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Peace Talks Radio Host Suzanne Kryder talks with Noor Kirdar, Senior Program Officer,
Academy for International Conflict Management and Peacebuilding, US Institute of Peace

Kirdar: The way it works is you have about 40 to 60 participants. Each has a role that they play, from the President of the country to various ministers like the Minister of Education, Minister of Defense, Minister of Health.

Each person has a role that they play within this country of Akrona. It’s called Akrona, and they have their own goals and objectives that they try to achieve within their role.

Each person is given a role that they read and only they are privy to that information. Other people do not know what their goals and interests are.

Everybody is aware of where the country is at the time that they’re entering into this country and what is going on in terms of its economy, in terms of its resources, what they need to do to try to help them improve their situation and get them to a functioning economy that is prosperous and that is able to move forward.

They have different issues that they deal with in terms of where their resources are and how they can allocate their resources. They deal with issues like displaced people who have come to the country or who are outside of the country. They have issues of where to allocate resources for education.

Kryder: When I was observing this SENSE simulation, there was a moment where somebody said, “We’re having a press conference.” I believe it was the president of the country stepped up to the microphone and he fired two of his ministers. Is that scripted or does he just decide to do that as part of his role in the simulation?

Kirdar: That specific incident was not scripted. It was not part of his role, but many times the participants have chosen to take whatever actions that they feel would help them in their role. In that instance, the President felt that he had to take such action due to the actions of the Ministers and he felt that that was the way that he was going to deal with that situation. It was an interesting reaction from him.

We always get certain surprises within the simulations due to different people’s actions and the way they deal with conflicts and the way they deal with their situations and problems which makes it a very interesting thing because every simulation that we have run, we’ve had different outcomes and different surprises and different situations because we all deal with conflicts differently, we all negotiate differently, we all handle situations differently, and every time you have a new group of people who are going to participate in this, they react to their roles differently, they react to the situation differently and sometimes it’s also very dependent on what other people do as to how people react according to those actions.

We haven’t had that situation before, but it was interesting to see that take place because it indicates that the President really got into his role and he was really taking it seriously and was trying to deal with the situation the best he could given the information that he was able to get.

Kryder: It’s a very different way to learn negotiation skills. It’s not like sitting in a classroom or reading a book about negotiation. I came on the second morning and it looked to me like people are given the roles and then they’re sort of let loose to figure out what works and what doesn’t work. Is that true? Is there a way for you all to debrief what’s working and what’s not working in terms of how people play their role?

Kirdar: That is true. What we give them is their role and their objectives of what they should try to achieve. It is up to the individual to figure out what are the best ways that they need to do to come up with those objectives and they quickly realize that in order for them to be successful in terms of achieving their goal, they have to get up and negotiate with one another and collaborate with one another and strategize in order to play their role properly. This is not a computer game that you sit in front of a screen and just not interact with anybody because you cannot get anything done.

Just as an example, if you are a firm, maybe a small company within Akrona and you’re try to get money from the bank in order to start your business and improve on your business, you have to get up and go to the bank, the people who are playing the bank roles, and negotiate with them and tell them that you want a loan, why you need the loan, negotiate the interest rate they’re going to give you so that you can get that money from them and then you can start your business.

This is true not just for the local thing, but where you have the different government players like the Ministry of Defense negotiating with the U.S. We have a participant who plays the role of the U.S. and they have to go and negotiate with them and figure out how are they going to convince the U.S. that they want money so that they can upgrade their military standards or whatever it is that they are trying to achieve. They definitely have to learn what their goal isand what they need to do to try to achieve that goal.

Peace Talks Radio Host Suzanne Kryder talks with Omar Samad, Afghanistan Senior Expert, US Institute of Peace

Kryder: Ambassador Samad, what role has globalization, technology and social media played in the changing role of being a diplomat and in negotiating international relations?

Samad: As I said, I come from a family of diplomats. If my father had to wait for a telegram to arrive in order to get some kind of instructions from Kabul, my grandfather had to wait for several days. If a message was carried by a courier, it would take weeks for them to leave Kabul, go through India, take a boat and go to Europe to deliver something.

