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‘The Afghan state has collapsed, but the democratic gains of the past 20 years are not lost’

The international conference ‘Lessons from Afghanistan’ touched on many serious issues and raised several reasons for concern. But it also ended on a positive note. While politicians on both the domestic and the international levels have failed to prevent the collapse of the Afghan state, and we are facing yet another humanitarian crisis within and beyond the region, keynote speaker Nader Nadery expressed a firm belief in the democratic values and creative capacities that have taken root in Afghanistan’s civil society over the past twenty years. Nadery’s speech can now be watched online.

First-hand witness

Becoming involved in Afghan politics as a human rights activist, Nader Nadery has formerly served on a number of government bodies, such as the Newsroom Reform, the Civil Service and the Human Rights commissions. Also, Nadery was one of Afghan civil society’s representatives at the International Conference forAfghanistan in Bonn (Germany) in 2001. So he is a first-hand witness of both the build-up and the downfall of Afghanistan’s state institutions.

Lessons from Afghanistan

That is why organisers Matthew Hoye, Joachim Koops (both of the Institute of Security and Global Affairs, ISGA) and Corinna Jentzsch (Institute of Political Science) invited Nadery to deliver the keynote speech for the conference, a joint inititiative by ISGA, Leiden University’s Centre for International Relations and the Global Transformations and Governance Challenges programme.

Lessons from Afghanistan’ was hosted at Leiden University on 3 December 2021, online, involving about 20 experts from the US, Australia, India, the UK, the Netherlands and, of course, from Afghanistan.

Political culture

Nadery’s address started with the unprecented international coalition in reaction to 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on US targets. What followed, was a delicate process of state building in Afghanistan, with many parties agreeing on the basic principles, and human rights and democratisation getting priority on the international agenda. Gradually, however, the consensus broke down, and different strategic objectives started to conflict with one another. Nadery then described how expectations were lowered, and the international community retreated from Afghanistan. In particular, he critised the European Union for not pushing its human rights agenda. Yet, according to Nadery, both the institutional setup created and the practices developed during the past two decades ‘became a normal and dominant part of the political culture. These cannot be turned back so easily!’

Watch Nader Nadery’s keynote speech

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