IntroductionAfghanistan is one of the economically poor and socially unstable countries in South Asia. This country has gone through different regimes in the past. From monarchy to Taliban regime, each period has left its glimpse in today’s politics of the country. Nonetheless, the turning point for Afghanistan was the collapse of Taliban regime in 2001. Since then, Afghanistan has transformed into a democratic country. Democracy is the rule of people in a country where every voice must be heard and everyone is treated equally. It took years for democracy to be accepted and implemented in the western countries. While the international community demanded to see Afghanistan run by democratic values right after an authoritarian regime.
Normally it seems easy as people are tired of violence and extremism. But, it has not been as easy as it may seem for Afghanistan. One of the substantial elements of a democracy is strong and independent civil society, through which citizens’ social, economic, and political rights can be ensured as well as government actions are observed. Civil society as a community is a group of people under different standing for the rights of citizens each other. While the claim of this paper is that modern civil society and traditional organizations do not go along each other. Particularly NGOs are weak in Afghanistan due to those traditional institutions. NGOs declare the democratic principles in their strategies but in practice, those mechanisms are violated by norms. Western-funded NGOs are not as effective as local organizations despite huge amounts of money invested. Therefore, this thesis attempts to analyze the role of CS particularly NGOs in promoting democracy. The primary focus though will be on the post-Taliban government considering the given responsibility of reconstruction and state building. There are many factors that leading to a weak civil society in Afghanistan such as corruption, government negligence, negative competition among CSOs and many more. Hence, this paper believes that civil society is fragile in Afghanistan because neither NGOs nor local associations function is satisfying.
The main purpose is to know whether civil society is weak in Afghanistan?
This thesis primarily asserts that western-funded NGOs have not been able to mobilize and democratize Afghan society due to the clash of ideologies with traditional institutions.
Statement of the Problem
Billions of aid money have flowed into the country to strengthen the civil society and ensuring democratization yet it failed to consolidate those values. Even though, Afghanistan has hundreds of NGOs it still struggles to provide equal opportunity for the community. Moreover, the CSOs have an unclear status in Afghanistan. There are Western-funded NGOs, community shuras, and social organizations functioning in Afghanistan. If one applies the concept of civil society the problem is whom to refer to civil society.
Purpose of the Study
This paper fundamentally aims to focus and analyze the factors behind unsuccessful civil society. The significance of the purpose lies in the complex concept of civil society as a great companion to a successful democracy. The aim, therefore, is to see whether the western philosophy of civil society is applicable in the traditional and informal rule-oriented society like Afghanistan. The purpose of the paper is to look at two different types of NGOs in Afghanistan: funded NGOs and local traditional NGOs. Western-funded NGOs are not successful because of corruption, mismanagement and etc. Locals are successful in mobilizing population and etc but they discriminate against minorities and are not inclusive. Therefore, despite a large number of NGOs present and lots of money spent on their functioning, they do not contribute to the democratization process.
This paper is built on qualitative methods using secondary resources and interviews. In order to accomplish deep and justifying the answer to the question, it is important to use the right method. There are two types of method of research; qualitative and quantitative. A qualitative research focuses on the analytical and interpretive segments in a given research. Hence, this research is based on the qualitative analysis. Quantitative research method has precise outcome due to its focus on quantity and numbers. In this thesis, various primary scientific work and secondary analytical works such as journals and articles related to the case have been used.
The focus of the interview was on three main domains affecting the status civil society. The general debatable image of civil society and its level of effectiveness society requires being studied through multiple lenses such as women’s rights, level of cooperation among organizations and state. It is also important to mention that, some of the personal observations are used in the paper as an observer of the workshops for civil society activist. In this regard, for the purpose of attaining reasonable justification to the argument on civil society, several interviews have conducted following a scheduled plan between December 2017 –January 2018. The respondents were human rights activists, women rights activist, and civil society actors. Around five civil society activists from different ethnic background have been interviewed for this thesis. One interview was conducted face to face in Kabul and the rest were conducted online through Facebook and Skype.
Although this research had a planned timeline, there were some problems faced. First of all, the expected number of interviews could not be conducted. Around 15 people were contacted and provided the necessary information. Most of them did not reply to email except for five people who agreed to contribute. Also, face to face interview could not be done because of financial constraints and due to distance issues from Afghanistan. Another limitation was lack of particular academic and scholarly articles from a social science perspective on Afghan civil society. Most of the resources used in this paper are reports, briefs or research done by organizations and some researchers. Finally, inaccessibility to government official website to the NGO laws was another issue. The webpage for civil society in the website of Ministry of Economy and Ministry of Justice was empty. Therefore, it was challenging to find official documents easily.
LITERATURE REVIEW AND CONCEPT AND THEORY
This chapter is aimed at illustrating the relevant theoretical analysis and kinds of literature available on civil society in Afghanistan or similar countries. Academic literature is great sources to have author’s work supported and make it more reliable. As for theories, they are scientific research analysis attained by the theorists based on deep research and experiments. Hence, in this chapter, works of several scholars who studied and observed civil society in Afghanistan or others countries like Afghanistan, has been used to support the argument. Afghanistan and its political situation have been under the spotlight for a long time. There have been plenty of work done on civil society organizations in general since the collapse of the Taliban regime. Many social science scholars have investigated organizations development process. Some have focused on analyzing the role of the international community on reconstruction and state-building process. It is important to have some of the analysis on Afghan civil society used in this paper.
