New regional network established to reduce conflict in Afghanistan’s northeast
KUNDUZ - To generate new momentum around reducing conflict in Afghanistan’s restive northeast region, civil society members from four provinces gathered at a UN-backed symposium to establish a regional network for non-governmental organizations.
The new network, supported by the Kunduz regional office of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), is expected to represent the concerns of local communities to authorities much more efficiently than individuals alone, or even individual organizations.
At the event to form and launch the new regional network, Kunduz Provincial Governor Asadullah Omarkhel spoke highly of the role of civil society.
“We all should be united in reaching our goals of creating and improving prosperous and peaceful communities; we can’t be divided,” he said. “Civil society members are a bridge between the government and the people; this bridge becomes stronger if we are able to share advice with each other.”
Indeed, the individual stories told by civil society attending the event -- men and women alike -- indicate that non-governmental actors can serve as important links between the government and local communities.
Zabilhulla Majidi, head of Kunduz Municipality Consultative Shura (a non-governmental body) told the symposium’s participants that civil society in the past 15 years has worked toward positive change, especially in the areas of peace-building, and noted that public trust in civil society organizations has increased.
Mr Majidi said that, due to the work of civil society members, many local conflicts and problems have been peacefully resolved or prevented from occurring.
“Just yesterday, a serious conflict between 13 municipality shuras in a Kunduz district was solved peacefully after I was called for mediation,” he recounted. “In the recent election of the joint head of the municipality shuras, most of the members fervently contested the newly elected head; but after my mediation, it was solved peacefully and they conducted a new polling process.”
Mr Majidi said that this type of mediation is not new in Afghanistan, but noted that community mediators in the past were not entirely familiar with the legal framework. “Now, when civil society activists are called for mediation, they are more likely to know the laws and some solutions to local conflicts can be also legalized,” he said.
Nooruddin Fetrat, a human rights activist from Takhar, spoke at the event about the work undertaken in the province by advocacy groups in tandem with civil society. Civil society members in Takhar, he said, meet community elders in villages, districts and provincial capitals regularly; they listen to problems and discuss priorities, then contact line departments on behalf of the communities.
“Two years ago, while I worked in Kunduz, I was able to convince the provincial department of electricity to construct a two-year delayed power extension to the Aliabad district of Kunduz,” he said. “The poles had been put in place, but then no one paid attention to installing the cable.”
Mr Fetrat went on to describe how, on another occasion, he succeeded in convincing the Kunduz mayor to put garbage bins around the city. “It helped in having a clean environment,” he said.
Lida Sherzad, a rights activist from Kunduz, talked about the unique work of women in the provinces, not only in raising awareness about the need for change, but also in bringing about that change.
“In our struggle for the rights of the educated but jobless women in Kunduz, we had a series of advocacy meetings with local officials lobbying to recruit women in government departments,” she said. “Soon, a gender unit, required by law, will be established in the Kunduz Governor’s office.”
She described another meeting she had with the Kunduz Police Chief, raising an issue about the provincial ID department where no women had been working. “He promised to employ two women in this department,” she said. “We are following up closely on this.”
Gita Bashardoost, another human rights activist from Kunduz, recounted similar moments of advocacy leading to change. “As a rights activist, my daily business is lobbying and advocating for the rights of citizens, particularly for the people whose rights are violated,” she said.
She told the story of an 18 year old woman who, after being forcibly engaged to a man, sought a cancellation of the engagement. Ms Bashardoost recounted how the case was delayed in legal institutions for five years until the young woman turned 23. “My intervention resulted in accelerating the proceedings, and the court decided on the cancellation of this unwanted engagement,” she said.
During the past several years, UNAMA has been working with civil society in Kunduz, Baghlan, Takhar and Badakshan to supporting local efforts to establish provincial networks. By most accounts, the networks have improved cooperation among NGOs, local communities and the government.
However, the social, political and economic progress was reversed two years ago when the Taliban occupied the city, destroying most of its infrastructure. The volatile situation that continues in many districts of Kunduz and the broader northeastern region has had a negative impact on residents’ ability to participate in public life and access basic services.
As the new regional network begins to make an impact, it is expected to improve the overall communication between local communities and their government counterparts, strengthening cooperation on issues that are crucial residents of Kunduz, Badakshan, Baghlan and Takhar.
UNAMA is mandated to support the Afghan Government and the people of Afghanistan as a political mission that provides 'good offices' among other key services. 'Good offices' are diplomatic steps UN takes publicly and in private, drawing on its independence, impartiality and integrity, to prevent international disputes from arising, escalating or spreading.
UNAMA also promotes coherent development support by the international community; assists the process of peace and reconciliation; monitors and promotes human rights and the protection of civilians in armed conflict; promotes good governance; and encourages regional cooperation.