Afghanistan: Between war and a new beginning
Article by Rahela Sidiqi for Vienna Diaspora Conference 2nd and 3rd December 2019.
“Knowledge Transfer & Support”
Social Development Expert and Founder and Director of
The Rahela Trust for Afghan women’s education.
27th Nov 2019
“It would not be hard to end the war if we all put down our guns and took up pens instead!” – Rahela Sidiqi, November 2019
“Through engagement at policy and practice level, the women and men of the Afghan diaspora can promote the Afghanistan development process!” – Rahela Sidiqi, Nov 2019
It is not difficult to give a helping hand to those who suffer from hardship in life! Development and humanitarian organisations should reach out to the poor in this world, and those traumatised by war There is no excuse for us to say no. We are all obliged, through common humanity, to help enable them to access basic rights such as water, shelter, food, health and education.
Afghanistan is in immediate need of support.
Based on Integrated Food Security Phase Classification IPC, 10.23million – 33% of Afghans live in severe food insecurity; 7.79 million are in crises and 2.44 million need urgent food assistance (IPC, Nov, 2019).
According to the Afghanistan Centre for Strategic Analysis, there are more victims of air pollution in Afghanistan than there are victims of war. Research indicates that 26,000 deaths could be attributed to air pollution. The main cause is poverty and use of leather, rubber and plastic as energy. In contrast, based on a UN Report , 3,483 civilians were killed due to war in 2017.
In 2016, more than 550,000 Afghans (including 380,000 registered refugees) were forcibly repatriated from Pakistan; 70-80% of repatriated Afghans were unemployed. Women and girls are often the worst off because of the country’s socially conservative nature.
Most unemployment issues in Afghanistan are related to lack of education, knowledge and skills; 80% of the groups suffering are women; 42% of the population are unemployed and 42% of them are youth (UNILO, 2017).
According to UNCEF’s 2019 report there are 3.7 million children between the ages of 7-17 out of school due to insecurity, and girls account for 60% of the children not in education. 1,000 schools were closed between 2017 and 2018 due to insecurity. Half a million children were denied their right to education as a result.
76% of Afghan women still face some kind of violence and Afghanistan is considered one of the worst places in the world for women to live. (HRW, 2019). Stoning, death threats to women right activists, abuse and harassment of women is visible in the workplace and in the education environment. The nature of invisible violence against women has still not been tackled adequately. For example, the Afghan police routinely refuse to register cases of female victims of domestic violence and ‘honour’ killing is still commonly practiced (HRW, 2019).
The healthcare system needs major support and funding; at present one physician has to treat 5,000 patients There is a huge need for more doctors – especially female doctors. 
“Afghan mothers and daughters will fight with pens to eliminate violence against women”- Rahela Sidiqi, 19 Nov 2019.
The fight against terrorism threatens not just the region, but the world. If it is to succeed, and achieve sustainable peace in Afghanistan, it will need the joint efforts of all parties that want the world to be a safe place – including the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Collaboration.
It is imperative, therefore, to work together to resolve the common problems in the region through a fair, peaceful and dignified approach to ending the war. ACSA, Nov2019
Between 1978-1989 around 1.5million Afghans were martyred (or lost their lives) leaving the country with 1.5 million orphans, widows and disabled. This number perhaps tripled during the civil war/Taliban years and two post-Taliban decades.
In general, extensive progress has been made in the last two decades – but that progress must be sustained and further developments made. It is up to us, the development actors, not only to protect what has been achieved, but to make long-term plans for further sustainable development leading to a peaceful Afghanistan.
In particular there must be an increase in the number of women in leadership roles and in education. Their representation in this way is a necessary driver of change and improvement, so that women have a better quality of life and access to labour and financial markets.
Until that happens Afghanistan will remain one of the worst places in the world for women to live. About 70-80% of Afghan women marry before the age of 16 and 80% of all Afghan suicides are women. 76% of Afghan women still face some type of violence.
“If nearly all are destroyed, yet just one person remains alive, he can rebuild his country with the power of knowledge!” – RS, Nov 19
How do diaspora organisations deal with the difficult security situation in Afghanistan? What does this mean for the project partners on the ground? Especially important is the point of view of an organisation with a focus on supporting women in the country.
“Increased engagement of the Afghan diaspora members in their host countries, and the development process in Afghanistan, is vital if challenges are to be overcome.” – Rahela Sidiqi, 2019
Security in Afghanistan is not under control. It makes no difference whether help comes from members of the diaspora, an international NGO or a national NGO – but it does matter how work is mapped out so that select partners can best reach those who are in need.
