Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Afghan Rural Communities Need to be Drawn into Counter-Insurgency Discussions
Participants in an IWPR programme aimed at boosting political participation in Afghanistan have called for it to be extended to rural parts of the country.
Some 1,400 people took part in debates during August, with heated discussions between young Afghans, officials and experts over national issues as well as local problems.
One participant, Nafisa, called on IWPR to take the debates out to the countryside to help counter the insurgent narrative.
“There aren’t many media outlets there,” she said. “[People] are influenced by the propaganda of the government’s opponents. If programmes like this are carried out there and people are better informed, insurgents will find it harder to recruit people to their ranks.”
Nafisa said events of this kind would also be particularly helpful for reaching out to women in the villages.
Marina, another participant, agreed.
“IWPR debates have been very effective in terms of raising public awareness about the importance of protecting women’s rights and reducing gender violence,” she said. “I hope the institute will dedicate more programmes to this subject.”
Others praised the unique nature of the IWPR debates, which aim to encourage young people to exercise their right to vote by providing them with the information they need, and a chance to put questions to politicians and officials.
Civil society activist Abdul Razaq Qaisarkhel said, “None of the public awareness activities I have seen so far can compete with IWPR’s work. Every time I’ve participated in IWPR events, I have heard people afterwards say how beneficial and really informative the programme was.”
“Nothing can beat this for raising awareness among young people,” agreed Muhibullah Allahyar, another debate participant. “What IWPR has been doing has created an atmosphere of trust between the people and the state.”
In Paktika, debate participant Asadullah said he had been amazed by the open nature of the debate.
“When I heard how people in the debate were criticising officials, I couldn’t believe that I was in Paktika,” he said. “People here don’t even have the right to cross an official’s path; criticising them is out of the question. But thanks to IWPR, this is what has happened.”
In Kandahar, debate participant Samiullah said the programme was building public confidence in the government.
“When people share their comments in the debates and air their criticisms, they feel their words are being heard and valued, so their trust in the state increases.”
Debates in August covered a range of concerns. Discussions in Kandahar, Nangarhar and Logar provinces focused on the role women took in lawmaking. (See also Afghan Debates Hear Calls for Gender Equality.)
Sediqa Jalali, head of the women’s affairs department in Zabul, blamed the government and religious scholars for excluding women from public life.
“Civil society institutions and women themselves must speak out about ensuring women’s rights. The current government has not fulfilled the promises made to women. The government must ensure that women are appointed to all its offices, both in the capital and in the provinces.”
Zabul’s justice department head Ahmad Khan Ahmadi disagreed that women were underrepresented.
“Women take part in creating legislation at the Afghan justice ministry’s lawmaking institute,” he said. “The ministry is working in coordination with the ministry of women’s affairs to increase female involvement in lawmaking.”
Meanwhile, debates in Ghor, Kunduz and Faryab provinces discussed the efforts made by Afghan human rights workers to combat a custom known as “bacha bazi” in which older men make young boys perform at private parties, after which they are often sexually abused. (See Afghans Condemn Abuse of “Dancing Boys” for more on the issue.)
Mohammad Ibrahim Samadi, from the Kunduz justice department, said that those found guilty of abusing boys could be liable for a prison sentence of up to three years. He said that the main problem was lack of implementation of the law.
The role that the Electoral Reforms Commission (ERC) could play in Afghan democracy was discussed in debates held in Logar, Zabul and Paktia provinces.
Civil society activist Shafiullah Afghanzai said he was optimistic that the ERC could be a force for good in upcoming parliamentary elections if it managed to bring about fundamental reforms.
He added that the introduction of electronic identity cards could also help boost public trust in the transparency of elections.
Elsewhere, inter-provincial debates were conducted via video link.
Civil society activists and government officials in Nangarhar and Logar provinces focused on the issue of traffic problems in the provinces.
Logar tribal leader Abdul Baqi Saf said the traffic police accepted bribes and failed to enforce the law.
“Because of this corruption and because the laws are not implemented, under-age people obtain driving licenses which has led to some shocking accidents,” he said.
Irshad Raghand, a writer from Nangarhar, added, “Although it’s illegal to drive a car with tinted windows, powerful people drive them and no one seems able to stop them, which is a clear violation of the law.”
Khan Aqa Durrani, head of the traffic department in Logar, denied this was the case in areas under his jurisdiction.
“Traffic police in Logar have none of these problems,” he said. “When a vehicle with tinted windows enters Logar, the traffic police stop it and make sure its windows are changed. If a traffic policeman violates the law or takes bribes, he is dismissed.”
In a Skype debate between Baghlan and Paktia provinces, participants discussed the role played by district governors.
Feruzuddin Aimaq, a member of the Baghlan provincial council, said that district governors were selected based on their connection to powerful figures rather than personal merit.
“The district governors have no plan of action. They work only in order to line their own pockets and to please those who have appointed them.”
Saifurrahman Saqif, a religious scholar in Paktia, said that traditional mechanisms were doing the work of local government in his area.
“People's problems in Paktia are resolved by religious scholars and tribal elders,” he said. “The district governors just sit in their offices and attend to their personal affairs. Their negligence and uselessness have upset the public and increased the distance between them and the government.”
Debate participant Sahel Hamdard said IWPR should maintain a rolling programme of discussions.
“These debates draw officials’ attention to their responsibilities and tell them that the public is watching what they do,” he said. “That worries them, so they make sure they behave more responsibly.”
This report is based on an ongoing series of debates conducted as part of IWPR’s Afghan Youth and Elections programme.