Afghan Debates Fit With Tradition

Reaching consensus through discussion has long been a part of the country’s culture.

Afghan Debates Fit With Tradition

Reaching consensus through discussion has long been a part of the country’s culture.

A series of IWPR debates is proving particularly effective because the format echoes the structure of traditional Afghan assemblies, according to programme participants.

Afghans have a long tradition of assemblies known as “jirga” or “shura” at which local leaders convene to resolve civil disputes or set compensation for crimes.

IWPR’s ongoing Youth and Elections project is designed 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. This taps into the custom of arriving at a consensus through discussion.

“Afghans have long resolved their problems by holding jirgas, and these debates resemble jirgas,” said Ewaz Khan Basharat, acting head of the department for refugee affairs in the eastern Nangarhar province. “Here, too, we discuss solutions to our problems. Another benefit of these debates is that they provide opportunities to raise public awareness.”

“IWPR debates are really admirable,” agreed Maiwand Khamosh, a resident of Nurgal district in the eastern Kunar province who attended a discussion on electoral reform. “Vital topics are discussed and people learn about social issues. I hope this series of debates can be expanded.”

Ruqia Achakzai, the head of the women’s affairs department in the southern Kandahar province, where another session on electoral reform was held, said that events of this kind provided a particularly important opportunity for women.

“Most women in Kandahar are illiterate and are left in the dark about important issues,” she said. “Public awareness programmes like this improve the situation. We would like to see more of them.”

A cycle of events in Kunar, Kandahar, Paktia and Uruzgan focused on the potential benefits that the distribution of electronic ID cards could have for free and fair elections.

The government has set up an Electoral Reform Commission (ERC) to restructure the voting system and increase the transparency of the electoral process ahead of long-delayed parliamentary polls. (See Afghans Call for Electoral Improvements.)

In Ghor, Kapisa, Kunduz, and Baghlan provinces, participants raised concerns about severe delays in the distribution of ID cards. (See Ethnic Component of Afghan ID Cards Still Controversial.)

Abdul Wahid Kohistani, from the department responsible for issuing the electronic ID cards, said security on the ground was a prerequisite for distribution.

“We can’t just give out IDs in the cities and not in more remote districts,” he said. “That would be a recipe for disaster.”

Meanwhile, debates in Zabul, Nangarhar, Farah, and Khost provinces focused on rising rates of emigration among young people. Khost provincial council member Nur Shah Nurani said that this was due to a government failure to provide new employment opportunities. (See Young Afghans Seek Better Lives Abroad.)

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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