I would like to give you an overview of the challenges and then move on to provide some possible solutions, in particular how female diaspora organisations should enter into partnership or the labour market independently.
“The approach to work in fragile environments and difficult security situations should always be flexible.” – Rahela Sidiqi, November 2019
Any approach to work in environments where security is an issue should take account of this and be responsive to the particular threat at the time.
There is no single approach that meets every situation, but responses should be flexible and based on the type and nature of insecurity.
Cross cut challenges:
- Multilateral recognition and support for diaspora charitable organisations, by the international community, is poor.
- Afghan authorities in Afghanistan are unwilling to meet diaspora activists to share the issues of the Afghan diaspora.
- Lack of clear policy and procedures by government to support and attract the diaspora’s contribution from charitable and economics field.
- Lack of recognition, by some government employees, of the Afghan diaspora’s intellectual contribution; this is reflected in the low payment made to members of the diaspora in comparison to that made to other national experts.
- Migration path issues related to the trauma of adapting to a new land are made worse by lack of support to invest in and utilise migrant-refugees’ knowledge and skills.
- Lack of availability of information centres to provide regular updates to diaspora members about security and opportunities in new fields.
- Lack of consistent data about diaspora members’ educational backgrounds.
- Lack of opportunity for Afghan diaspora members to make learning and work exchange visits to diaspora members of other countries – particularly post- conflict zone countries.
- Negative view, by some, of other Afghan diaspora members in the country
- Lack of support given by the host country to diaspora programs. Cultural differences and mental trauma often prevent Afghans from being able to adapt to new cultural norms. This lack of adequate, positive support from host countries means that diaspora knowledge is not utilised. Skills and talents are wasted and frustration ensues.
Economic investment challenges in Afghanistan
- Low capacity of private sector in Afghanistan
- Quality of production and finishing is not standardised.
- Incompetent mechanisms to deal with corruption
- Lack of human capital
- Insecurity makes it hard to attract external partners.
Diaspora economic contribution challenges
- Money transfer difficulties, due to mixed economy
- Lack of effective engagement of embassy trade section staff with diaspora
- Lack of information about security in Afghanistan for diaspora investors
- Lack of clear guidelines by government to encourage, support and show Afghan diaspora investors how to invest.
- Insufficient cultural and administrative management and leadership training for Afghan women.
- There is no practical structure or mechanism for facilitating and co-ordinating Afghan and diaspora joint efforts or getting them to work together to achieve results-based outcomes.
- Authorities in Afghanistan are reluctant and unwilling to meet with diaspora activists to share the issues of Afghan diaspora members.
- Communication and networking mechanisms among diasporas are weak
- There are no effective lobby groups to promote Afghanistan development processes at different international levels (RS personal note, Nov19).
Challenges for women’s diaspora organisations:
- No support for the core function of the Afghan female diaspora organisation in terms of program management, finance or publicity.
- Afghan Government and other organisations in Afghanistan favour non-Afghan experts and pay them more than Afghan diaspora experts who are better qualified.
- Lack of strategic support for female diaspora charity workers by embassies of Afghanistan due to lack of expertise available in fields of development.
- Employment of female Afghan diaspora members by host country charitable and economic organisations is not adequately supported or their role is not acknowledged. (Afghan diaspora opinion)
- Only ‘lip service’ support is paid to Afghan women’s diaspora organisations.
“The diaspora’s intellectual & effective contribution is vital to the development process of host and origin countries.” – Rahela Sidiqi, Nov 2019
Three parties are able to make a contribution:
- Afghan diaspora organisations
- Afghanistan local organisations
- International organisations.
Cross Cut – Possible policy solution
Donor Community & Government
- The Aid community should consider making lateral and multilateral agreements for Afghanistan in order to reach citizens in remote areas.
- The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation for counter-terrorism co-operation and engagement can play a key role in protecting the region from terrorist attacks.
- An accessible Information Centre website should be created (or embedded in an existing one) to provide information about the diaspora and about opportunities, and the security situation, in Afghanistan on a weekly basis
- Policy procedures and strategic plans should be developed by government and donor communities to promote diaspora charitable and economic activities in Afghanistan.
- Clear criteria and guidelines for consortium partnerships should be developed for diaspora organisation (charitable and private) partnerships.