To begin with, women comprise half of the population in Afghanistan. Their active presence in socio-political and economic life shows dynamics of their status. International organizations like the United Nations have manifested positive predictions on women enhancement and empowerment. However, the other side of discourse about them is their historical endeavor, subjugation, and sufferance. They have been living under the history of violence and range of social inequality. These inequalities might have changed for some however, they have not replaced by a complete freedom and independence.
Kristian Berg Harpviken et al, highlight the concept of purdah or veil and the notion of guardianship called “mahram”. Guardianship is not a new phenomenon; it has always been part of norms in Afghanistan. It particularly became more important during the Taliban regime. Both terms are predominantly practiced in the society. they play a fundamental role in many social issues like women are not members of shuras. And in case of activists, many female social activists coming from regional provinces are accompanied by family members to attend conferences and workshops. Sometimes conference organizers are obliged to provide transport and shelter for both, otherwise, they may not be able to attend the conference in the capital. Women whose freedom is limited to something around the household can hardly be part of social activities. For one to be part of a social movement, running an organization, or fighting for others basic rights require rigorous educational opportunity and freedom. If women live a life of subjugation and are the secondary; it is challenging to raise their voice against the dominant culture. Also, considering religious and traditional norms, purdah is understandably part of the culture, however, the paradox is the limitations that it symbolizes. Most of the women have remained uneducated and stayed at home taking care of the family and playing the role of homemaker. They are shadows of their male relatives; they can do only limited tasks asked and allowed by their husbands. Basically, the current outcome is considered to be due to historical social norms. Therefore, despite numerous development projects of mobilization, most women are incapable of living their independent life and be socially and politically active.
Additionally, Paul Chaney in his article, Civil Society, and Gender Mainstreaming: Empirical Evidence and Theory-Building from Twelve Post-Conflict Countries 2005–15 criticizes the difficulties of gender mainstreaming in post-conflict nations. The article studies gender mainstreaming through lenses of Participative Democratic Model. The model points up to the equal and full participation of citizens regardless of gender in the government. The article criticizes the post-conflict states institutional system for the gender mainstreaming. The problem is that one specific gender is favored over the other particularly patriarchy. Among twelve war-affected countries like Afghanistan, Bosnia, Croatia, Rwanda and etc. Afghanistan like mentioned conflict-affected countries is a place that has had the tension of all sorts. However, the dilemma of gender mainstreaming is what has been emphasized on more. Chaney suggests, in the reconstruction process of post-conflict areas like Afghanistan, both genders must be educated considering ”gender justice” and ”legal processes that are equitable, not privileged by and for men, and acknowledge ways in which women uniquely experience. The article further recommends that the establishment of institutions for the women development and their capacity building should be equal manner as men. Therefore, according to the article, the Participative Democratic Model (PDM) is ideally an appropriate strategy to be practiced. The critical discourse analysis of Paul Chaney implements Participative Democratic Model through what he calls “four transformational domains which are the actor, issue, rule and structural.” For each domain, there is an assumption to be followed in order to successfully achieve gender equality. For example, the government should bring changes in the traditional system of non-governmental organizations. The distribution of powers and recourses must be revised. Even though, the PDM is an effective model if implemented in countries like Afghanistan. It is challenging to successfully achieve the expected outcomes. Due to the historical educational and social privilege gaps between men and women in the society; women may not be able to practice power even if given. Further, there is a huge distinction between policies initiated and their implementation. As far as Afghanistan is concerned, the relationship between government and civil society is obscure. There is lack of functional direct coordination strategy by the government through which they can strengthen their relationship. Despite the clear emphasize and recommendation on equality of genders, civil society has a long way to go.
There are many explanations for the term CS yet there is no specific overarching definition. It is not easy to find one particular definition in the scientific literature. Nevertheless, it is important to have the term defined both in classical and modern perspectives. German philosopher, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s definition of civil society provides a fundamental understanding of it. In his book Hegel’s Philosophy of Rights, he defines civil society as “an association of members as self-subsistent individuals in a universality which, because of their self-subsistence, is only abstract. Their association is brought about by their needs, by the legal system — the means to the security of person and property — and by an external organization for attaining their particular and common interests.” He emphasizes on groups purpose of uniting for a particular agenda where the aim is to protect each other’s rights when they are abused. The source of abuse or right violator can be anyone; state or individuals and etc. Benny D. Setianto believes that “state is the main authority for civil society to sustain for Hegel.” Hegel’s approach emphasizes on individuals economic rights more than the social or political condition. This Idea cannot be much disputed even though civil society nowadays fights against the state for its social political and economic rights. For instance, corruption is a national level problem for which people have to raise their voices. Further, a more elaborated and modern description is provided by UNDP which defines civil society organizations as “non-state actors whose aims are neither to generate profits nor to seek governing power organizations unite people to advance shared goals and interest.” In that sense, one can agree that the term civil society is normally used to define groups of individuals united by common interest and goals to achieve. Civil society in Afghanistan follows somewhat similar thought and understanding as UNDP. Elizabeth Winter in her research founded another definition for Afghanistan civil society saying; “it is formed by a group of individuals serving Afghan men and women without compromising their dignity.”
In addition to defining CS, its functional essence is significantly important. In this case, a functioning civil society is one of the main elements to the development of both developing and developed societies. Thus, a strong civil society according to Viterna, et al, is expected to be able to “construct an active state, promote or strengthen democracy, defend human rights and promote equal social services.” On the contrary, the authors quoting other scholars state that weak civil societies are those who fail to “mobilize communities, prioritizing funders’ needs over the needs of their “constituencies”, promote “uncivil” social values or even civil unrest “and, more generally, failing to make a measurable dent in the poverty and inequality endemic to developing nations.” In this case, the purpose of civil society particularly NGOs is to ensure social, political and economic stability in a given state. Civil society in Afghanistan will be studied considering the given characteristics of effectiveness and weakness. The rights include social, political and economic rights of individuals. Formal NGOs are functioning to provide these rights in Afghanistan. However, their activities are ineffective and their efforts lack efficiency. Because local NGOs and local communities seek to preserve their uncivil values. For instance, women’s education is limited to primary school in some societies while some others completely reject the notion of educating girls.
