Umbrella civil society body launched in eastern Afghanistan
4 February 2010 - Over 100 civil society organizations in the east of Afghanistan have joined hands to launch an umbrella body to advance peace, human rights, capacity-building and reconstruction efforts.
Representatives of the United Nations, Provincial Government, newly elected Provincial Council, women and minority groups told an inauguration ceremony held in the eastern regional hub of Jalalabad Wednesday that a united body of civil society organizations is critical in the coordination of development efforts, advocacy and fighting corruption.
Nangarhar Province Deputy Governor Mohamad Alam Ishaqzai told the gathering that although some members of civil society may have political orientation, he hoped that the “new body will play a good role towards prosperity, development and enforcement of law.”
Mr Ishaqzai said the body should work towards protecting human rights and fighting “corruption in government departments.”
“We are proud of civil society’s good coordination in Nangarhar, but I propose (for) them to keep up and further promote coordination among themselves because, through coordination, they can better identify people’s problems and needs, find solutions and get more positive achievements,” said Mr Ishaqzai.
The umbrella body called Civil Societies’ Unity Council (CSUC) recently elected its chairperson, three deputies and spokesperson. It has 17 working committees for the four provinces of eastern Afghanistan – Nangarhar, Laghman, Kunar and Nuristan.
Shir Afzal Muslih, a tribal elder and director of a civil society organization, was elected chairperson of the Council.
While underscoring “an enormous role” the civil society needs to play, Nicholas Hercules, a representative from UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), said the country desperately needs peace, stability and development.
“This is people’s biggest desire,” said Mr Hercules, reminding the civil society group that the people are sceptical about “the motivation of all leaders today.”
“Therefore be certain you are not a construction company, a platform to promote personalities who want to run for public office. People will quickly judge what your real motives are. And if the first impression is not good in their eyes, it is hard to change that perception,” added Mr Hercules.
The UNAMA representative said the legitimacy of civil society is directly linked to its reputation or being incorrupt, and selflessly working for the greater good and not for one’s own interest.
He also urged the civil society body to pay due attention to transparency, coordination and advocacy.
Article 35 of the Afghan Constitution, along with the NGO law, provides a legal framework for civil society activities.
While seeking the civil society’s support in executing duties of the Provincial Council, Nasratullah Nasrat, newly elected Chairperson of the Nangarhar Provincial Council, said his office doors are always open to civil society groups.
Mangal Shirzad from the Political Science Faculty of Nangarhar University said a modern society can emerge from civil society, and not the other way around.
“I hope that the civil society will make all their efforts work for peace and stability and solve social problems,” said Mr Mangal.
Women representative Moiza Aziz, who runs an NGO for capacity building and community development, sought support for the group in ensuring equal rights for women on a par with their male counterparts.
A leader of the Hindu-Sikh minorities, Dr Harmeet Singh, told the gathering that their rights should be well protected, and called on members of the Hindu-Sikh community who have left the country due to insecurity to return. He also urged the civil society members to help solve their problems.
CSUC Spokesperson Dr Khushal Tasal said the idea of launching the umbrella body of civil society organizations was conceived during the Peace Day celebration ceremony in September last year.
He said the main challenge ahead for the Council is working with the government. “All problems of the people are linked to the government and authorities,” he said, adding that the Council will play the role of “a bridge” and will try to get the support of the international community for security, prosperity and a self-sustainable country.
“We will also work towards strengthening unity between different tribes and defending the rights of minorities,” added Dr Tasal.
Also present at the function was Abdul Ghafar, a labour association leader and member of the civil society body, who told UNAMA that many labourers in the eastern region want basic literacy, and that the civil society body could support them with literacy programmes.
By Tilak Pokharel and Shafiqullah Waak, UNAMA