International relations is defined as all forms of interaction between the members of separate societies, on the governmental level or not. This definition sets the stage for both non-state or civil society actors in the sense that these actors are not necessarily limited or exclusive to governments or the state. These actors have grown exponentially since the 1980’s and 1990’s but to understand their influence it is first critical to know what they are. Non-state actors are individuals or organizations that have powerful economic, political, or social power and can influence at a national or international level but do not belong or are allied themselves to any particular country/state (Joey 1). Non-state actors can take on various forms ranging from: sub state actors, intergovernmental organizations, multinational corporations, non-governmental organizations, religious identities and movements, to even terrorist movements and insurgence. Each of these actors can impact society at a domestic level, but can also have international effects. Civil society is essentially the sphere of activities that lie between the state and market, with the strength of civil society having implications on political, economic, and social transformations (Harpviken et al. 2). Mary Kaldor in her novel Global Civil Society: An Answer to War, outlines five definitions for civil society, describing both past and contemporary definitions. This paper will look at these five definitions; societas civilis, bourgeois society, activist, neoliberal and postmodern, to examine how this overarching concept of civil society has specifically impacted Afghanistan. INSERT THESIS
The original definition of civil society according to Kaldor is societas civilis. This definition views society as a rule of law and political community, a peaceful order based on implicit or explicit consent of individuals (Kaldor 7). In this form of civil society, violence is minimized as a way of organizing social relations and it is not distinguished from the state but rather from non-civil societies. On a global level societas civilis aims to follow a cosmopolitan rule of law, where all human beings belong to a single community based on a shared morality. The most evident embodiment of this definition in Afghanistan exists within the community councils known as a shura. Traditionally a shura was a place where all men had the right to attend to discuss issues of mutual interest. The membership was not fixed but consisted mostly of elders, people with religious knowledge as well as those with economic or social power and good contact with the authorities (Haprviken et al. 5). However, currently with the growth of non-state actors and civil society actors such as aid agencies the nature of this political community and zone of civility is changing. There has been a shift from tradition shuras which were oriented around problem solving and being reactive to community development associations spearheaded by the aid agencies. These community development associations are concerned with developments, education, representing the whole population, and in doing so the primary function has become more proactive. This has positively impacted Afghanistan allowing for more planning, and implementation of projects while allowing more members regardless of age or gender. On the other hand, there has also been negative impacts with resistance coming from the state. This resistance stems from leaders and the state not necessarily having an interest in promoting a strong civil society and thus there has been more grave acts of suppression, including arrests of key members, and prevention of planned meetings by the security forces (Harpviken et al. 10). Societas civilis is therefore present in Afghanistan however with continued resistance from the state it becomes difficult to define its role.
The second definition of global civil society is the Bourgeois Society or Bürgerliche Gesellschaft. This concept of civil society is related to Marxism and it assumes that the state alone cannot provide space for public engagement; democratic space is only happening in lower classes, and there is globalization from below, with all aspects of global development below and beyond the state and international political institutions (Kaldor 8). This can be seen in afghanistan through volunteer associations and interest groups. These groups range and include progessional groups, youth groups, student associations, and women’s forums (Harpviken et al. 10). These groups act on behalf of a shared mutual interest with the ideology that state state cannot act alone. However the impact of these groups in Afghanistan is difficult to see due to the resistance being provided by the state. The repressive environment enforced by many rulers and governments have made it difficult to define a role in civil society, therefore making it more difficult to be impactful (Harpviken et al. 10).
The third definition of global civil society is the activist version. This presupposes a state rule of law, insists not only on restraints on state power, but on a redistribution of power. It is primarily about the process through which groups, movements and individuals can demand a global rule of law (Kaldor 8). Non-state actors have specifically impacted Afghanistan within the context of this definition primarily through religious social movements. As Wilkinson describes, “Religions are the single most powerful influence on societal values, morality, norms, practices of family and community life, impacted nature of the state, laws, institutions and practices.” In Afghanistan, religious movements are a significant force impacting the state. Perhaps the best example of this exists with the early emergence of the Taliban. At first the Taliban emerged as a reaction to war, insecurity and mismanagement, with popular support from the citizens. However eventually the Taliban took over cities, developed long term power ambitions, and became more radical (Harpviken et al 7). This reflects how active citizenship and the pursuit of growing self-organization is not always beneficial. The once reactive nature of the religious movement shifted to being more about imposing power and prestige through any means. This has primarily been a negative impact in Afghanistan and even with the fall of the Taliban there still exists radical movements, and a rise in violence, contrary to the efforts of a global civil society.
The fourth definition of civil society is the neoliberal version; this contemporary definition is perhaps the most impactful on Afghanistan. This definition is characterized by associational life, with non-profit, voluntary third sector, that not only retains state power but also provides a substitute for many of the functions performed by the state. The most impactful force in the neoliberal definition of civil society with regards to Afghanistan are Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). These are private international actors whose members are not states, but are volunteers from populations of 2 or more states who have formed organizations to promote shared interest and ideas to influence policies of state governments (Joey 3). The presence of NGOs has grown at an alarming rate with 1020 registered under the Kabul authority (Harpviken et al. 8). The most significant aspects of the NGO sector is focused on issues of human rights and peacebuilding. NGOs have had a strong presence with emergency and reconstruction aid because cooperation between governments is not prioritized, especially when it is viewed as illegitimate. NGOs in Afghanistan are continuing to replace the roles of state, as the UN and ATA see this as a better option than implementing through weak bureaucracies (Harpviken et al. 9). The impact on Afghanistan is one that is both positive and negative. On one hand the services and aid that are not able to be provided are given to the citizens, but on the other hand through becoming key members, NGOs weaken the ties between the citizens and the local administrators, a tie which is already frail. The goal of NGOs is to assist and provide aid however, if the trend continues existing administrators and local authorities could be eradicated, thus leading to more conflict and uncertainty.
The last definition of civil society is the postmodern version. This concept is essentially where the state and civil society are in competition with each other, it is a push against the autonomy of the state insisting that civil society should play a larger role. The impact of this definition in Afghanistan is summarized by nationalism and emerging political parties. As defined by Wilkinson, “Nationalism asserts that the nation should become the universal unit of political organization.” However, the problem with this definition is that it isn’t clear, therefore allows for radical ideas to be passed off as a form of national self-government, which further exacerbates conflicts domestically and internationally. This is evident in Afghanistan with emerging political parties each attempting to be a form of national self government. There exists nationalists, communist groupings, Islamists, and traditionally oriented networks that have some degree of associations with the Taliban (Harpviken et al. 11). This means for more competition within the state and often this has diverted into more armed fighting. As a result people’s experience with the party system is negative, and competition acts as a gateway to more conflict. The problem is that some parties do engage in forms of party building that could benefit society, however there are also other parties that try to work as elite-led organizations with no intention of compromise (Harpviken et al. 11).