At last week’s NATO Summit, world leaders discussed the country in which the alliance has had its longest-running military operation: Afghanistan. In Brussels, the country was seen as a global security challenge; Britain announced it would double its troops there. But away from the cameras, 4,000 miles away, in Mecca, a town that unites Muslims across the world, something unprecedented was happening in Afghanistan’s four decades of near-constant war. One hundred religious scholars, or ulema, from across political parties, sects and ethnicities — from those hailing from the hinterlands often controlled by the Taliban to non-Pashtu minorities — met in a safe location to discuss one thing: peace.
For more than a decade and a half, Western powers have sent their militaries to fight the Taliban and solve the plight of Afghanistan. But it is clear that soldiers cannot create a civil society. Peace and nation-building go hand-in-hand. Without young Afghans having an inclusive and collective cultural context or access to schooling, job prospects and resources with which to marry and build their own life, it becomes easier for society to break down and those on the fringes to become easy pickings for radicalization.