Afghan community leaders attending a meeting held at the London School of Economics and Political Science have criticised a conference on the future of their country which opens in London today, co-hosted by the Prime Minister.
The meeting, held earlier this week, brought together Afghan civil society activists with international policy-makers to discuss local perspectives on international engagement in the country.
Dr Saeed Niazi, Director of the Civil Society Development Center in Kabul, who attended the LSE session, said: "It's a shame that civil society is not better represented at this high profile conference. It is missing an opportunity to broaden participation and include more voices that can represent the concerns of the Afghan people.
"For the past eight or nine years the international community has routinely ignored the concerns of civil society organisations."
Local activists at the meeting suggested that sustained dialogue with a range of people in Afghanistan – not only those with power, guns, and money – would offer a critical perspective on the situation in the country and give more power to the communities ultimately responsible for their own security.
Dr. Niazi explained, "A broader view of civil society would include not only the NGOs, media, and human rights activists but also the tribal elders, religious leaders, and traditional structures that are embedded in local society and enjoy a greater legitimacy among the population."
A majority of attendees also argued that the West should not be negotiating with the Taliban, an issue which will be discussed at the London Conference. Many questioned whether reconciliation with the Taliban would actually end the conflict, given its fragmented nature and the support it continues to receive in Pakistan. This inclusion may result in an even more illegitimate government, what one participant called an 'unholy alliance' of warlords and the Taliban. The urgent priority is security and justice at the local levels as a basis for 'bottom-up' reconciliation.
Convened by Professor Mary Kaldor, co-director of LSE Global Governance, the activists in attendance were unanimous in what they considered a major failing of international engagement up to now.
Professor Kaldor said: "The overarching issue that emerged was the failure of the international community over the last eight years to effectively reach out to civil society in a meaningful way and to create the necessary space for its participation in public debates. This international conference, like the previous ones in Bonn and Paris, does not include, in the conversation and policy debates, the very people and communities with most at stake. Even those few attending the London Conference will likely only enjoy observer status."
The marginalization of civil society voices has had grave consequences for the stabilization of Afghanistan. Over the last eight years, Afghan citizens have continuously demanded more accountability and reform of the government. But instead, the international community helped to create and empower an increasingly unpopular government that is viewed locally as illegitimate, corrupt, and dominated by warlords. In particular, most civil society activists who attended the LSE meeting regarded the recent elections as totally fraudulent and were shocked by the international community's complicity in deciding the election results and agreeing to the inclusion of many of those responsible for every-day insecurity in the government.
For more information contact Marika Theros, LSE Centre for the study of Global Governance:
firstname.lastname@example.org or at 020 7955 6917.
28 January 2010