Nonviolence is not a new addition to the social and political lexicon in Afghanistan. The term is known mainly by those who are familiar with Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan — or the Frontier Gandhi, as he came to be called. However, their understanding of nonviolence is radically different than what the term actually means. They believe nonviolence to simply be the absence of violence. This mentality, however, has changed to some extent since the Arab Spring in 2011.
While civic groups in Afghanistan practice nonviolent tactics from time to time, that practice takes precedent over actually understanding the dynamics at play. Without that understanding, Afghans are missing the opportunity to increase the size and effectiveness of their campaigns, as well as prevent the proliferation of destructive agents who might incite violence, cause the loss of human life and ultimately destroy the campaign.
This is why the Organization for Social, Cultural, Awareness, and Rehabilitation, or OSCAR, started teaching courses on nonviolent civic mobilization to a large number of Afghan youths and members of civil society — including women — in the Kunduz and Kunar provinces in 2011. Although the teaching materials were contextualized for an Afghan audience, OSCAR relied mainly on Western sources, such as the Washington, D.C.-based International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, the Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies in Belgrade, and the Multicultural Center at the University of Rhode Island.
Over time, however, it became clear that OSCAR needed to develop a teaching manual of its own — one specifically for Afghanistan and in the Pashtu language. That manual, called Nonviolent Civic Mobilization Guide, was published earlier this month and contains information on how to organize a nonviolent campaign within Afghan society. One thousand copies have been printed and are now being distributed at OSCAR trainings in the Kunar province.
What sets this manual apart from others is that it presents and explains nonviolent terminology — such as sources of power, civil society and tactics — in a way that reflects the current sociopolitical reality of Afghan society. For instance, it addresses the challenges presented by tribal leaders and structures — which are the most influential part of Afghan civil society — and uses references to cultural and religious sources to show how nonviolence is not a foreign concept.
Although the manual was developed in a short time, which made the task of gathering and contextualizing materials on the topic all the more challenging, it is an important step towards the propagation of this philosophy in Afghanistan. What’s more, it may also prove useful to other Islamic cultures, spurring potentially stronger waves of nonviolent resistance across the Muslim world.