Afghan Youth Debates: Civil Society Groups Criticised in Balkh Region

Civil society groups have had little impact in Afghanistan’s northern Balkh province due to poor leadership and a failure to implement long-term, sustainable programming, experts have claimed.

Fauzia Nawabi, a spokeswoman for the Afghanistan Independent Human rights Commission (AIHRC), said a policy of "nepotism over merit" had marred efforts to encourage a more open, democratic society in the region.

Addressing more than 120 students at an IWPR-backed debate in the city of Mazar-e Sharif on January 9, Nawabi argued that this failure meant that little had been done to raise public awareness of the approaching provincial and presidential elections. Women, in particular, were signally unengaged in the voting process, she added.

“A lack of coordination among civil society organisations and a preference for nepotism over merit in appointing of officials has led to poor performance,” Nawabi said.

Sayed Nasim Bahman, a local civil society activist, told panelists that he largely agreed with Nawabi's appraisal. He blamed the failure of civic institutions on a lack of clear objectives.

Ajmal Ahadi, the deputy-director of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) in Balkh, said that despite the problems, the commission still needed the cooperation of civil society groups to help monitor the April 5 poll.

He argued that transparent and impartial elections could only be held in societies where all relevant institutions pulled together.

"Civil society organisations have a responsibility to help observe elections in a democratic society," he said.

Sakhi Dad Mahdiyar is a student at Balkh University and an IWPR trainee.

This report was produced as part of Open Minds: Speaking Up, Reaching Out – Promoting University and Youth Participation in Afghan Elections, an IWPR initiative funded by the US embassy in Kabul.