Memories of ACBAR
Mr. Aziz Rafiee is currently Director of Afghan Civil Society Forum Organization (ACSFo). He worked for more than seven years with ACBAR from 1996 to 2002 in Kabul and Peshawar as office manager, programme officer, program manager, and Afghanistan coordinator. He has also worked as researcher in ARIC (ACBAR Resource and Information Center) before officially joining the agency.
I remember before ACBAR was established, coordination among the donors and different actors was very difficult, but due to the proposal of Louis Dupree and Agha Khan, the Salam operation for Afghanistan was established to coordinate aid more effectively and NGOs decided to launch their own coordination mechanism in 1987. Then the official launch of ACBAR happened in 1988 as a membership forum for aid deliverers to provide effective assistance to the Afghan population inside the country and to support the 3-4 million refugees in Pakistan.
NGOs were working in Pakistan with the refugees and some were working in Afghanistan in areas outside the coverage of the government - providing services like health, education, agriculture, livestock, and more, particularly in emergency, providing assistance for families affected by earth quakes, landslides, floods and conflicts related emergencies such as assistance to families affected by bombing and fighting. These issues were approached on relatively ad-hoc basis.
The decision to set up a more coordinated approach in 1988 was extremely important. It was the start of a new era of assistance. In the last years of the 1980s many local NGOs were set up to channel UN funds and some international NGOs created national NGOs to take over their work. During the civil war in the 1990s, NGOs were key players on the ground for providing support and assistance to the Afghan people. Until 1996 the prestige of the NGOs was very strong and in comparison local civil society organizations were very small.
During the time of the Taliban (1998-2001), NGOs still had a very strong role and the coordination was needed. After the fall of the Taliban at the end of 2001 and the new era brought in under President Karzai, there has been space made for civil society and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) which include NGOs. Civil society as a whole has played an important role in development of society since 2002 with the development of the media and increased education.
Unfortunately the dominance of the international military forces and the military approach to development resulted in the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) policy; this was a big mistake made by the international community. The strategy of quick impact projects of the PRTs was counter-productive and created corruption and misuse of money at local levels. It was supposed to empower local authorities but it actually empowered local militia, local commanders and warlords. At the same time there was no good plan inside the government to utilize the money coming into the country. The money was available, but the government did not have the capacity to deliver this assistance.
From 1986 to 1999 the main agenda for NGOs were aid delivery and assistance and some development; the theme was rehabilitation and reconstruction. After 2002 the focus changed to the social approach; how we can better socially develop Afghanistan. I think if CSOs and NGOs had not been here we would have lost even more during the years of war and conflict. NGOs have been successful in providing hope to the people and providing their needs. Today we are still in this process. I think the hope is always here; we still have the people of Afghanistan, our home land and the international community with us. We are still shaping ourselves in a broader partnership. I think one of the things we have not succeeded in, is better regional partnership and coordination. This is starting now with economic projects like TAPI and others. The results will benefit the next generation.
NGOs and CSOs are a part of the structure of this society at this moment. In modern society, you cannot exclude civil society; it is part of the structure. We may change the work and the shape of the civil society, but we can’t omit or remove it from the structure. We have the State, civil society and the private sector; these are the three important actors of a liberal society.
I am still very engaged as a civil society advocate in what is happening in Afghanistan right now, including human rights issues. We have achieved a lot in bringing people to work on values and principles. Part of this advocacy has been to work on new policies, including the disability law, the NGO law, the media law and the environment law. These are major achievements of civil society in Afghanistan. As NGOs and CSOs we are actually contributing to the development of the country, especially to the principles.
I think the issue that motivates us in our work in civil society is the need of Afghans to have a just society. This is something which motivates us to continue our work; there a lot of priorities and important things which we have not yet achieved. The rule of law, good governance, transparency and accountability are still the most important priorities for civil society and of course for development we need peace and a security process - so peace and security are very important for us.
I think ACBAR and other coordination bodies need to work in close cooperation, we need to complement each other’s work, prevent any duplication, and work with full trust and loyalty to our goals and objectives and also to our values and principles. One of the biggest things which we have achieved with ACBAR is the NGO Code of Conduct established in 2005 by five coordination bodies. It is one of our major achievements and it is a very important to commit ourselves to the principles of impartiality, humanity and do no harm.