- Independent Afghan social development cultural advisors, with a gender sensitive approach, should be hired to advise EU organisations and donor communities .
- A clear framework of work disciplines for partnership between charities and private sector organisations in Afghanistan should be identified through rigorous assessment.
- Joint working and joint project implementation among Afghan diaspora and other diaspora communities should be explored, along with co-working systems and exchanges of experience and best practice.
- Structured steps should be taken to recruit women into national, international and UN organisations in host countries and the country of origin.
- Diaspora members who are better informed and knowledgeable than Afghan local experts should work to transform negative perceptions and, through knowledge transfer and teamwork, get their expertise recognised and the barriers to using it removed.
- Afghan Embassies should provide impartial services to all ethnic groups and set up monitoring mechanisms to remedy inequality and discriminatory practices.
- A mixed conference bringing together diaspora members, Afghan government representatives, executive leaders, Afghan local civil society leaders and Afghan MPs should take place to increase awareness about the need for a joint approach to the Afghanistan development process.
- This program should be developed under the leadership of Afghan women to signal what a significant milestone it is in Afghanistan’s history.
- Suitable training, coaching and mentoring should be provided to women to ensure that they are capable and fully prepared to make their key contributions to the process.
- The most challenging role for diaspora and local women is leadership of the peace process, but first steps could start with oversight of soft development processes.
Possible policy solution for economic contribution of diaspora
Government and Afghanistan private sectors
- The Afghan Government should facilitate opportunities for increased diaspora engagement & investment.
- Fast track investment procedures with better facilitation should be put in place for diaspora members to start businesses in Afghanistan.
- Information about business establishment, and all relevant procedural processes, should be provided to diaspora business owners by the Trade Secretaries of respective Afghanistan embassies
- In the Afghanistan private sector, capacity should be built to enable analysis and avoidance of market failure.
- Market analysis should be given to specific specialist companies to enable the producers to meet demands. Support by government and donor communities should be provided to them in order to gain knowledge and experience of business.
- Quarterly working meetings should be set up among diaspora business owners and trade secretaries of embassies and Ambassadors for sharing updated information about import/export opportunities.
- Workshops for sharing information among business owners of similar investors in Afghanistan and Diaspora investors should take place to tackle some of the obstacles.
- A Skype chatroom among Afghan business owners of similar groups in the EU and Afghanistan should be developed. Regional workshops could be established to bring both diaspora and Afghan business owners from Afghanistan together to find ways and means for partnership.
- Market analysis could be undertaken by the Afghan Government
- Knowledge of Afghan economists should be mobilised
- Afghan diaspora members should be made aware of market opportunities in Afghanistan.
- Promotion of agribusiness for women. Increased engagement and partnership with Afghan women diaspora members in private sectors should be extensively supported to increase Afghan women’s access to the labour and financial markets.
Civil society – possible charitable policy solution
“No ethnic and gender abuse! The power of unity and recognition of national identity brings the Afghan nation together.”- Rahela Sidiqi, Nov 2019
Lobby and Networking
- A civil society lobby group, chaired on a rotational basis, should be established to promote Afghanistan. Lobbyists should be selected on the basis of knowledge, talent and expertise in negotiating skills.
- Communication channels. The younger generation should be targeted and connected through the Internet as a more relevant way of becoming engaged.
- A consortium among diaspora and international charities should be established and funded.
- Regional workshops for the establishment of diaspora organisations, together with local charities based in Afghanistan and international organisations, should take place in order to assess possible partnerships.
- A strategy should be developed for diaspora cross-cut communication/networking/projection, along with better implementation mechanisms for effective use of this networking
- Afghans who are member of political parties in host countries should use them as channels to influence policy makers to improve Afghan diaspora engagement and recruitment.
- The Afghan diaspora’s right to vote in elections should be part of the Afghanistan legal framework.
Partnership – means and mechanisms
- Civil society conferences for diaspora organisations and local charities in Afghanistan should take place in the region as a forum for sharing information and networking. Also, to discuss partnerships based on their set general guidelines for partnership.
- Partnership projects should be considered for social integration and working in Afghanistan. These could be two- or three-party joint projects e.g. between international organisations, diaspora organisations and local charities in Afghanistan.
- Conference and sharing forums between the Afghan diaspora and other diasporas at each host country level and at EU level should be set up – particularly with conflict zone countries.
