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HOW HAS NGOs WORK IN CONFLICT-AFFECTED REGIONS CHANGED SINCE THE 1990s AND WITH WHAT CONSEQUENCES?

Par   •  13 Novembre 2018  •  3 775 Mots (16 Pages)  •  260 Vues

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does more harm than good. Although their engagement comes from a good intention they often further incite the conflicts and do not manage to establish a viable solution for building peace, as it has been the case in Afghanistan.

In order to understand the failure of peacebuilding in Afghanistan it is necessary to have a clear understanding of the conflict’s background, because, as Goodhand and Atkinson (2001) have stated, “in Afghanistan, the legacy of the past continues to influence aid policies and practices of today”. There have been ongoing conflicts in the country since 1978, and with it, ongoing strategies and attempts to find a viable solution for peace, but to no avail. The Geneva Accords of 1982, initiated by the UN, launched a wave of peace interventions and peacebuilding attempts under the directive of four NGOs. But despite the important humanitarian budget assigned to Afghanistan during the Cold War (more than US$600 million per year, from the United States alone (as cited in Atmar, 2001, p. 325)), it soon became clear that Western humanitarian aid in the country was only a strategy to win over the Soviet Union. Indeed, as soon as the Red Army withdrew from Afghanistan, many NGOs who had been providing aid, fled the country, making it obvious “that it was not the plight of the Afghans that mattered” (Atmar, 2001, p.327). NGOs precepts of neutrality and impartiality were already being undermined: “in Afghanistan, MSF never sought to take a neutral stance. We had implicitly picked our side” (as cited in Terry, 2002, p.73). Following the Red Army’s retreat there had been an important growth of Afghan NGOs, although only a few of them managed to implement themselves and become sustainable peacebuilding organisations. Critiques have pointed at the lack of Afghans’ presence at the negotiating tables: too often the leaders of Afghans’ NGOs have been left out of the discussions and decision-making initiatives, thus reiterating Fox’s statement previously mentioned, about how foreign NGOs dominance in Afghanistan’s humanitarian aid, seems to be depicting a new form of colonialism. As Anderson suggests: “who do we think we are? Is it justified for outsiders to choose among people or institutions, to make judgements about who or what is “truly” a local capacity for peace?” (1999, p.146) The entrance of the Taliban in the political scene in 1994 and their subsequent takeover of Kabul, only further limited the potentials of implementing any viable humanitarian peacebuilding program. Indeed, most NGOs values and precepts differed from those of the Taliban and therefore prevented the two factions of reaching consensus. The growing humanitarian concerns from the West, which appeared after the Taliban started to gain ground, provoked a transformation of the peacebuilding programs which winded up in the form of the Strategic Framework for Afghanistan (SFA) (Goodhand, 2002, p.845), an initiative designed to bring stability in the region and promote peacebuilding. For Duffield (2007, p.139), “the guiding principle of the SFA was that political, aid and human rights actors and concerns should ‘inform and be informed by each other’ in the interests of achieving peace and stability in Afghanistan”. Through this rapprochement of aid and politics, NGOs believed that the possibilities of attaining peace were high. What both aid and political actors failed to understand was that their perceptions of peace and stability significantly differed. For aid actors, their role in building peace implied the “rebuilding of civil society, [and more broadly] of creating the conditions for an internal political change” that could create a stable basis for peacebuilding (Duffield, 2007, p.143). On the other hand, NGOs approach at building peace was still too focused on geopolitics, and was very state-centred, instead of concerned about the population’s well-being. Their diverging and contrasting views was one of the many factors responsible for the Strategic Framework’s failure. Although it must be noted that because of its very nature, this strategy was doomed to fail. Indeed, the strategic program was based on a “frame”, which is a “collective, intersubjective understanding that people draw on to construct roles and interpret objects” (Autesserre, 2009, p.250). NGOs were trying to solve Afghanistan’s conflict through the same framework which had probably already been applied in other contexts or to other conflicts. This approach only impeded the formation of adequate solutions for peace. And it is the main reason why today in Afghanistan conflicts still prevail. Indeed, although billions of dollars have been discharged into other reconstruction and peacebuilding programs, the situation today is still very fragile and Afghanistan remains one of the world’s poorest countries (World Bank, 2016). The country also lacks a strong national security which engenders dramatic waves of emigration and displacements of Afghan population. The peacebuilding process is still failing as the country still faces “significant development deficits and shortfalls exacerbated by protracted conflict” (Branczik, 2004). Framing proved to be a total fiasco in Afghanistan, as NGOs failed to assess the country’s unique nature and needs. This only led them to carry out a reconstruction program significantly based on their own understanding of the concept of reconstruction and peacebuilding, which was seemingly a very westernised understanding of it, and did not comply with Afghanistan’s vision of peacebuilding. Furthermore, as previously mentioned, today, NGOs keep on bypassing any cooperation with Afghan leaders which further discredits their activity in the country. As Zyck states it: “we have framed our understanding of their needs according to our society. For example, by promoting individual businesses, something great for Western civilisation but not understood and detested by Afghan communitarian society” (as cited in Vana, 2012), and this has been the main cause of NGOs failure at building peace in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is not the only country where the “one-size-fits all” framework has been applied and NGOs have also failed in other countries in attempting to build peace. But as Anderson (1999, p. 31-33) argues, if NGOs manage to have a clear understanding of how each conflict works and seek to apply a “strategic framework” specific to each conflict, then they will be able to attenuate their unintentional political consequences, and implement long term operations of peacebuilding and stability. For this, the author identifies two steps: the first one is to “do no harm”, NGOs need to understand the “capacities for war, the sources of tension and dividers” in each conflict, for not fuelling them further. Secondly, NGOs need to engage with local leaders, in order

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