Human Rights in Afghanistan Today: Dreams and Realities

After my post on academic freedom in Afghanistan, I was inspired to share my experiences on human rights in the same way.

Although more concerns and funds are being used for human rights in Afghanistan, the rights question is no better than academic freedom. The terms human rights and women rights are very popular and common but they are often matters of jest for many blue-collar workers and a matter of arm-chair liberalism for the more educated white-collar workers. At times, it is considered a popular fundraising issue. Thus, a saving and progressive idea is often transformed into a backward reality. Consequently it obstructs the way toward modernization and socio-political development. How is that possible? This post wants to take-on this issue in a very clear and simple way.

The idea of human rights in current Afghanistan is suffering from two problems which also cause human rights to stagnate. First, it appeared without reconciliation with regional and familiar concepts. Second, it was associated with the foreigner ideology. It means many ordinary people in Afghanistan think ideas like human rights, women rights, and democracy are mottos to firstly break down our traditional values, perspectives, and even faith and secondly to serve political and most recently financial agendas. I like to elaborate the main problems regarding promoting human rights values in five following points:

(1) Lack of consistency with the potential of current culture. To help your friend correct his/her attitude you can approach constructively and positively or destructively and negatively. Unfortunately many human rights activists in Afghanistan exercised the second method. For example, instead of highlighting the beauty of "Haq al-Nas" (Rights of People) in Shariah or recognition of Free Conscience in the Quran and of public education for all people, they spent all energy on belittling the established traditions (for instance ignoring the capacity of Mullah in a conservative land). As a replacement for inspiration for people to enrich their values with Human Rights values, they told people to fight against their background without understanding how Human Rights improves their lives. They wanted to change Afghanistan over night in terms of modern values. One of them defended her position saying that they cannot wait to modernize the country. There is a fallacy to reduce values to materials and technological tools. We can import the last technical achievements but not the last visions; humanity is not simple and neutral as the machine and vehicle. Prioritizing, making harmony between current and the ideal situation, and acknowledging the path already traveled in order to inspire further progress were forgotten. Creating hate, even toward an unsuccessful past cannot create developments and progress. In sum, many human rights activists and intellectuals are suffering from disconnection with the traditions which built the identity of Afghanis (2) Co-existence between Human Rights and Political Agenda. Human Rights appeared throughout the country as part of a new political regime which was brought to Afghanis through foreign power. Due to many historical realities including British and Soviet Union interventions Afghanis still are suffering from Western colonialism. In America it is almost a history, but in Afghanistan it is a daily experience. The growth of Islamism alongside conspiracy theories and corrupt administration all together made people suspicious (at least verbally) toward foreign Human Rights values. As a result, reduction of Human Rights to a political agenda functioned in misunderstanding and then failure of Human Rights achievements in Afghanistan.

(3) Associating Humanitarian activities with markets. As much as Human Rights values, at least in the modern form, appeared in attachment with political agenda, they also seemed to the people like the economy's twin. After Taliban many many NGOs were built, many of them related to human rights. They received much support from international funds and in turn delivered many positive reports about their functions. But in reality, most people believe they are business persons/entities as well as opportunists who know how markets work now. They can create jobs and promote business for many but can't lead the people toward a better situation. The replacement of humanitarian with financial interest causes two major problems: first, changing human rights to a luxury material for White-collar workers. So it is neither related to Blue-collar workers who are the majority of Afghanistan population nor to rich people who are enjoying exercising their autonomy. Second and the worse one, it leads to more suspicion about Human Rights concerns and then to increases in the cost of improvement in Afghanistan. This is what I clearly told to the Afghanistan head of parliaments in his house.

(4) The conflict of values. There is one more technical point: It seems there is no need to link Human Rights issues to Radical criticisms of fundamental concepts of a society. The aim of Human Rights is to reduce suffering and better life, not to create conflict, crisis and provoke pure emotions. For example, I can contribute to promote education for all by saying it helps the person's future in society or it changes all worldviews and established values. Human rights can be seen as a deus ex machina for a new world or as a supporter to better the current world. As much as the clash of values is creative in terms of intellectuals struggle, it destroys the opportunities to bring people closer. Preaching about global climate change is one thing, but advocating for access to water for human consumption is quite another. Holding out the carrot of an abstract human right is not much of a carrot for the person on the street. A good carrot is one recognized good by the people, like the basic need to clean streets instead of pie-in-the-sky ideas like democracy. Many human rights activists and intellectuals in Afghanistan were not in this field before post Taliban government and so not related to grassroots. In changing their job and to attract new customers, they mostly were confused and caused clash of values even within their families.

(5) The lack of honesty. Unfortunately, Human Rights values are not institutionalized among population; it also is not internalized among many advocates as well. It is a common expression in Afghanistan that women rights activities are looking for freedom for the neighbor's daughter. It means they do not apply that inside their house, regarding their families. I heard about some colleagues who teach the value of women rights in public and academics but they put many restrictions on their own wives. How when the prophets of new faith, human rights, do not practice the message in their life, people follow them. Unfortunately this lack of honesty alongside many more social, political and ideological problems caused lack of trust to these values and their advocates. In reality many activists fall down in tribalism and are accused of supporting people only from their ethnic groups or political party.

As a conclusion, the political change after Taliban caused values like human rights to grow up, at least among Blue-collar workers. There are some improvements with Human Rights but I only wanted to share with you several points I faced personally. I hope these points help both international and national sides to review their activities in Afghanistan and enrich it.