- Short, medium and long-term programs should be designed to increase diaspora engagement in the Afghanistan development process in their host country and the country of origin. A long-term approach to investment could help with better understanding for strategic development.
- Priority should be given to education, mentoring, economic empowerment, and mental health counselling. This program should be considered as a comprehensive package.
- Education should be at the heart of holistic development approach; -mentoring mental health counselling and economics should be part of education program.
- This should be delivered through development of processes and a staged, gradual approach under the continuous supervision of senior advisors (i.e. socially & culturally experienced diaspora Afghan such as the proposed advisor to all EU Programs.)
- The Government should find funding to engage the diaspora in Afghanistan through implementation of projects based on their expertise.
- A local and diaspora co-working system would be effective, either based on utilisation of competitive knowledge and skills or a mixture of complementary skills. Further, more detailed, mechanisms could be developed and would be helpful for large-scale programs.
- Diaspora capacity building in governance, policy formulation leadership and management should be funded to enhance practical capacity.
- It would be good to have capable Afghan diaspora members as co-chairs of the conferences, in different intellectual forums, regarding development in host and country of region
- More chance of moderation and facilitation should be given to capable Afghan Women.
- Media should be used effectively and strategically by Afghan diaspora communities to promote as much positive news as possible.
- Short, positive news documentaries should be released on a monthly basis from Afghanistan and also to illustrate diaspora activities – this with a view to countering negative images and stereotypes and promoting a more optimistic mindset.
- Afghan films should be promoted in the EU art market, and yearly exhibitions of artistic activities such as drawing, painting, music, calligraphy, writing and poetry translated into local languages. These activities can help to bridge cultural differences and accelerate the process of social integration.
- Opportunities to further promote Afghan diaspora organisations through print, radio and TV exposure should be embraced as they offer valuable channels through which to foster social integration and awareness.
- Distance learning programs through the Internet should be set up for health education mentoring and soft technological training across sectors.
- Punctuality, time-management and a transparent, results-based achievement culture of organisation and delivery should be promoted extensively among Afghan diaspora organisations and Afghan local organisations
Possible policy solutions for increased engagement of women.
- A women’s higher education, leadership and mentoring program should be considered as one of the top priorities of development donors.
- Educational support for women should be through women’s education charities in Afghanistan and in host countries through social integration, in order to increase women’s engagement as future leaders and effective contributors.
- Core funding for key personal and qualified staff – to support at least four members for up to 5 years – should be provided for women’s diaspora charities as a priority. The aim would be to help the organisations get established and ensure further effective service provision.
- Significant capacity building in the area of science, technology and education is increasingly important for women engaged in development processes.
- Workshops aimed at developing leadership, management, facilitation negotiation and lobbying skills should be considered for women members of the diaspora.
- Education and promotion of native languages (Pashtu and Dari) should be funded to mobilise more home-based women who are highly depressed about not being able to use their knowledge.
- Women’s involvement in the arts should be promoted and better funded.
- Another sector that should be funded to help women in the diaspora is the medical field, in order to promote health education and wellbeing. In Afghanistan a cascade approach is taken to ensure that and female patients in rural areas are made aware and treated. A similar approach could be adopted in the diaspora.
- More Afghan diaspora female experts should be recruited as UN IOM staff to develop culturally accepted mechanisms and mitigate unnecessary cultural barriers for women increasingly engaged in providing support for programms.
- Temporary consultancy and co-working programs should be designed by IOM to recruit more Afghan women from different rural areas of Afghanistan to return and work as pioneer educators of women.
- Less skilled diaspora women should be trained as vocational program supporters in Afghanistan to work at factories. The presence of women in rural area activities will encourage them to get engaged.
- International businesses should be encouraged to provide more opportunities for Afghan diaspora members to be recruited as executives, directors and finance staff in their organisations. This would deliver tangible results and have a significant impact on women’s ability to engage with the development process.
- Diaspora women should also be considered to be recruited into infrastructure projects for administrative works and, where possible, as construction engineers to work temporarily in Afghanistan.
- Diaspora women with Dari/ Pashtu language skills would be great assets to community-based education programs in Afghanistan for women outside schools. i.e. women who had been denied schooling.
 Afghanistan Centre for Strategic analysis, issue no.326 Nov 2019
 https://unu.edu/publications/articles/highly-skilled-afghan-diaspora-contributes-to- innovation-and-change.html#info
 Diaspora Support To Durable Solutions – Copenhagen Conference note 15th Nov 2019