To give Afghanistan a future it is essential to give its people, its many peoples and heritages a sense of a future. A future of peace and generosity to embrace. This essence is not a surprising or radical, revolutionary insight. Maybe better it is not! Revolutionary views and processes have for many decades after all, not helped to bring such a peaceful future, clearly not a lasting peace for all.
What do peoples and nations need for such a peace and generosity to embrace as their futures? We know that many nations and peoples know it. They need seven essentials:
The statesman who ‘built’ modern Europe, Jacque Delors, said in December 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell: “In the life of nations, in the life of their leaders, luck sometimes helps, but courage always’. Therefore, these first six fundamentals depend on courage, and that last one on chance, in being blessed by circumstances. Let us deepen the understanding of all of these 7 essentials.
Cooperation is a cultural phenomenon in social attitudes. It demands a certain spirit to blossom. Time to listen, for instance. Preparation of decision making. A will then to look for balance and equilibrium in complex situations and questions. This succeeds when all who are involved and responsible for cooperation respect each other, accept each other as valuable for the common good. Respect does not imply or expect ‘you must agree with everybody else’. Agreement to disagree very often is a sign of mutual respect and acceptance.
Cooperation therefore is never ‘quick and dirty’, always somewhat time-consuming. It is seldom the easy way out and mostly hard work. And it is the opposite of a zero-sum game. A culture of cooperation cannot coexist with that view of the world as such a game. The reason is clear. In a zero-sum game there is only ‘I win, you lose’ or ‘you win and I die. Therefore, cooperation can only exist and blossom when respect is the key attitude. Respect is not uniformity, on the contrary. It is only really effective when it touches and involves variety, differences, diversity and even conflict. Because then it is essential for finding means of cooperation instead of means of domination, let alone the hegemony of forced uniformity.
A culture of cooperation presupposes an attitude of respect. Peoples and nations can only cooperate, work together in very practical and spiritual senses when they have respect for each other and see their mutual acceptance as their own interest. In cooperation as a culture, it is in the interest of all the partners to do well, flourish and lead lives in peace and harmony.
So, respect and cooperation work by looking for a common ground. This is often called ‘consensuses’, reached by finding ‘compromise’ within political and social questions. Looking for and finding common ground is essential for practical realisation of successful cooperation. Compromise to reach consensus deserves not the casual denigration it often receives, but both praise and support. The reason for this is quite simple. Cooperation without looking for consensus between the partners is seldom effective or practical. It often ends in a dominating ‘zero sum game’.
To be active and practical cooperation needs the willingness to find ‘common ground’ and to strengthen the mutual respect of the partners for the compromises that make their cooperation practical and fruitful for all. Cooperation that is not based in decisions and actions will mostly be a verbal thing, declamations that are lots of talk.
To avoid such ‘lots of talk’ and a lack of clarity in decisions and actions through compromise, consensus and common ground, it is key to be very clear about fundamentals. Respectful cooperation demands that its participants work together on the basis of principles of non-violent development. When violent conflict resolution or violent human resources management are a possibility there can be no culture of cooperation by consensus. Non-violence as a principle is a very powerful vision. In history it was the essence of the thinking and actions of both Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Non-violent developments of social and political activities are both constructive and very challenging. King’s pupil and famous American politician John Lewis coined the phrase that this vision did not imply weakness or passivity, but it meant ‘Good Trouble’. Indeed, Lewis, Gandhi or King never avoided of or fled from ‘troubles’, from actions and conflicts. On the contrary. They organised their activities and protest moments as troublesome but by their non-violent approach made them hard to combat or defeat. They built ‘Good Trouble’. Opponents who tried to combat this by violent means lost both their credibility as well as their legitimacy.
This is also true in nation building. By working on the basis of respectful cooperation it becomes more powerful and more effective by making clear principles of non-violent development. Opponents who try violent strategies will never be able to reach effective, respectful consensus. This will at the end lead to their loss of both legitimacy and credibility. The Soviet Union, an enormous empire and military super power, collapsed exactly this way.
In nation building this approach and vision on clear principles makes it obvious that such a nation needs structures that build on these fundamentals. Such structures are called constitutions and constitutional institutions. Governance that hinders or blocks the finding of compromise for consensus and common ground is therefore institutionally unhelpful. This view of nation building will have to strive for constitutional structures that support and strengthen finding common grounds and reaching useful, constructive consensus by realistic, practical compromise. Such structures are necessary to help achieve governance that knows how to deal with ‘Good Trouble’ and make it fruitful.
In history we see where such structures are successful in practice. It is where they tend to be boring, unspectacular and sometimes quite complex. Obvious examples are visible in federal nations and unions of nations. The EU for instance is often scolded within its European member states as very complicated, incomprehensible and not very exciting and even boring compared to their national politics. But exactly because its structures are developed to support consensus building and compromise solutions the EU has proven to be so surprisingly resilient and effective. It is boring, unspectacular character is its secret. The same is valid for complex federal nations from small Switzerland to huge India.
These governance and structures are often cumbersome and not easy to follow and grasp for both their own citizens as well as international media. They will seldom be excited and fascinated by the federal structures and decision-making procedures. Compromise and consensus tend not to be entertaining or good theatre. They avoid spectacle. It is no coincidence that a famous Chinese curse is: ‘May you live in interesting times!’. Boring is good therefore, because it keeps governance grounded, practical, goal-oriented and searching for useful compromise. Constitutional structures that help restrict and avoid the spectacular and exciting entertainment in politics and decision making in governance, therefore are helpful for successful nation building.
Common ground and consensus building by boring means can be helped by another essential feature of this approach. They need perspective for achievement. Because it is a strong stimulus for the culture of cooperation and mutual respect when the common ground and consensus building are distinctly forward looking when the nation building mechanisms have clear and constructive perspectives of achievement. Strong goals of social, cultural, economic and political development and ambitions will strengthen the common ground on which the future development is built.
Perspectives and ambitions make the fundamentals stronger by giving them future relevance. And such perspectives strengthen the non-violent means by which they can be realised. ‘Good trouble’ is an essence of such perspectives of achievement because they make them dynamic by making them practical dreams and doable visions.
Perspectives must be forward looking but they do need good memory. Optimism of good trouble needs a past in order to be able to define improvement and progress. And cooperation between partners in nation building and development needs a rich and diverse view of such a past. Only in dictatorships and tyranny there is always just one past, just one story of yesterday allowed. Nation building that is rich in perspectives and dreams from a common ground is therefore invariably also rich in the diversity of its heritage. It has lots of history and lots of variety in looking at this. Lots of variety in cultural backgrounds too as its essential social capital. This is helpful as a uniform, one dimensional view of its history will not help but hinder its development.
Real nations with a great and rich history are never uniform, one-sided or one-dimensional. So, memory and heritage of a nation and peoples will be essential to keep nation building forward looking as the attention for such cultural values will strengthen the diversity of the perspectives and possibilities for a nation and people. Rich memory and deep heritage are not the ashes of the past but the flames to lighten up the future.
With the six fundamentals for a positive peaceful and productive future a nation needs just one more essential aspect. One more fact of life. Luck. Europe’s statesman Jacque Delors coined that eternal wisdom how ‘luck’ how ‘chance’ sometimes helps, but courage always will. Now, courage is not lacking among the peoples of Afghanistan, as the world knows. But luck? Key is how to make luck work. And we all know how this can succeed. Luck comes to the brave, to the smart and the faithful to a true ideal. Luck and chance, will be there when you do not wait for it.