CIGI Senior Fellow Mark Sedra has launched an excellent new blog on Afghanistan, “Dispatches from the Field: Perspectives on the Afghanistan Conflict,” available at In addition to his own commentaries, Mark regularly invites guest postings. The following is my January 24 post from Kabul, sent during  my recent visit there.

It doesn’t take long for a visitor to Kabul to encounter this city’s particular definition of normal. Last Monday, the day after arriving, there was the unannounced but not unexpected insurgent attack in central Kabul. The subsequent lock down of much of the city, which included a rather pleasant stay in an Embassy bunker when the ensuing fire-fight seemed to security personnel to be moving closer, was taken in stride as largely routine.

The stepped up police checks throughout the week are all part of the normal life of this busy, bustling city.

But there is another kind of more mundane but utterly compelling normalcy in contemporary Kabul. I encountered an example of it at a crowded board room table in the University of Kabul. The occasion was an extended and detailed discussion by a group of Afghan social scientists who were working their way through a detailed research questionnaire. The point was to get it right for the imminent launch of an ambitious research project. Anywhere else a non-social scientist would have been tempted to tune out of the arcane and technical debate. In this setting, however, it went beyond being a practical requirement of professional researchers to being a powerful symbol of a community’s careful and ongoing response to a complex reality.

The research project is an effort to document, assess, and better understand a range of grievances and other conflict generators throughout Afghanistan. In the coming weeks a team of researchers from the Peace Studies unit of the University’s National Centre for Policy research will conduct individual interviews and focus groups for a project designed to advance the reconciliation agenda at local, national, and regional levels.

Amid the diverse challenges of life in a war-time city, a skilled and dedicated, though small, community of scholars has turned its attention to studying the complex and viscerally important dimensions of armed conflict in Afghanistan. They are determined to uncover the deep and often unacknowledged elements of local conflict on the assumption that sustainably ending the war through the negotiations that must finally come will be impossible without better understanding its roots.

As this intense scholarly discussion was winding down, various cell phones signaled a text message that came from ANSO, the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office. Shots had been fired in district 10, said the message, avoid that area when returning to the hotel from the University.

Situation normal.

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