Today, everything is almost instantaneous. You have to be on edge and you have to be ready for the immediate event that could take place or the immediate response that is required or the immediate solution that you have to offer to a problem.

But of course, there are times when you enter negotiations in which they are not always instantaneous. They take time. They need preparation. They need a lot of shuttle diplomacy. They need a lot of thinking. They need a lot of knowledge. You tap into all the pools of knowledge that exist because no one diplomat or no one negotiator knows everything about any given issue.

So today, someone who negotiates with Afghanistan, has to rely on dozens of experts in so many different fields in order to then sit at a table and start talking to another side. It has become that complex, but we also have the benefit of having so much information and so much knowledge that is accessible now that wasn’t so easily accessible back then.

Kryder: Cross-cultural issues really complicate negotiations as well. You were the Afghan Ambassador to Canada and then to France. What kinds of issues came up in each of those countries that were especially challenging or different based on the culture? How did you learn how to adapt your style to the different cultures?

Samad: I had the added advantage of having been exposed to Western societies and Western languages, as I mentioned to you earlier, because I grew up partially in a Western society. But each Western society is different. I cannot compare Canada to the United States or France to the UK or Italy.

What a diplomat does first of all is get to know his or her environment and that environment means not only history, but it means society, it means economy and everything that makes up a country as complex as it is and no one should claim to know everything about a country or be an expert in anything. The boundaries of knowledge are beyond our reach and it’s a good thing.

What you have to do is strengthen your knowledge base, then your job is to connect and that’s where cross-culturalism comes into play; using your country’s baggage and whatever makes your country identifiable or seen and perceived by the other side as being different. You go in and try to tell people that you’re not so different actually, that we have a lot to share and a lot in common. A diplomat’s job is actually to create those bonds and those bridges and those connectivity’s and those areas where we come together, whether as human beings or as entities whether national entities or cultural entities or ethnic entities, whatever it might be. So you have to explain.

I come from a culture, from a society, from a background that is already complex. Afghanistan is a multi-ethnic society, multi-lingual society. It has 5,000 years of history. It’s an old ancient land that has gone through a lot. You have to explain that to people. Canada was extremely interested in what was happening in Afghanistan because Afghanistan became Canada’s number one foreign policy issues while I was there as ambassador. I made a point of being the voice and the face of Afghanistan. I engaged the Canadian’s to the extent that I could, at all levels, from grassroots to the top of the government. I think that that’s what I believe is a diplomat’s job.

While doing so, you also bring up issues. You deal with all kinds of events that take place on a daily basis; good and bad, policy issues, decisions that have to be taken, strategic decisions as well as tactical decisions. A diplomat’s job, a negotiators job is of course working within the confines of another country as to respect the limits that exist without stepping overboard , but offer the viewpoint that is necessary.

Kryder: Ambassador Samad, I wanted to ask you who some of the experts in diplomacy and international relations are who you really respect, but I’m also curious what you learned from your father about diplomacy.

Samad: Probably not enough. I should have probably learned much more, but I still am in learning mode and will continue to be.

But I believe that I’ve always been fascinated by history and historical figures and especially figures who had to deal with complexities and crises and conflict and challenges and how they dealt with it. Some dealt with it with those adversities successfully and some didn’t and so I think that what I have done over the years is look at these figures and what they faced and how they faced what they went through.

I’m still amazed by how difficult it is to be a leader. It really is a challenging task and I think that the general public really doesn’t sometimes appreciate that as much as they should. I think there is so much pressure on leaders nowadays, whether they are political leaders or whether they are leaders in the private sector. There is a lot of pressure, so you have to build character. I’ve looked at character as well. I’ve tried to see what character traits make a good leader or a bad leader.

That brings me to my own family. My father and both my grandfather’s who both were diplomats actually at some point. One was a career diplomat and the other wasn’t. I saw character traits that I hope have impacted me. I think that integrity is very important. I think that being purposeful in life; having a purpose, a cause, is important. Believing in good and bad; believing in doing good versus avoiding the bad is important for others, for your country, for your nation, for your community, for your family. I believe that I’ve learned that in negotiations you have to be fair and you have to be just. I think those are some characteristics.

