Afghan Local Officials Taken to Task

Provincial administrators and NGOs accuse one another of a lack of coordination.

Afghan Local Officials Taken to Task

Provincial administrators and NGOs accuse one another of a lack of coordination.

Afghan civil society representatives were given an opportunity to put hard questions to local government officials at a series of IWPR-organised debates this month.

At events held in Wardak, Kunar and Paktia provinces, activists accused the local authorities of actively obstructing their work – charges that officials denied.

Speaking at a debate held in Wardak’s main town Maidan Shar, NGO activist Wali Mohammad Elham said non-government groups never got access to government agencies.

“Civil society serves as a bridge between the people and the government, but government officials are never prepared to accept criticism or suggestions from civil society, or to consult with it,” he said,

Attaullah Khogyani, spokesman for acting Wardak governor Abdul Majid, denied these charges.

“Two days ago, we invited members of the public, civil society and tribal elders to a gathering in Sayedabad district to help us establish peace,” Khogyani said. “Civil societies have a right to criticise the government, make comments and offer suggestions to it.”

Asked what would happen if civil society groups did not exist, the head of the province’s information and culture department, Mohammad Aurang Mukhtar, said, “human and civil rights might be violated, and arbitrary, self-serving decisions made”.

The High Peace Council in Wardak came in for some strong criticism during the debate. One participant, Najib Fekermand, claimed that the regional office of the national council, whose job is to negotiate with the Taleban, had achieved nothing and refused to cooperate with civil society groups.

Ahmad Fahim Stanikzai, the head of the council’s secretariat in Wardak, replied that it had in fact invited local NGOs to its meetings as well as holding joint events. As for its achievements, Stanikzai said the High Peace Council had persuaded dozens of militants to lay down their arms.

It was the government, he argued, that had not fulfilled its obligations to help reintegrate former insurgents into civilian life.

“The government has not even met very basic demands. For this reason, the level of insurgents joining the peace process is low in the province,” he said.

Khogyani disagreed with this claim, insisting that most of the High Peace Council’s Wardak representatives lived in Kabul and did very little work. They were so unpopular, he added, that “they can never go to the villages. They have absolutely failed in their activities”.

Elham said that the peace council was so well-funded that it attracted well-connected people who were there only “to enjoy its resources, not to ensure peace”.

He too accused the High Peace Council of making no attempt to liaise with NGOs.

“I work as a civil society activist in the province, but I’ve never yet heard of the peace council inviting civil society to help improve its activities or hold a joint gathering,” he said.

At a similar debate organised in Asadabad in Kunar province, it was government officials who accused civil society institutions of inefficiency.

Janat Gul Fida, head of the provincial information and culture department, said some of the NGOs in Kunar had been set up simply for material gain.

“There are a number of civil society institutions that have achieved nothing and do not understand the responsibility they bear,” he said. “There are also some institutions that have been created only to obtain material privileges. They are not properly accountable.”

Shoaib Gharwal, a member of the Young Thought Movement in Kunar, acknowledged that some local NGOs could be making more of an effort.

Despite that, he said, “Civil society has played a key role in raising public awareness about peace, which is an important principle. They have organised conferences and the media have broadcast programmes about peace. All these activities should not be overlooked.”

Khaibar Dagar, the head of the Young Thought Movement who also reports for Bayan radio, agreed that the media had a part to play.

“In fact, representatives of the media, as part of civil society, have educated people about establishing peace.”

Nasima Shafaq Sadat, the head of the women’s affairs department in Kunar, pointed to low levels of female involvement in NGOs.

“If civil society groups, young people and women build institutions together, standing shoulder to shoulder in mutual respect, women will then be able to work for peace by contributing positive ideas and opinions,” she said.

Criticisms of the NGO sector were also aired at an IWPR-organised debate at Paktia university on November 5, where participants said it had failed to bridge the gap between the state and the nation.

One participant, Ashuqullah, complained that NGOs operated mainly in the larger towns, whereas the need for their help was greater in more remote areas.

Mohammad Rahman Qaderi, a member of the Paktia provincial council who also heads a civil society group, agreed that NGOs had failings.

“Members of civil society need to have immense patience,” he said. “It isn’t easy to work in the villages and reduce the distance between the people and the government. Although it is a difficult process, I think the media can do a lot in this regard; its impact is now felt in every household and people have become addicted to news.”

Khaled Habib, a lecturer at Paktia university, responded by saying the media only focused on conflict. If reconstruction activities were reported instead of the ongoing violence, Afghans would feel more confident about their future.

“The media are not committed to the country’s interests here. They only publish reports about our deaths,” Habib said, adding that the focus could still change. “I know some media outlets which have told their journalists not to report incidents in which the number of deaths is fewer than three people.”

Mohammad Yusuf Molatar, head of public outreach for the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission in Paktia, said that the government failure to tackle unemployment had also contributed to the conflict by acting as a recruiting tool for the insurgents.

The insurgents were also supported by foreign countries, he said, adding, “It is possible to find a solution to the domestic factor, but it is difficult to eliminate the foreign factors.”

Niazullah Zazai, a member of the Paktia Kor Civil Society Institution, insisted that NGOs played a vital role.

“I believe that since civil society organisations come out of society, they can really play a constructive role in establishing peace alongside other institutions.”

Enayaturrahman Mayar is an IWPR-trained reporter in Wardak province, Afghanistan.

This report is based on an ongoing series of debates conducted as part of the IWPR programme Afghan Reconciliation: Promoting Peace and Building Trust by Engaging Civil Society. 

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