The role of religious institutions in local governance and provision of social service in afghanistan policy study outline

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September 2005

Ahmad Idrees Rahmani

Muslim Society Group

International Policy Fellowship

September, 2005

Grant recipient: Ahmad Idrees Rahmani

Project name: The Role of Religious Institutions in Local Governance & Provision of Social Services

Grant starting date: April 1st 2005

Grant completion date: December 31st 2005

Grant number: 30009952


In a post 9/11 Afghanistan international community together with Afghans want to establish a democratic government of Afghanistan that is sustainable. As part of millions of dollars that is being spent on different programs in Afghanistan to reach this goal, one is establishment of a local governance structure that helps the government stay in tough with people. The current policies of the government and international community to achieve this goal are implementation of three programs:

  1. Provincial Reconstruction Teams.

  2. Afghanistan Stabilization Program.

  3. National Solidarity Program.

This paper will review the overall goals and achievements of the above mentioned programs in the context of Afghanistan’s traditional governance structure. The key issue that will be analyzed in this paper is how far these programs will be able to provide the government the kind of connectivity that government needs.


Afghanistan being an Islamic country from its early days of existence has had an Islamic structure of local governance. Local governance is one of the most important topics in the Religion of Islam. The idea of mosque (Masjid) is at the heart of it. If we go through the political history of Islam, mosque is mainly established to ensure extensive and effective governance at a very grassroots level of Muslim communities. If we study rules and regulations associated with the Masjid, we will find that it is a far more powerful governance structure that can not easily be replaced by any other western systems unless people change their Islamic believe. Afghanistan’s government from those early days of establishment of the State was forced to establish a governance structure that corresponds to the international (mainly western) system so that country can easily interact with other countries around the globe. However, because of the existence of such a powerful structure at the village level no government has been able to move governance structure beyond the boundaries of a district. In order to help the readers of this paper understand what is the distance between a distract and a village in Afghanistan we need to mention that Afghanistan is administratively divided into 34 provinces, near 364 districts and around 20 to 40 thousands villages. The number of districts and villages are still disputed because of the politics of the power and ethnicity in the country. On the other hand there has never been a very clear definition of a village either by size of land or by population. Villages range from 25 families to 5000 families. On top of all, villages have continuously been disconnected with the district centers because of the accessibility problems. The average distance between a district center and a village in Afghanistan is from one to two days walk.

All the above facts prevented governments from connecting itself to its people at the village level and more importantly prevented governments from provision of services to the public. Therefore, the idea of governance in Afghanistan gets weakening from the center towards the province and gets disappeared by the time it reaches the village.
Current Situation:

National Solidarity Program for the first time in the history of Afghanistan has tried to shorten the distance between the central government and the people of Afghanistan. The program in the last two years of its commencement facilitated election of hundred thousands of community representatives in around 10,000 villages of Afghanistan. In every village 10 representatives were elected out which one was elected as the head of the Community Development Council (CDC). The program is using block grant money to motivate people to participate in the program. In most of the communities the program is introduced as a poverty reduction program. People have never been told that the government is trying to establish a new governance structure. In some cases when they mentioned it indirectly the immediately response they got was that “Why not through the mosque?” On top of all the program is becoming seriously politicized and thus a target by the key players of the Afghan politics. There are several ministers who disagree with the feasibility of the program’s goal and objectives. It is also being criticized for being very expensive program of Afghanistan reconstruction agenda. However, the program is becoming more and more important for international community because of its development face since currently there is no other alternative to provide assistance to remote villages of Afghanistan except for NSP.


  1. To propose new alternatives of local governance structures that is feasible.

  2. To propose suggestions on how administrative divisions can go beyond the districts of the country.

  3. To recommend policy options on how to implement the above proposals.

Key Issues:

  1. Afghan government wants to get connected with the people of Afghanistan.

  2. Governments have not been able to connect the central government beyond the district level.

  3. Villages are governed by mosques since the time Islam was introduced to the region.

  4. Real mandate of mosques is solely governance.

  5. NSP is establishing a new structure in communities for project implementation.

  6. In most parts of Afghanistan NSP hasn’t been able to establish CDCs without the help of the mosques.

  7. It is almost next to impossible to replace the role that mosque has been playing in the village for centuries with a new body such as CDC.

  8. NSP has lots of operational problems that weaken its operation.

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