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Listening to the Voice of Afghan Civil Society at the Tokyo Ministerial

June 27, 2012

“Afghanistan transition, 2014.” Ask citizens of countries engaged in Afghanistan since 2001 what this target date means, and the answer is likely to center on bringing home troops and resources. But ask the people of Afghanistan what 2014 means, and the answer is more likely to reflect anxiety over the international community’s continued role and commitment and what lies ahead for the future of their country.

Soon, the international community will have a chance to address that anxiety. On July 8, Japan will host a ministerial conference in Tokyo that will mark a shift from near-term stabilization of Afghanistan to meeting its long-term development needs. Donor governments are expected to follow up on their commitments, made at Bonn in December of last year, to support Afghanistan’s civilian needs, including in the areas of rule of law, public administration, education, health, agriculture, energy, infrastructure development, and job creation. At the same time, those governments will be looking to the Afghan government to embrace reform and set out sustainable development priorities.

Of course, no one has a greater stake in the outcome of the Tokyo conference than the Afghan people themselves. And no development strategy will succeed in Afghanistan without the support of Afghan civil society. For centuries, it has mostly been informal civil society structures present in rural areas that have met the needs of the people. As government institutions continue to develop, they will need to enlist the support of these experienced members of the informal civil society structures. For these reasons, it’s critical that the voice of Afghan civil society is heard loud and clear in Tokyo. The Asia Foundation, along with the Japan Platform (an international emergency humanitarian aid organization) and an umbrella group of 15 Japanese civil society organizations, are co-sponsoring Afghan civil society participation in Tokyo.

For the past several months, members of Afghan civil society and civil society groups have been meeting to identify their priorities and the position they will take in Tokyo. Nearly 250 Afghan civil society representatives met in Kabul on May 29 and 30. Of this group, 30 representatives, half of them women, will come to Tokyo for final consultations July 6-7 prior to advocating their position before governments at the Ministerial the next day.

Afghan civil society delegates are likely to focus on peace, governance, and economic reforms necessary to encourage the formation of democratic institutions and more effective service delivery. Also at play will be ensuring continued support for women’s rights and humanitarian action. In addition, ideas concerning the fight against corruption, providing jobs, supporting the rule of law, developing the private sector, and encouraging investment in resources have also surfaced.

Over the past decade, Afghan civil society organizations have come together to build larger, more cohesive networks. They are growing more inclusive, participatory, transparent, and accountable. They have also developed stronger advocacy networks and raised awareness on many of the issues they support.

Going forward, these formalized civil society organizations will need to focus on increasing activities in the provinces to strengthen their impact throughout the country. In addition, increased coordination with the Government of Afghanistan as well as the international community will be critical to the development and expansion of their work to tackle issues as varied as insecurity, corruption, human rights, and resource development. In preparing for the Tokyo Ministerial, the Ministry of Finance consulted on April 14 with Afghan civil society in the ministry hall. This is a positive sign, and one that both the Afghan government and Afghan civil society will want to follow up on after Tokyo.

Afghan civil society participation at Tokyo and beyond isn’t just good for Afghans, it’s good for international donors, too. As Afghanistan moves through transition and into the “transformational” decade of 2014-2025, it is Afghan civil society that will be best placed to monitor progress, insist on reforms, assure transparency, and contribute to the sustainability of the development commitments made by the international community.  For the Afghan government as for donors, working with Afghan civil society cannot be simply a one- or two-day affair, they must be partners in development over the long term.

Abigail Friedman is senior advisor at The Asia Foundation, seconded from the U.S. Department of State,  Julia Powell Grossman is a program officer, and Fazel Rabi Haqbeen is director of Peace and Civil Society Programs, both in the Foundation’s Kabul office. They can be reached at afriedman@asiafound-dc.org, jgrossman@asiafound.org, and fhaqbeen@asiafound.org, respectively. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual authors and not those of The Asia Foundation, Department of State, or any other entity of the U.S. government.

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One comment on this post:

  1. V interested in Afghanistan article. Afghan Action has a Training & Business Incubation Centre in Kabul for young men and women to learn carpet weaving or sewing/tailoring, plus literacy and numeracy and English, IT and business skills. We want to expand the work, with existing schools and partners, to create programmes (for aged 14+) combining academic and technical vocational skills and involving companies in the curriculum so students acquire skills needed for employment etc. We are interested in civil engineering.

    Is anyone doing similar work?

    Chris Beales

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