Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Local Afghan NGOs Criticised

Some organisations accused of following self-serving agendas.
By Jamaluddin Elham

Civil society activists in Paktika are warning that some local NGOs are nothing more than fronts for powerbrokers’ own business and political interests.

They claimed that some civil society organisations (CSOs) had no clear humanitarian goals, but only existed to allow their directors to be better able to pressure and influence local government decision-makers.

Other activists called for greater accountability to ensure each body was genuinely transparent.

Zarif Aminzoy, a resident of the provincial capital Sharana, noted that in developed nations civil society groups worked for the betterment of society as a whole.

But he said that in Paktika the opposite seemed to be true, as corrupt individuals sought only power, influence and higher salaries.

“Sadly, CSOs in Paktika province have taken the form of a business,” he told IWPR. “Often they support corrupt, unfit and incompetent officials in order to protect their own agendas.

“If their objectives are ever blocked or denied by government agencies they instigate protests - falsely claiming to be representatives of the people. They go after anyone who gets in their way.”

Abdul Malik Shafaq, director of Afghanistan’s Common Humanitarian Fund (CHF) - which helps NGOs respond to urgent relief work – said that he had received death threats for resisting repeated requests for nepotism.

“Several times when our organisation has been recruiting new employees, CSO members and leaders have asked me to hire their family member or friend,” he told IWPR.

“Sometimes we’ve been threatened that if we didn’t they’d create trouble for us. On other occasions they’ve even threatened to kill me, but we’ve never given in to their demands.”

Wakil Baburi, a member of Paktika’s provincial council who has worked alongside civil society groups for the last four years, agreed that some NGOs in the province were not what they seemed.

“It’s a matter of fact that many CSOs here have been deliberately working against the government and our people,” he said. “There are some members of CSOs that couldn’t even given you an accurate definition of civil society, let alone what the goals of their organisation are.”

Obaidullah, head of a local youth association in the village of Sarozi, insisted there was an urgent need for better regulation.

He said no licence was required to set up an NGO and that none of the work they subsequently carried out was ever monitored.

He said, “These CSOs that have been created without being licenced have done nothing to assist Paktika province. They’ve been created by those only interested in furthering their influence in government circles. They work only for themselves.

“For the most part they don’t appear to have any specific goals but concentrate on hiring friends and family. Only a few can claim to have had a genuinely positive impact on the province,” he continued.

Zamaryali, director of Paktika’s Independent Administrative Reform and Civil Service (IARCSC), said his employees were only hired on the basis of their suitability to the role.

Yet he did reveal occasions where he had been approached by other NGO directors requesting he hire family members with few qualifications.

He said, “We’ve not been pressured during the recruitment process but there have been times where CSO leaders have recommend friends or family to be shortlisted or asked us to assist them with our exams. We’ve never responded to their demands.”

Some NGO heads vigorously defended themselves against claims of exploitation.

Naweed Mukhlis Mukhlis is the director of the Samsor Community, an NGO dealing with youth employment opportunities.

He said his organisation was in no way corrupt and that any claims to the contrary were an effort to discredit him by those with their own agendas.

“We have only ever worked for the people and we will continue our activities,” he said.

“We are trying a lot to place young people, particularly those who have been through higher education, in government bodies or institutions but there are those who are attempting to obstruct our services.”

Obaidullah, from Sarozi village, emphasised that it was important to recognise those bodies that did good work.

“Some campaigns - such as those encouraging people to donate blood, clean up our streets or to improve education for young boys and girls - deserve recognition as they have been successful,” he said.

Firoz Khan Ahmadi, a CSO activist in Sharana, added that local NGOs should not be demonisined, adding, “It’s true that some CSOs misuse their influence and only work for personal gain  - but we should remember that there are others who work diligently and honestly to assist others.”

This report was produced under IWPR’s Supporting Investigative Reporting in Local Media and Strengthening Civil Society across Afghanistan initiative, funded by the British Embassy Kabul.