This concept is used to explain the nature of the political situation in Afghanistan. the concept is related to the time when declared democratic reforms. The change or transition of the political system of a state from non-democracy to democracy is called democratization. The term democratization studies the outcome of the process and as well as aspects of it. Generally, the reason behind regime transition can be many factors. However, it is important to know what is the driving force behind a country ‘s acceptance of democracy. Is the change by force or by consent? Queries as such are common among scholars. Laurel E. Miller, et al, state that factors leading to political transition are, “such as level of wealth, past experience with political pluralism, social cleavages, the nature of regimes in neighboring countries, and historical and political linkages with the West.” None of the above factors is the main case of democratization in Afghanistan. Apparently, Afghanistan got into democracy after the 9/11 attack. If it was not for that event, Afghanistan might have stayed under the same regime. It is among countries that went through democratization in “the third wave of democracy.” Thus, the significance of democracy in Afghanistan is arguably the political change it brought. the main component that helps democratization process is non-governmental organizations. Afghanistan after the transition to democracy joined many international organizations to help democratization. Likewise, according to Pevehouse and Mansfield, there are many challenges that leaders of new democratic states face during the governance, therefore, newly democratized states join the international organization to ensure success. International organizations initiated a variety of projects for state and nation building in Afghanistan. Actually, to what extent Afghanistan has been democratized is challenging to answer. Some scholars react positively to the democratization process in Afghanistan while others reject the idea. The denial is due to the dominant existence of conservative values in the country, even though, any process to be completed requires time.
Every organization has its particular mechanism based on which it functions. Since civil society organizations are registered and formal establishments that work under a serious hierarchy, it should be well-functioning and follow the charter. Hence, institutionalism has explanations to the structural approach of civil society particularly, NGOs. In this regard, W. Richard Scott defines institutional theory as a profound and flexible study of social structure. He states “Institutional theory attends to the deeper and more resilient aspects of social structure. It considers the processes by which structures, including schemas; rules, norms, and routines, become established as authoritative guidelines for social behavior.” Furthermore, Helmke and Levitsky define the informal institution as “socially shared rules, usually unwritten, that are created, communicated, and enforced outside of officially sanctioned channels. By contrast, formal institutions are rules and procedures that are created, communicated, and enforced through channels widely accepted as official. This includes state institutions (courts, legislatures, bureaucracies) and state-enforced rules (constitutions, laws, regulations).” Although in varying levels, each formal and informal institutions somehow aim to balance and manage social and political. Usually, certain things are done in informal ways which is bit part of the constitution. For example, most domestic issues like divorce are solved by local shuras considering religious norms. Meanwhile, Edwin and M. Ramsey categorize institutional theory into three indices; historical, political and social. Historical and Political institutional theory can be related to study the structure and organizational management of Afghan civil society and NGOs. In addition to the categorization; there are formal and informal institutions in Afghanistan. Indeed, the nature of power transition and control throughout the history has a significant impact on today’s politics.
Even though, this theory is usually used to study the institutional mechanism in the political system. The basic role for NGO in developing and developed countries is regarded as the public administration which suggests that NGOs are efficient and effective providers of social and other services that government may find costlier and ineffectual to offer themselves.” However, and state communications things get intervened by informal rules and politics. Hence, the institutional theory can be used to explain; it substantially looks at the elements that affect an institution such as “schemas, rules, norms, and routines.” The common belief is that civil societies must be built on the basis of voluntary and “genuinely pluralistic and self-organizing civil society.” But, for the developing countries, this notion is rather different. Modern civil society of Afghanistan is built upon foreign aid. Thus, another relevant aspect of the institutional theory is the paradox of management in organizational development especially in the post-conflict countries like Afghanistan and African countries. The above-mentioned authors have questioned the financial dependency in the “war-torn” countries. Additionally, the same approach of “project orient” can be applied to Afghan civil society. “Project orient” is a term used by Kaja Borchgrevink, while studying the religious actors and civil society in Afghanistan.
Background of the Afghan Civil society
Civil society before 2001
Afghanistan is a country known for various historical struggles under different regimes. as result, some people gained more power and others were left with catastrophe. The last period of war and extremism was the Taliban period which was collapsed by the US-led coalition. The 9/11 attack not only shivered the US but had a huge historical turning point for Afghanistan as well. Three decades of war with external and internal factors have yielded various Patterns of conflicts, wars, and negativity. Therefore, Afghans needed to be taught fundamentals and introduced to democratic principles from basic. It was for “the war against terror” that opened doors of democracy and democratic principles in Afghanistan. Civil society, since then, despite the least favorable circumstances is playing an important role in the reconstruction process. Formal and registered non-governmental organizations and organized institutions are among characteristics that CSO’s are known for, but there are informal social associations, provincial councils that too have important roles played. Moreover, Hajee Parveen Roy, and Ehsan Shaygan, in their recent report on Enabling Environment for CSOs in Afghanistan position civil society as the main actor pointing, “Most of the existing definitions of civil society delineate a group of individuals with mutual and public interests that operate outside of but in dialogue with both the public and private sectors.” In this case, as long as civil society refers to different institutions and groups of people in a community; Afghans are familiar with it. Although formal organizations are not as old phenomena in Afghanistan as in the west, some civic communities and institutions existed before and even during the Taliban regime. Religious communities, local councils, and gatherings existed traditionally. Afterward, there were more developed organizations started engaging actively and officially. Non-governmental organizations like Afghanaid (1983), Afghan Development Association (1990), and Aga Khan Development Network (1995) have been providing humanitarian services in Afghanistan. In addition to that, Marine Durand in her report cites Foundation for Culture and Civil Society (FCCS), according to which only eight NGOs were registered formally in Afghanistan before1990. There are other research and reports from different sources that highlight active engagement of NGOs before 2000. These NGOs despite presence have been highlighted but their activities seem to be limited. Their limitation can be due to informal institutions which have their roots way deeper than those of formal and registered ones. Moreover, weak state institution and weak rule of law are another factors leading to a weak civil society sector.
