving Afghans at grassroots as well as middle-range levels.

Almost twenty years after putting up the Monk’s proverb on my door, I see how his words have applied to my life journey especially in my process of writing my book. I see the importance of social healing in making reconciliation a step closer to Afghans as a possibility to change oneself in order to change one’s nation and the world around us.

Image Sources:

  • Featured Image: © Masoud Popalzai
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