Memories of ACBAR
The Mother of NGOs
In 2001 I worked for ACBAR as a regional manager for Kabul during the Taliban time. The office had been closed by Taliban in 1996, but the Steering Committee was able to renegotiate the opening of the ACBAR office in 2000. Thomas Mueller was the program manager of ACBAR and was providing oversight in Kabul at the time. Then I left ACBAR and joined other member NGOs and subsequently was elected as a member of the Steering Committee. I was also elected as a Chairman 3 times (the last time was 2012 - 2013) and I am still a member of the Steering Committee.
One of the most difficult times the Steering Committee faced in ACBAR was in 2012 when there was a management crisis and Steering Committee members had to intervene and take over the management of the organisation directly in order to prevent it closing. Due to our work we were able to resume and maintain ACBAR and appoint a new Director and identify new funding. This was a significant achievement.
During Taliban time, Taliban thought that NGOs needed to be brought under their control and that controlling ACBAR, as the “mother of NGOs”, would mean controlling all NGOs. So the Taliban tried to introduce a representative to each NGO to work in the organisation to obtain information on activities. Someone was introduced to ACBAR. We gave him some responsibilities (conducting prayer five times a day), made him sign the attendance sheet and after three days he left for his own province and let us carry on our work without his close supervision. He trusted us and he seldom visited ACBAR to sign his attendance sheet.
Generally the Taliban were suspicious of NGOs and did not understand what they did and what our objectives were. They suspected some NGOs of proselytization. They wanted to control NGOs more closely. An example was detention of the Director of an International NGO, but ACBAR intervened and we were able to release her from detention of Taliban. When they understood our work better then trust was built. This happened when they saw that NGOs were really serving the needs of the people of Afghanistan. I was a regional manager for AREA in Herat when the Taliban arrived in 1996. Initially we had a lot of difficulties but when they saw our work then the Taliban authorities let us carry on. Even now today in rural areas the community can be suspicious about the work of NGOs – they think NGOs are bringing different ideas and a different culture so we always need to build up relationships and trust.
I have always believed in ACBAR, I see it has an important role to advocate on a collective basis on behalf of the wider group of NGOs, to share information and bring various actors such as government institutions, donors, private sector and civil society together. Through ACBAR we were able to influence different Government Ministries and sectors and different national and international stakeholders. I was able to attend 3 conferences on Afghanistan as a member of ACBAR - the second Bonn conference, the Tokyo conference and the first London conference as the Chairman of ACBAR. At these conferences we were able to advocate for different issues as members of civil society on the importance of education, health, women’s rights, human rights and the role of civil society.
As NGOs we do have some challenges, we face competition between ourselves for funding so we do not always coordinate and share information with each other. We do need a common platform to build up trust in each other. I do see positive changes in our work but we still need to improve.
There have been improvements in Afghanistan throughout the last 30 years with the assistance of NGOs – for example in health, education, water and sanitation. NGOs can reach all corners of the country and bring rapid assistance, but there are huge challenges in the country – high unemployment of youth in particular, insecurity, drug addiction, criminality, poverty - which impact our work and make it less visible. Opportunities for women are available but education and professional skills among women are still lacking so we need to work more on this to ensure progress. The voices of women in rural areas and in villages are not yet sufficiently heard. We also need to raise women Islamic scholars to be able to speak to the Islamic scholars in order to find their role in society.
Mr. Fazel Rabi Haqbeen, Director of Tashabos, Former Regional Manager and Chairman of ACBAR. Current SC member.