Civil Society organizations in the 2000s
As mentioned earlier, the collapse of Taliban regime was one of the most important periods shaping modern history of Afghanistan. Following the US-led coalition’s collapse of the violent regime, the next step was reconstructing a new state with democratic principles. For that purpose, Bonn conference (2001) was held to discuss possible ways for building a central government through inviting different segments of warlord groups. The Bonn conference was the initial step towards the development of civil society organizations in Afghanistan. Afghanistan as a war-torn country became important for the international community and developed countries, especially for the US coalition. Developing the concept of civil society organizations can be considered as an important the process of democratization. CS growth was quite fast in the decade after the interim government changed to an official and Sovereign state through the election. Stefanie Nijssen in the report about activities of civil society draws attention toward rapid growth in CSO in terms of quantity. Further, “based on Afghan Foundation for Culture and Civil Society (FCCS), there were 1,119 CSOs active in the capital and another province in 2007.” Soon the number increased to 1468 NGOs and 1716 social organization in 2010. Finally, The research was done in 2015 and according to that, there are 7000 organizations registered in government, of which 2000 is registered in Ministry of Economy (MOE) and 5000 are registered to Ministry of Justice (MOJ). Additionally, the report claims that above-mentioned number does not include non-registered organizations. Civil society has recently become well known for Afghans as opposed to the 2000s. According to USAID research, “Six in 10 CSOs have a single office, and as many have their headquarters in Kabul. Sixty-three percent operate mainly in urban areas, even though 75 percent of the country’s population is rural.” The modern CS organizations have their own agendas and mission depending on a particular area of interest. They still follow a code of conduct that they have been given by the government. They have been working in different areas for now but, in general, they claim to have been contributing democratization and peacebuilding, human rights awareness, women rights, education and gender discrimination and other spheres.
According to Kristian Berg Harpviken, one of the most important functions of CSOs includes implementation or development of projects supported by international donors and organizations. As for the NGOs, they work under specific NGO law and legal framework which was initiated and signed by President Karzai on 2005; based on NGO laws, every organization must be registered to Ministry of Economics (MOEc). Although some NGO’s were accused of being involved in corruption alongside government officials, yet, they were the only source of executing the international development projects after government. This society has had achievements in past decade. In particular, NGO’s have successfully mobilized the youths leading to youth voluntary establishments, groups and forums. There are many youth councils around the country. CS organizations have been playing a substantial role in encouraging citizens towards political participation mainly in female voters in the presidential elections. NGOs have been promoting human rights, gender equality, public awareness and economic growth in Afghanistan. These societies through NGOs and social associations have been making efforts to give citizens a voice in different aspects. A voice that is vital in strengthening mutual relations is barely heard. As one of CS main goals is to ensure justice and raising awareness, educating mass there are sacrifices required to be made. Other areas of activities include; awareness raising on education and information, monitoring government’s performance, and advocating human rights and etc. Currently, CSO’s activity is beyond its initial perception of “critical service delivery”, humanitarian aid and implementing reconstruction projects. Meanwhile fulfilling desired objectives, to prove their ability, and contributing to the country’s development civil society has faced many obstacles. Many problems are still ongoing and they seek to resolve them.
Types of Civil Society Organizations
Civil society and services are inspired by article 50 of the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. After official ratification by the constitution, civil society as a sector started taking over different aspects of society alongside or against the government. In general, these organizations are involved in various services such as providing advocacy services and representing the business group and others. According to the most recent available CSO Sustainable Development Index for Afghanistan, There are two types of civil society organization in Afghanistan; the Associations and Non-governmental organizations. Each of organization functions under a set of regulations established by the government separately. “The first one is Associations that include assemblies, councils, and different communities, and groups which are led by the Law of Associations.” The associations are mostly responsible for small projects like voluntary works, participation in movements and rallies and other activities. Ahmad Seyar Lalee, A former CS activist during his interview stated that associations such as youth councils do not have any donor in general; therefore, they usually join the Umbrella organizations. An Umbrella Organization is usually a huge organization with a number of member organizations working together. these associations join bigger non-governmental organizations who are either independent or have international partners for the sake of survival.
non-governmental organizations are also controlled by the law and codes of NGO. It includes any non-governmental organization regardless of being the local or foreign base. Non-governmental organizations are also nonprofit organizations which are not supposed to be for business or profit-seeking. These organizations are usually funded by donors through short and long-term projects for development and reconstructions.
