Friday, July 19, 2019

Afghanistan and the Enlightenment Movement: modernisation in troubled times.

Since the withdrawal of the international forces from Afghanistan in 2014, insecurity, political unrest, rapid economic deterioration and the number of suicide attacks has dramatically increased in the country. The Taliban are not only gaining confidence on the ground in terms of engaging in fierce battles against the Afghan National Army, but they are also gaining more international military support particularly from Iran and Russia; therefore, Taliban’s controlled territory is continuously expanding.

Photo by Todd Huffman

On July 23, 2016, when the Enlightenment Movement had organised a mass demonstration in Kabul, a suicide bomber who belonged to an ISIS group operating in Afghanistan, has managed to penetrate inside the protesters and blew himself up. This resulted in more than 80 members of the Enlightenment Movement losing their lives. In this blog post, I will report on Afghanistan’s new generation behind the Enlightenment Movement and their struggle for modernisation.  

The Enlightenment Movement in Afghanistan emerged in 2016 in response to the re-routing of the power project known as TUTAP (Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan). According to Afghanistan’s Power Sector Master Plan, the power line would have passed through the Hazara-dominated region (central Afghanistan) before reaching other parts of the country.

In January 2016, the tension emerged as the government and the state-owned electricity company decided to change the route of this project. In response, the Enlightenment Movement, a coalition of civil society activists, was formed to protest the government’s decision to re-route a multimillion-dollar power project. The protesters criticised the government of discrimination in re-routing the power project. Members of the Enlightenment Movement claim that by re-routing the power project not only did the government fail to address their historical grievances but also entrenched their marginalisation.

Since the majority members of the Enlightenment Movement belong to the Hazara ethnic group, a historically marginalised and persecuted group, the movement is seeking to increase national and international awareness about the plights of Hazaras in Afghanistan. They are insisting on being treated fairly by the central government particularly on issues related to economic development and security as well as insisting on greater Hazara youth representation in local and national government offices.

This newly emerged youth movement seeks to bring changes through peaceful demonstrations. Globally, people are unaware of the emergence of these new social movements because the international media mainly reports on atrocities committed by the Taliban and other militant groups.

Exploring the newly emerged social movements in Afghanistan, such as the Enlightenment Movement, is important because these kinds of non-violent mass movements are unprecedented in the history of Afghanistan. In recent years, Afghanistan is going through turbulent times. For the first time since the invasion of American in 2001, the Afghan government felt threatened by the rise of several powerful social movements in Afghanistan. These new movements present the emergence of a new generation in Afghanistan that is educated, seeking a voice, have access to the internet and are more globally connected.

Globalisation has played a vital role in the development of this newly emerged youth movement. Social media particularly internet has enabled the youth to unite against discrimination, corruptions, injustices and ethnocentrism. The globally connected youth have utilised the media particularly the social media – Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram - as the primary source of communication and as a platform for organising protests. This emphasises the point that globalisation, to some extent, had a positive contribution to the development of the Enlightenment Movement. Internet and social media played a significant role in influencing change in the country.

The purpose of these newly emerged youth movements across the country is that the new generation in Afghanistan wants to be heard and they are seeking agency. Therefore, in developing a political strategy for bringing peace, economic development and promoting democracy, the Afghan government and international donors should pay attention to the concerns of the new generation which constitutes the majority of the population.

As the US and the Afghan government are increasing their talks with the Taliban in the hope of achieving a long-term truce and eventually peace, it is vital that Afghanistan’s new generation is involved in crucial decision-making.

Jumah Mohammadi

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