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By Tahira Saleem, GPS Issue Analyst on Iraq and Afghanistan

The Afghan President Hamid Karzai has recently announced the formation of a new Peace Council headed by the former President Burhanudin Rabbani. The new peace council is another effort for reintegration of the Taliban in the country’s political system. The earlier Kabul conference and London conference had similar aims of brokering peace with the warring factions in Afghanistan. But the question arises about whether this new council promises any hope for the war-torn country.

The peace council, the brainchild of Karzai, has neglected the Afghan traders, intellectuals, and the members of civil society. All of its 69 hand-picked members are Afghan warlords; the key figure among them is Burhanudin Rabbani, who is implicated in war crimes of killing and displacement of Afghan people.

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As I write this, terrorists are attacking Western and Indian targets in Mumbai in one of the safest, most cosmopolitan areas of India. Meanwhile, threat levels blare orange as Americans travel home for the holiday. I am reminded of how closely we are all connected and of the need to work together to inspire hope in place of hatred.

Just this past weekend, AID hosted a Rethinking Counter Terrorism Retreat in LA which featured activists, professionals, filmmakers, and regular volunteers who have chosen to focus not on our differences but on the common bonds of humanity that unite us.* These individuals give poor communities a path to development in place of the desperation that leads to conflict and terrorism. Access to education, jobs, health care, and more equal rights provides individuals in vulnerable areas with a real future, giving them a strong reason to choose peace over war.

As you count your blessings this Thanksgiving, consider those less fortunate and what you can do locally to support the common goal of a safer, happier world. Here’s hoping a ‘Green level’ holiday is not too far off.

* The Retreat featured guests from CARE International, Help the Afghan Children, Principle Pictures, Serving Women Across Nations (SWAN), and the RAND Alternative Strategy Initiative.

On June 27, 2007, Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair was appointed Middle East Envoy to work as a peacemaker in the region on behalf of the US, the EU, the UN and Russia. The announcement of his appointment came just hours after Mr Blair stood down as UK Prime Minister. The analyst might be tempted to hypothesize that this nomination falls in Mr. Blair’s political calculations to get a decent out-of-office job after he leaves the prestigious 10th Downing Street. Such hypothesis is not weak due to Blair’s strong sense of political calculations that earned him three consecutive terms in office, a record in UK politics. However, the analyst might also hope that the still dynamic Blair is sent to fix a political chaos he contributed to maintain in the Middle East. In this case, his task might not be easy as it will require he changes tactics.

Tony Blair seems to be aware of the difficult task involving his nomination as Middle Envoy. Recent media reports indicate that he suggests that stability and peace in the Middle East require a huge and intense amount of work. The first step in this work is gaining the parties’ trust. If Blair has already gained Israel’s trust for being their ally, it is more difficult for him to gain the Palestinians’ trust for the same reason. Obviously Abbas, the Palestinian Authority and his party Fatah salute Blair’s appointment. However, the Palestinian movement Hamas criticises Blair’s nomination, sending negative signals to cooperating with the new Middle East Envoy. Hamas accuses Blair of lacking honesty and neutrality. But in a recent statement Blair has assured the international community to work hard for a peaceful two-state solution to the Israelo-Palestinian conflict. UN officials trust Blair as a key player able to bring energy to the Middle East peace process.

If Tony Blair is to succeed in bringing positive energy and constructive peace to the Middle East, he must learn to embrace the qualities of a peacemaker. In other words, the newly appointed Middle Envoy must learn to be a neutral facilitator. He must learn to reach out to both sides in the conflict without taking a side. This requires other tactics than political calculation tactics. Political calculation usually involves people’s manipulation aimed at more or less egoistic goals of political or social successes. Peacemaking requires compassion for others, reflective listening of others, negotiation with others to allow the empowerment of local capacity for peace. Time will tell us whether Tony Blair will be able to show compassion, to listen, and to help develop local capacity for peace in the Middle East. Of course, the Former UK Prime Minister has the assets and abilities to be a good peacemaker. We wait and see how he will uses his great assets!

Jacques KOKO, Senior Political Analyst -Americans for Informed Democracy       

There are a lot of things I want to blog about in the next few days; the Kosovo final status talks, the impending trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor, and the recent disagreement between ICTY Prosecutor Carla del Ponte and EU officials. But right now, I want to tell you about a very cool-sounding video game that just came out.

It’s called PeaceMaker, and it is a game that allows you to play Israeli or Palestinian politicians trying to solve (or not solve) the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and create peace (or sow chaos) in the Middle East. It’s gotten rave reviews from the New York Times, Haaretz, and many gamer magazines, and, from the trailer, it looks like it will be awesome to play.

I’m going to see if I can use my AID credentials to get a free copy (it costs $20 to download), and, if I’m successful, I’ll post a full review. Heck, if it’s really good, AID might even decide to use it for future iniatives.

From the New York Times:

LAST week, in an effort to solve the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, I
withdrew settlements in the Gaza Strip. But then a suicide bomber
struck in Jerusalem, the P.L.O. leader called my actions
”condescending,” and the Knesset demanded a stern response. Desperate
to retain control, I launched a missile strike against Hamas militants.

I was playing Peacemaker, a video game in which players assume
the role of either the Israeli prime minister or the Palestinian
president. Will you pull down the containment wall? Will you beg the
United States to pressure your enemy? You make the calls and live with
the results the computer generates. Just as in real life, actions that
please one side tend to anger the other, making a resolution fiendishly
tricky. You can play it over again and again until you get it right, or
until the entire region explodes in violence.

”When they hear
about Peacemaker, people sometimes go, ‘What? A computer game about the
Middle East?’ ” admits Asi Burak, the Israeli-born graduate student
who developed it with a team at Carnegie Mellon University in
Pittsburgh. ”But people get very engaged. They really try very hard to
get a solution. Even after one hour or two hours, they’d come to me and
say, you know, I know more about the conflict than when I’ve read
newspapers for 10 years.”

Video games have long entertained
users by immersing them in fantasy worlds full of dragons or
spaceships. But Peacemaker is part of a new generation: games that
immerse people in the real world, full of real-time political crises.
And the games’ designers aren’t just selling a voyeuristic thrill.
Games, they argue, can be more than just mindless fun, they can be a
medium for change.

And PeaceMaker is only the most recent game based on real-life international issues. Food Force, a game produced by the World Food Program, allows players to respond to a humanitarian crisis on Sheylan, a fictional island in the Indian Ocean. In MTV’s game Darfur is Dying, players play Darfur refugees struggling to find food and shelter. The latter game is nearly impossible to "win" and I suspect that was the intention of the designers. It makes a not-so-subtle point about the severity of the disaster in Darfur.

UPDATE: The WONDERFUL people at Impact Games have allowed me to download PeaceMaker for free. They are a smart and generous bunch. I’ll be blogging more about the game in the coming weeks, when I have my next bunch of papers done, and I actually have time to play it.

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