The registration process for both associations and NGOs are quite similar. It includes application, National ID, fees and photos of finding members, registration certificates, organizational charters, and other documents. Each organization is registered in different ministries. NGOs are registered to the Minister of Economics while Associations are registered with Ministry of Justice.” Moreover, as of August 2015, 5,789 associations were registered with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), and 2,060 NGOs were registered with the Ministry of Economy (MoEc). The sudden increase in NGOs was due to loads of financial aid for development and reconstruction project. The bellow (figure 1) shows the drastic change in the number of organizations from 2000 to 2016.
Figure SEQ Figure * ARABIC 1: Growth in the number of CSOs 2000-2016
However, the debate over effectiveness remains questionable because NGOs are mostly accused of being extremely corrupted during this particular time. The international aid was at its peak at the beginning of 2000s government could not manage properly. As a result, it was distributed to NGOs through different educational and development projects. There are different mostly negative ideas about corruption and NGOs activities in Afghanistan. But, the funding source of aid is important to know because it opens the floor to other factors behind it.
Funding sources for Afghan CSO
Civil society organizations, particularly non-governmental organizations have survived by aid and financial support from the international donors for a long time. From 2001 onward, there was a huge attention from the international community (IC) on Afghanistan. Also, there was a tremendous flow of money to the country for the purpose of reconstruction and state building. The Government apparently could not manage the controlling projects and other facilitators were needed. Marine Durand in her research states that the increase of CSO in terms of number is due to “Political stability, international demand, and funding, and better security, were some of the main reasons for this development.” Durand’s view is debatable because Taliban were still active secretly blowing things up and targeting projects. NATO, ISAF and Afghan National Military were still at war with Taliban. Hence, the main factor can be international community’s aid and projects more than stability. Moreover, the necessity for more facilitators might have caused the rapid growth in the number of NGO. Initially, almost all NGOs were backed by INGO and supported by INGO and foreign countries aid. Matt Waldman states, “The United States is major donors contributing one-third of all aid since 2001, Other major donors are: Japan, the United Kingdom, the European Commission (EC), the World Bank (WB), Germany and Canada; the relative contributions of The Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden also are substantial. France and Spain, however, have made scant bilateral contributions since 2001 of just $80 million and $26 million.” In terms of aid, United Nations, USAID, Counterpart international, AKDN and other International organizations have been the major donors in the past decade. The below chart illustrates CSOs funding sources from 2005 to 2010.
Figure SEQ Figure * ARABIC 2: Afghan CSO’s Funding sources
The chart shows international aid decline by 29% in five years. There can be political reasons behind the budget cut and aid decline. One of the reasons can be Syrian conflict as most international donors referred to assist Syrians. Other possible reason can be a devastating political situation and the conflictual relation of government and civil society might also have led to the aid cut. Though the decline of international donors can push CSOs to move toward self-sufficiency, otherwise, they have to quit their goals. From one side, it is useful for non-governmental organizations, they will be able to become more credible.
To sum up, organizations sought to play a remarkable role in promoting equal rights, humanitarian activities and promoting awareness for the citizens. Despite that, it has not achieved the deserved entitlement. There are many weaknesses within civil society organizations as a community that has led to disappointment. Corruption and heights of nepotism are something both government and CSOs struggle with. None of the segments are able to trust each other and ethnic fragment trust neither of them. In the circumstances where central authority is not capable of upholding responsibilities by providing necessary facilities for its citizens often civil society steps into influence the policies of the government. It is worse when central power and public representatives serve selective people. Observing situation in Afghanistan it seems like the government is following a populist approach of serving only those in power and the power circle. The relationship between civil society organizations and the religious or informal institution is complicated. Some are holding modern and democratic thoughts and believes wants to promote it. On the other hand, informal institutions have their own ideologies which are often culture based ideologies. For instance, in provinces, most of the domestic conflicts are resolved by Shuras (local community) rather than legal institutions such as court. People often avoid approaching courts and police because of injustice. Civil society has a different meaning in every country regardless of its classical definition. It is differently perceived and as well as practiced in Afghanistan in comparison to Europe and the US. CSO’s work alongside religious institutions most probably that separates it from other countries. Marine Durand states that “Even if the CS has existed for a long time, mostly in traditional forms, the state of CSOs really changed after 2001, both from a qualitative and a quantitative perspective.” As highlighted earlier, there are around 7000 civil society organizations both social organizations and nongovernmental organization let alone the unregistered organizations and local councils. The outcomes of their activities are still unclear and often undermined. Despite the efforts of each segment independently and together in some cases a lot of things remained unchanged. Traditional perspective of women as a household product has remained same for many people around the country. Poor health condition is still what women from while pregnancy in particular. Another issue that is important to mention is funding sources of NGOs. Non-governmental organizations are concerned about how to sustain their organization as foreign budgets decrease and projects are limited.
CHAPTER 3: ANALYSIS AND FINDINGS
An inclusive scrutiny is required to answer the question of whether or not Afghan civil society is weak. This chapter, therefore, aims to reflect on findings from secondary sources and analyzed interviews. Scholarly articles, international organizations report, academic journals, articles in Dari, and informants view have provided huge content of information. The most common aspect of a given topic is its negative and positive aspects to be studied. Likewise, there are positive and negative sides of civil society organizations in Afghanistan. Normatively, there are people who support CS and welcome their activities as opposed to people who denounce them.
