Training sows the seeds of nonviolent civil resistance in Afghanistan

A civil resistance training by OSCAR in Kabul, Afghanistan (OSCAR)

A civil resistance training by OSCAR in Kabul, Afghanistan (OSCAR)

In September, a cadre of seven trainers was trained in nonviolent civil resistance in a five-day workshop conducted by the Organization for Social, Cultural, Awareness and Rehabilitation, or OSCAR, in Kabul. This marked the first ever Training of Trainers workshop on nonviolence in Afghanistan. Participants of the workshop had already attended previous introductory workshops on nonviolence and were familiar with the philosophy of nonviolent civil resistance and its application. All the participants were from the volatiles eastern provinces — Kunar, Khost and Paktia — of Afghanistan.

The aim of workshop was to teach the would-be trainers that conflict is a natural phenomenon and should not be considered something strange. They were taught that conflict is neither good nor bad — the important thing is how one deals with it.

The nature and types of violence — including coercion, using force, torturing people, violating human rights, depriving people of their political rights and prejudice against women and minorities — were explained to the participants. An effort was made to recast the mentality of participants about extremism. Those who are not familiar with the philosophy of nonviolent civil resistance often think that it does not have any religious foundations in Islamic societies. They were taught that violent struggle has not always been advocated by Islam. To the contrary, nonviolent struggle has been widely advocated in Islam and there are links between Afghan culture and nonviolence.

Nonviolent civil resistance was also elaborated on as a peaceful alternative for waging struggle and fighting corruption. The pillars of support for a government in any society, and more specifically in Afghanistan, were discussed. The overwhelming majority of people consider power a static phenomenon, which is only possessed by the ruling class. New approaches to power that consider it a changing and multidimensional phenomenon, were explored. Given that tactics utilized in civil resistance are case specific and defined by the sociopolitical environment in a society, which tactics are best suited to Afghan society was another theme at the training. Two important case studies from Islamic contexts — the Arab Spring and the Khudai Khidmatgar movement — were also shared with participants.

Two of the new trainers will serve as OSCAR’s national trainers, while the rest of them will serve as trainers in Khost, Paktia and Kunar provinces. As a step forward, they plan to teach at least one workshop and give short lectures to the youth associations in their respective provinces. Muhammad Safar Safi, one of the participants of the workshop from Kunar, said “The workshop has enabled me to become a trainer of nonviolent civil resistance and to serve my people, particularly the youth.”

Lack of interest from donors and ignorance of the nature and applicability of nonviolent civil resistance are the main hurdles that inhibit our efforts to preach this philosophy in Afghanistan. Nonviolent civil resistance is thought to equate to pacifism; there is a lack of realization that it can be used as a tool for eradicating corruption, and promoting human rights and good governance.

Moreover, academic institutions in Afghanistan are not interested in dealing nonviolent civil resistance as a separate discipline, which could increase its popularity, particularly among the educated. More importantly, lack of proper infrastructure and teaching materials in local languages are other challenges that have slowed our efforts. Training this new group of trainers, however, is a positive step toward building the required infrastructure to spread nonviolent civil resistance.