APF Profile: Ahmad Fahim Hakim
Graphic: Ahmad Fahim Hakim
Laying the foundations for peace in a country devastated by decades of conflict remains the driving focus of the AIHRC’s Deputy Chairperson.
Laying the foundations for peace in a country devastated by decades of conflict has been a driving focus for Ahmad Fahim Hakim for more than twenty years.
As an architecture graduate from Kabul University, he put his skills to direct use by coordinating relief and reconstruction efforts with the UNCHS (Habitat) Afghanistan program.
And while buildings and infrastructure were important, his focus was to find long-term, sustainable ways to support the men, women and children in the different communities and provinces where he worked.
"After all, architecture is not about designing and building a space," says Fahim. "The core issue is to deal with human beings and to promote their dignity."
After seven years work in the field, he studied a Masters degree in post-war recovery at the University of York before returning to Afghanistan inspired by the goal of building "human infrastructure" and supporting community-led peace initiatives.
Peace building initiatives
According to Fahim, years of war, occupation and Taliban control has created a culture of violence that has become entrenched in nearly all parts of the country's social and political life.
"It is evident in the systematic militarization of the education curriculum. For example, children learn to add and subtract by using examples involving boxes of bullets," he says.
"So the mentality is directed towards violence and everyone is very aggressive in their behavior and the way they approach others."
At the community level, conflicts often stem from the fact that records related to land tenure, water or birth rights have been lost or destroyed and that traditional ways of dealing with these issues – through the Shura or local council – no longer function effectively.
Through Cooperation for Peace and Unity, a non-profit organisation that he led, Fahim sought to equip local communities with the skills, knowledge and mechanisms to resolve their disputes peacefully and to address other systemic issues, such as violence against women and ethnic divisions.
At the heart of the approach was the establishment of 'peace councils' which had an inclusive membership, allowing all members of the community to participate and have a voice.
"We would never try to impose solutions. Instead our aim was to be a catalyst, to help them consider the issues that were dividing their community and how they could resolve conflicts peacefully," says Fahim.
"I was working with people whose lives had been very disrupted. So when they would come back and say 'we have the capacity and we can deal with these things ourselves', it was very inspiring and genuine community empowerment."
At the community level, he adds, peace building initiatives, development work and human rights advocacy are very closely interlinked.
Having seen these peace building initiatives bring about significant change in diverse communities across the country, Fahim says there are a number of important lessons that inform his current work as Deputy Chairperson of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.
"The first is to have the courage and the willingness to listen to people. And you should speak to people in their own language, their own words. This is crucial to building trust," he says.
"Also, to be real agents of change in Afghanistan, we need effective advocacy initiatives. In our experience, advocacy is not necessarily to make a big fuss or have big demonstrations on the street.
"Instead our role is to help voices to be heard, to make the issues visible and to gain the support of those stakeholders who can help influence changes in laws, in attitudes, and in behaviours of different groups."
A recent example he points to is the amendments made by the Afghan Government to the Shiite Family Law.
"The first draft of the law was horrible," says Fahim. "So we helped orchestrate an advocacy campaign – national and international, with civil society, media and the donor community – to put the required pressure on the government. In the end there was no choice, they had to revise this law."
While acknowledging many positive developments taking place at the local level, Fahim says political will and a common vision are needed to strengthen community ties and overcome deep divisions around issues of ethnicity, gender and religion.
"The country has experienced the scourge of poverty, very low rates of literacy and years of manipulation during civil war. This has created a great level of vulnerability among ordinary people," he says.
"To bring about lasting social and political change requires many, many years and, to be honest, I'm not sure I will see these changes in my lifetime. But I am convinced to continue my efforts so that my children and my grandchildren can enjoy a good life."
Fahim says the continued support of other regional and international human rights organisations is crucial in supporting the work of the AIHRC and the broader process of change in Afghanistan.
"As well as the political and moral support that like-minded institutions provide, we need knowledge, experience and skills from other institutions to equip our staff so they can be more professional in their important human rights work."
- Ahmad Fahim Hakim - APF/James Iliffe