In this case, the funded NGOs seek for their survival and tries to prove their existence. CSO has so far lasted for long with the help of INGOs and International Community. INGOs have been providing financial and capacity development expertise for more than a decade now. But there are complications besides financial and professional skills training like gender discrimination, cooperation, and citizens’ satisfaction that marks CSOs that accumulatively have a direct impact on this community. Even though, it is not easy to have one particular ‘yes or no’ answer to the question asked in the first chapter. Considering all the given aspects one can possibly say that civil society does exist in Afghanistan but its activities and effectiveness are questionable. Throughout this part, the major elements of social life that shape the essence of civil society will be explained. It will first examine gender aspect in Afghanistan. The purpose is to see the development and changes occurred in women’s lives with or without the help of NGOs and association. it will discuss inter-organizational relation and as well as their relationship with informal institutions in Afghanistan. As much as there are NGOs and youth associations legally active in Afghanistan, there are informal religious and social communities (Shuras) that are profoundly impactful on Afghans social and political behavior. So, in order to be able to realize CSOs affectivity, it is important to comprehend their level of mutual relation. Afterward civil society’s position on promoting state accountability will be studied for the purpose of discerning their mutual understanding. Then, this paper will look at the organizational infrastructure of organizations and associations. Understanding formal structure of agencies will help analyze the outcome and implications to the society. It will discuss the image that CS has built in the eyes of citizens as a community.
Civil Society and Gender Mainstreaming
Women struggle with discrimination particularly women who are active socially and politically. The gender-based biases which feminists criticize civil society are applicable in case of Afghanistan. Social norms and traditions have limited most of their opportunities for success and development in the professional career. Despite, the claim that all the development chances are directed to women’s empowerment. Mr. Lalee in this regards states that there is a double burden on women’s shoulder. They need to be fulfilling both personal “house” and Professional “Office Work” responsibilities at the same time. For instance, there is no specific timing for an official meeting so members are called anytime which is why male CS actors are able to show up while women cannot so that is how there are fewer chances for women’s promotion. Hence, women in civil society carry a double burden as they try to keep a balance between social and personal life.
Moreover, women often have a symbolic representation in the government. Despite two decades of civil rights movements and efforts, women are non-existent at high and decision-making level of the government. For example, women do not exist in the peace negotiations with the Taliban, says Horia Mosadiq. Further, A research on twelve women NGOs showed that despite great attention on women’s development, particular support of women-led NGOs, Women’s underrepresentation and marginalization in the political arena is a huge concern. A vivid example can be given by patriarchy as mentioned earlier. The notion of Mahram or guardianship that women including civil activists need to have while traveling across the country. The term means legal escort of women and is an important part of the social norm. It primarily concerns women and girls’ safety which is a matter of concern. Most of the women both in rural and urban areas are not able to walk as they hold the fear of harassment in mind.
On the other hand, there have been some successful efforts to develop women’s condition particularly domestic violence against women. the Elimination of Violence against Women law and the Strategy and National Action Plan has been the biggest accomplishment. The EVAW law was drafted by some women’s rights activists, female politicians and civil society activists in 2009, which was later approved by President Karzai on 20/7/2009 and converted into law. The law was initiated noting the constitution’s articles on abuse and harassment. it strictly forbids any form of violence against women and children and calls on legal actions against the guilty. But the implementation is weak due to social norms it is hard to report or speak up about domestic violence and sexual abuse. Also, it is noteworthy that CSOs have had considerable achievements in regards to women empowerment. They have proved their capabilities, built identities, considered and as well as demanded equal treatment. Women lead many CSO organizations like Afghan women network (AWN) and businesses. These improvements are important to be considered. The current condition is not a complete problem-free situation but some women successfully passed through obstacles. In this regard, major achievements have been made on prioritizing Gender equality on the mandate charters of organizations. Considering that fact that gender equality once did not exist as a concept, it can be said that it is an achievement. Hence, the democratization process through civil society has its advantages and disadvantages for women.
Coordination among the formal and informal organization
Civil society organizations in Afghanistan lack coordination and cooperation. The integration among NGOs is important for their sustainability. In the sense that they need to gain people’s trust for what they do. However, in Afghanistan NGOs lack that cooperation with each other. Marine Durand, quotes CPI director Maiwand Rahyab, in her report, he stated that there is no coordination among CSO in Afghanistan. Coordination is an ideology but nobody cares to implement it. It is due to lack of teamwork between organizations, government, and another sector. Sometimes there is a repetition of the same work done by two different organizations. That is why the provided sources lose its reliability. It proves that there is a negative competition among civil society organizations. In fact, the untold dimension goes back to the beginning of NGOs activity. Every organization was competing to get projects and profit from it. The same manual was known and widely used for more than a decade. Today when the international community has mostly left, local NGOs are supposed to work independently. Some of them find it challenging.
Although, the cooperation issue cannot be generalized because there are “Umbrella Organizations” providing platforms to smaller organizations and uniting them. Even if they can work independently remaining neutral in regards to each other, they still need to have a common code of conduct. In this regards, Horia Mosadiq, an activist and political analyst believes that “CSO’s relations will get better as they collaborate more than rivalry.”
Regarding NGOs relation with local shuras and registered association, it is believed that they have a cooperative relationship. Even though, there is no exact data on unregistered organizations which are mostly religious groups, community councils, committees and informal gatherings. They are still dominant and more influential, especially in the rural areas. The complexity of two civil societies with two different ideologies adds to the challenges. There are two types of civil society; informal or religious institutions and modern formal organizations. Fazal Amiri CS activist states that NGOs work with local communities under particular cases of public awareness about diseases etc. In an assessment by Counterpart international in Afghanistan uses the Asia Foundation poll where 86% agreed that local shuras are more accessible and 73% follow local norms and values. Majority of focus group respondents in the assessment believe NGOs cannot survive without local shuras. NGOs have foreign donors and are independent financially while shuras are limited financially. Basically, it can be inferred that NGOs are not the uniting apparatus. Instead, they are more of a service delivery instrument. While local shuras are the main channels through which people’s problems are transmitted to government and NGOs. The main argument is the confrontation of ideologies and different values. Anyhow, it is important to find out which side accepts the change. The situation is that either local shuras accept all the democratic values and cooperate with CSO or conversely CSOs initiate projects and provide services based on traditional norms of the locals. In this case, there are projects with less or no traces of democracy, undermining rights of minorities and profiting those in power in order to fulfill the reporting process. Finally, Dr. Khoshnazar Pamyrzad illustrates an important factor in the importance of power and people’s understanding of power. In his article CS and its challenges in Afghanistan, he states that it is due to historical power dominance of government acting as a single service provider for the society that people never know they can help themselves as a community. Therefore, there is a need to change the community perception of rights and power.
