Symposium at ZEF: "Beyond the State - Local Politics in Afghanistan"

January 21, 2009.  

How do Afghan people survive between reconstruction measures and the resurrection of the Taliban movement? Why do so many development policies fail when implemented at the local level? These are key questions tackled by researchers during the international symposium "Beyond the State - Local politics in Afghanistan", taking place at the Center for Development Research (ZEF) in Bonn from February 26-28 2009.


Around 50 international experts from Afghanistan, Europe, the US, and Australia are discussing how local structures in Afghanistan can be better understood and taken into account by international and national policy makers.


"One overall goal of the conference is to gather the knowledge acquired by international researchers on the local structures in Afghanistan", says Conrad Schetter, Afghanistan expert at ZEF and in charge of organizing the conference.


Nazif Shahrani from Indiana University in the USA gave in his key note speech a historical overview on the role of traditional and institutional leadership vs. central power and foreign interventions in Afghanistan. Putting this perspective against the current setting in the country, he emphasized that "centrally and internationally led reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan that disregard local communities and their traditional structures, are bound to fail".


"One of Afghanistan's crucial problems", relates Schetter, "is that the international community's attitude and actions have been guided by the perception that without functioning central state power structures there can only be chaos and anarchy. Research done in Afghanistan in the last couple of years gives us a completely different picture. Nevertheless, the ignorance on the side of international actors in Afghanistan leads to a rejection of their presence and deployment by the local population. They just don't see their own local political processes being considered or taken seriously", says Schetter.


Especially against the setting of the current escalation of violence and tension in Afghanistan, the conference's topic is more than relevant. "The performance and involvement of the international community are facing enormous challenges", states Antonio Giustozzi of the London School of Economics. "Violence is omnipresent in the country, the Taliban movement is advancing, the drugs economy is still huge and power exerted by the central government mostly affects the local level in an indirect way only", Giustozzi explains.


Conrad Schetter from ZEF is adding: "Afghan society functions according to its own rules, which vary across the country. The international community came to the country with its own rules and has been wondering ever since why its rules are not accepted, and even opposed or combated. We should have learned our lesson and incorporated Afghan rules by now. Thus, the goal of this conference is to contribute to a better understanding of the Afghan way of life".


The conference is sponsored by the German Peace Foundation (DSF), the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ) and the German Foreign Office (AA).


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Conrad Schetter

PD Dr. Conrad Schetter