I know that some people may think that diplomats are probably not the fairest of people or that negotiators sometimes try to get the best deal out of something and it’s true, they do, but at the same time, if you come to the negotiating table or as a diplomat you give a sense to the other side that you understand them and that you have a sense of justice and a sense of equality and fairness, then you already have, at some level, succeeded in starting negotiations on the right foot.

Kryder: Tell us a success story because you’ve been part of many important delegations, you’ve worked as an ambassador. Tell us a story where you were successful in negotiating competing interests.

Samad: There are several and I don’t want to take credit for what I may have done, but I think that as a member of a team one can contribute in one way or the other.

As a member of a team, I think that one of the toughest negotiations that I’ve had was in France. As I arrived, there was an issue of illegal Afghans who were arriving on French soil without any legal documents who had fled Afghanistan and gone through hell basically trying to reach Western Europe or Northern Europe to Iran, Turkey, through Greece with no money, sometimes with family, sometimes alone, sometimes underage. In 2009 I arrived and this was an issue in French politics where the French government tried to expel most of these and send them back to Afghanistan. The way that they were doing it, to us, didn’t seem as being the right way and being in line with international obligations. So I had to step in and try to agree with the French that this could be done differently. I think that we were able to agree on some issues to treat these people differently, to give them a chance and to make sure that they understood their rights under French law and under international law which was not the case before in my opinion and then became the case. So I think that we were able to, on both sides, agree to better modalities for dealing with people who had no documents and were there illegally.

Kryder: You’ve mentioned listening, but other than listening and analyzing as to key skills, what’s one more skill that you used in that process that was very helpful?

Samad: Communicating. You need to be an effective communicator and of course listening is a part of that, but listening is just one part. The rest has to do with analyzing and the processing that goes into play. You also are not all by yourself. As I said, you also need to know who to share that information with and with whom should you reach a certain conclusion, a certain decision and then how to convey the decision or how to convey that viewpoint. The conveying is also a major part of that, so communication overall, processing and making sure that you’ve covered all the bases.

Peace Talks Radio Host Suzanne Kryder talks with various players in the USIP Sense Training

Kryder: For our listeners, what do you think is the most important negotiation skill that the participants are learning here?

Pazhwak: They have to deal with an arena of different actors. For example, you cannot follow certain negotiations on the scale that we are because the people, the actors are so different from each other. They have different expectations, different roles, different backgrounds and different means to either support or undermine you. You have to follow quite a variety of negotiation scales and deal with them based on the knowledge that you have of them and how you can relate to them.

For instance, with some people I had to bring some party members. With some people I had to ask the government to intervene and speak and negotiate on our behalf.

So there are a variety of different negotiation scales, but basically trying to be nice and show them that we are a viable company and that we can produce and deliver what we are saying.

Kryder: What kinds of skills are you learning in terms of negotiating or influencing others?

Bocker: I think the most effective thing that we’ve done here is that I formed an alliance with three fellow businessmen of the same ethnic group. When four people go to talk to somebody at one time instead of one, I think that it’s much more persuasive.

Kryder: How did you build that alliance? It seems like maybe some of them would be competitors.

Bocker: Well we’re role-playing once again. We’re all the same ethnic group. I’m mostly into agricultural business and one of the three others that I’m allied with is also an agricultural guy, but because our roles demand that we advance the interests of our ethnic group, we don’t look at it as competition. Our competition is from businessmen of other ethnic groups.

Kryder: If you could think about our listeners, what’s the biggest tip that you would give them in terms of what you’ve learned through international negotiations and the challenges of all of these different competing interests? What have you learned that can help our listeners?

Bocker: The biggest thing is patience because it is incredibly hard work and it’s easy to watch the news at home or read the newspaper and wonder why things aren’t happening faster. I’ll tell you, if you played this game for two or three days then you’d understand why things don’t happen quicker especially when it comes to nation building or even just assisting other states or trying to improve warring factions by getting them to come to the negotiating table. It’s incredibly difficult.