Civil Society and State Relation
Civil society and government have a weak relationship that restricts it to observe state governance. The term governance and notion attached to it was created by World Bank in the 1980s for the first time to elaborate the necessity for finer institutional reforms in Africa’s Sub Saharan countries. Since then, the concept of governance is the main purpose to accomplish when it comes to providing aid to a non-democratic and aid recipient country. Gary Hansen stated that “Civil society consists of non-state organizations that are engaged in or have the potential for championing adoption and consolidation of democratic reforms.” It also indicates that foreign donors are responsible for spreading and expanding democratic values in the aid receiver state. It can be inferred that one of the aims has been ensuring the establishment of representational democratic institutions and ensure states accountability in controlling those institutions. In this case, since, observing government’s activities is one of fundamental responsibility expected from civil society groups. Inspecting government performance is not easy for anywhere particularly for developing countries like Afghanistan. It becomes even more challenging as they have undergone warlords’ leadership. There have been disagreements, conflicts, discriminations against one another. The state does not ensure equality of political rights and minorities suffer the most. For example, Hindus and Sikhs, are a religious minority in a country where 99% of people practice Islam. they have been suffering discrimination on daily basis. Hence, most of the minorities have fled the country and those who are left are struggling for social rights such as education, job opportunities and political representation.
As for civil society, they are often ignored by the government. This attitude is one of the biggest factors instigating a weak and often opposing relationship between government and civil society. There are restricting laws about budgets and funding by the government. CS acitivists believe that the National Unity Government to neglects the civil society. Government institutions negligence toward CS security and nonstop bureaucratic paperwork during annual reporting is adds to the problems. An example can be given through Mr. Lalee’s statement from his interview is, “government is not able to provide security in the remote areas whenever a local organization is supposed to be for a project.” Moreover, Horia Mosadiq pointed to governments direct control of the foreign aid which implies state control over funds and also weakening CSOs. This is while President Ashraf Ghani pledges in the international conferences to reform and support civil society and facilitate them in their mission. Those promises never took the practicle stance. One such case is 2014 London conference on Afghanistan. The government committed to ensuring organizations full involvement in the development and rule of law, and monitering state performances. Despite all the promises, the unity government did not show any interest in discussing implementation. Additionally, the international community asked the government to recognize civil society and eliminate corruption in Brussel conference 2016. In this regards, Seyar Lalee, civil society activist expressed his opinion about democracy on papers versus practical spheres, saying Democratic principles are under the authority of warlords and human rights violators; parliament law makers initiate democratic laws while the implementers are not democrats. His statement shows that Afghanistan got most of the initiatives on papers; there is a well-defined constitution that considers everything.
However, there are impressive policies and strategies under which institutions like ministries must work. The level of satisfaction towards their work is quite disappointing. Even though NUG claims to have made significant initiatives in the government, corruption and frauds have not disappeared and family circles remain important. Also, there are joint committees like Secretariat that ensure the fulfillment of Afghan government’s promises London conference and organizations like Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief and Development (ACBAR) seek to improve cooperation’s and information sharing between NGOs and other stakeholders. ACBAR organize meetings between CSOs and government official meets and discuss different issues. These meetings usually follow the typical and symbolic manner lacking practical dimension said Ahmad Seyar Lalee. The principle factor behind the discontent is the power which is why despite the goal of peace and justice they find hard to work together. Hence, CS is weak due to a government’s restrictive rules and lack of freedom in the government.
Despite much improvement, organizational mismanagement is a substantial problem seen among formal NGOs in Afghanistan. These problems may not be considered as big as it should be but they are negative impacts are the outcome. There are organizations registered but do not function in reality. In other cases, some organizations are led by family and relative ties despite knowing being against NGO law. This was discussed by civil society activists from provinces in the Focus Group Discussions organized by Afghanistan Institute for Civil Society (AICS) in 2015. Additionally, Abdul Wadood Pedram, Executive Director of Human Rights and Eradication Violence Organization (HREVO), in his interview with Civil Society and Human Rights Network (CSHRN) stated; “I think civil society has played an important role in specific aspects yet the main problem of Afghan CS is its “uncivilness”. Most of NGOs acitvities circulate around the head’s demands as he is that the owner of the organization. The authority of founder and the head are the dominant which undermines the official positions and responsibilities administration. Worst of all, organizations are influenced and follow religious, nationalist and tribal tendencies. Another problem is their organizational feature: meaning some CSOs despite claiming social services are affected by the bigger NGOs and donors”. In this regard, Mr. Lalee with his considerable experience shares the same idea. He articulated that, “International NGOs are committed to Democratic values but local NGOs (LNGO); organizations are focused on local traditions and norms.
