Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Afghans Share Views on New President
Participants in IWPR-organised debates across Afghanistan this month said the event was their first opportunity to publicly air their concerns about the new president.
Some 1,500 people across 15 provinces took part in a series of debates evaluating the first 100 days of Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, who was inaugurated at the end of September 2014 after a protracted electoral process. The debates are part of IWPR's ongoing Youth and Elections project, designed to encourage young people to exercise their right to vote .
In Helmand, Suhaila Waziri told IWPR that she had never taken part in an event like this before.
“Very interesting topics were discussed,” she continued. “It was very good for increasing my level of knowledge. I think it’s a good thing.”
Waziri worked for Ghani’s campaign team last year, but she told the gathering that locals were bitterly disappointed by the new administration’s failure to improve security in Helmand.
Helmand civil society activist Shahnaz Fayez added, “I gained the courage to speak up in these debates. My understanding of women’s rights and how to solve their problems has increased.”
Torpekai, a member of the women’s council in Helmand, said, “Debates like these are needed to raise awareness among men and women. They are very effective in changing people’s opinions, especially women’s.”
Many participants in the debates criticised Ghani’s delay in forming a government and his reliance on keeping officials in post on an acting basis. Others were concerned about his deal with political rival Abdullah Abdullah, who was made “chief executive” of Afghanistan in exchange for accepting defeat at the polls.
“It’s the first time young people and government and NGO officials have discussed important matters together,” said Bahauddin, who took part in a debate held in Badghis province. “It is having a positive impact.”
With a parliamentary election due later this year, the debates gave ordinary people an opportunity to speak frankly about their concerns about Afghan democracy.
Susan Sadid, a participant in the Farah debate, said, “After the formation of a national unity government [with Abdullah], I took a very negative view of elections. I didn’t want to vote any more, but this debate has changed my mind. Now I want to take part in the parliamentary election.”
Debates were held in different formats, with an online event hosted via Skype on January 22 in which people from the western Farah province and Nangarhar in the east discussed who had ultimate responsibility for ensuring stability.
Abdul Rahman Zhwandai, a civil society activist in Farah, said, “The key to peace lies in the hands of the Afghans. Unless the Afghans decide to bring peace, foreigners will not deliver it to them.”
Sherzad, a lecturer at Nangarhar university, said, “If everyone in a society respects the law, this will create trust and confidence. When such an atmosphere is created, the pen will replace weapons and the culture of war, so that peace is established.”
Baryalai Ghafari, another civil society activist in Farah, said that holding such inter-province debates were a positive step.
“These programmes help accelerate the peace process, because it provides a way that civil society activists in different provinces can share their experiences with one another.”
On January 25, an IWPR roundtable on the president’s first 100 days was aired live on the privately-owned Radio Ghaznawian in the southern Ghazni province. Listeners were able to call in to the hour-long show and put questions directly to a panel.
Ghazni deputy governor Mohammad Ali Ahmadi said he was unhappy with Ghani’s performance so far.
“The reason for all the recent disorder is the delay in announcing the cabinet. Officials and the public are therefore disillusioned about their future.”
However, Mohammad Asef Hosseini, a reporter who took part in the roundtable, disagreed, saying, “There are many problems, but we are hopeful about the future.”
The programme proved so popular that listeners contacted the radio station to ask for more live call-ins, saying the format brought government and people closer together.
Meanwhile, IWPR held meetings with United Nations agencies to discuss plans for cooperation.
“They asked us to put our colleagues in the regions in contact with UNAMA’s provincial staff,” IWPR Afghanistan country director Noorrahman Rahmani, said following a meeting with Anna Maria Adhikari, public affairs officer for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). “UNAMA is willing to make radio reports based on our debates and get them broadcast on private radio stations.”
Rahmani also met United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) officials to discuss future collaboration on projects.
“Much of our activity appeared new and interesting to them. They said they’d be prepared to suggest topics for discussion in our debates,” Rahmani said.
This report is based on an ongoing series of debates conducted as part of IWPR’s Afghan Youth and Elections programme.
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