Even though, many reports have shown improvements in the institutional framework, management, leadership and capacity building which Afghan CSOs initially lacked. Despite that, these issues remain the same to some extent. Additionally, Roshan Siran CEO of Ms. Roshan Siran, Executive Director of Training Human Rights Association for Afghan Women states that “NGOs policies and code of conduct can be the vital source of right guidance.” Indeed, code of conduct and strategy papers are the great source of leadership, however, it is complicated when rules are not followed nor implemented. Local associations and shuras are more effective on citizen’s mentality rather than standard NGOs who are effective on the governmental policies of civil laws. In sum, democratic values remain on statutes of organization barely being practiced. Strong cultural and social norms are considered to be among the main obstacles.
Image and accountability
Indeed, there are positive and negative attitudes towards the CSOs, but people mostly see them negatively. When it comes to reliability of organizations, the complexity of criteria makes it challenging. The problem is defining criteria based on which accountability of an institution is judged. Addition to that, each criterion adds to the overall image of it. Although, feedbacks work only if organizations follow it. There are different views about them mostly negative. Ahmad Seyar Lalee, civil activist states; “People in small cities are very negative than those in big cities like Kabul, Balkh, Jalalabad, and Herat. It is because their expectations have not been accomplished. They believe their funds which usually come from aid have embezzled by these organizations.” Budgets have mostly directed toward personal profit by organizations. Farooq Wardak, former Minister of Higher Education’s fraud of millions of “ghost” or “imaginary school students” and teachers. This was one of the biggest scandals revealed in 2016, pointing to embezzlement of the huge amount of aid coming from international donors.
Additionally, in 2015, SIGAR (Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction) report revealed: “inaccurate report” in USAID health services in Herat province. Cases such as providing inaccurate reports to show that situation is better or worse as opposed to real condition affect negatively on both international and local organization. Even though, many people accept civil society and consider their movements before people did not have a positive idea about them even if they were dependent on CSO’s projects. Besides that, corruption and nepotism are the most predominant phenomena in most of the countries affected by conflicts like Afghanistan and African countries. The eager or need for earning more money, in the beginning, has changed those phenomena to a culture. In this case, some of the respondents showed neutrality. They believe corruption is existent only on organizations with weak management. Meanwhile, Mr. Amiri, AICS Certification Manager, asserts that “in general, people are not very positive about CSOs but It depends form one place to another place and depending on the work done. People believe that NGOs spent a lot of money on themselves than on people. However, there are cases, where community appreciates these CSOs work and concerns.” Basically, it depends on how much work has been done in a particular region. If NGOs fulfilled their missions successfully without violating any rule people support them otherwise it is vice versa. The downside is that most NGOs and activists follow projects, donor, and reports more than focusing on citizen’s life conditions. Analyzing highlighted points, it can be implied that people think CSOs and activists are only responsible authorities to check through government policies or bring changes in the system on their behalf. Therefore, people mostly have a negative attitude about western-funded NGOs.
Afghan civil society has experienced ups and downs since the beginning of establishment. There are NGOs (formal) funded by foreign countries and social organizaitons (formal and informal) or association functioning in Afghanistan. The distinction between formal and informal organization is hard to be done. The reason depends on how one defines formal and informal organizations. For formal organizations, they are registered and are funded by international NGOs. Informal instituions as Helmke and Levitsky define are those based on social norms and believes. With that, there are local communities led by values and registered in the government.
They have been endeavoring many political and social challenges from the beginning till date. Their efforts for making a deserving image among citizens have been a combination of success and failure. Some people believe they are serving country while others believe they are just working for what they are said and paid for. Nonethelss, it is important that people are aware of them.
The unreliability of situation has weakened civil movements and left human rights activist uncertain about their future status stated Horia Mosadiq, a human rights activist. After seventeen years of survival civil society is still at risk of disappearance and discreditable once international donor leave. There were thousands of social organizations registered in the government. After the ISAF (International Security Assistance for Afghanistan) left many organizations begain worrying about future budgeting. Following that most of the international non-governmental organizations (INGO) left Afghanistan as well. Even though, the United States troop withdrawal was predefined to be in 2014.
From a conceptual perspective, there is not much of difference between western understanding of civil society and the one exist in Afghanistan. But in practice, they are influenced by political and social norms and religious values. although, it is challenging to measure civil society in general because it is “conceptual and policy-related thing.” Still, there are some general patterns that could identify successful ones. One of those patterns is to see citizens’ participation in the human rights movements through non-government organizations within a particular country. As Vanessa Van den Boogaard defines, the relationship between government and civil society is independent yet close and affecting each other. Unfortunately, Afghanistan as a country lack peoples full participation in the political activities and movements. Also, in the democratization process in Afghanistan, as the number of non-governmental organizations and associations increased the inefficiency also increased.
Western funded NGOs, in general, have made many achievements throughout their mission. they have become the face of civil society on Afghanistan. Most of the resources read and activists interviewed for this research believe NGOs in Afghanistan are “donor driven”. These organization efforts are inefficient partly because of organization and individually rational. The rationality of personal gain or selective gain violation others opportunity. Such condition contradicts the claim of democracy and its presence. Veeda Saghari, women’s right activist believes that “Democracy is incomplete in the absence of active civil society.” her statement clearly explains the situation in Afghanistan. CSOs are not as active as expected to be. As violence and discrimination against women are still at a serious level. As for the state-CSO relation; the state has not been able to build a strong relationship, due to corruption and nepotism. On the other hand, NGO wit with local shuras to some extent have relations. NGOs within themselves have competition but they work together with shuras in some cases. Because only Shuras have the direct connection with citizens. In that sence, CSO remains only with the service delivery responsibility. Hence, based on the provided arguments it can be said that civil society is rather weak in Afghanistan.