Farshid Hakimyar has much in common with four men he greatly admires – Mahatma Gandhi, Khān Abdul Ghaffār Khān, Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela. Like them, Hakimyar is a man from a comparatively comfortable family background and, as a result, he is well educated and can make choices that could lead him to a comfortable existence either in his home country of Afghanistan or outside of it.
However, like his four heroes, 32-year-old Hakimyar is making choices that will likely leave him far from comfortable. He believes passionately that the answer to the violence, corruption and oppression in Afghanistan is a nonviolent movement for justice and peace. When he looked around his country and saw no such movement, he decided somebody needed to start one.
Hakimyar, who is on the cusp of a master’s degree from the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University, publicly debuted the Ayaran Nonviolent Social Movement with a Facebook page on November 20, 2013. It’s purpose? “To alert, educate and mobilize common people of Afghanistan for collective actions for holding their government accountable for its failed policies and practices.”
On November 21, he posted this quote from Mandela: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
On conquering fear to struggle for justice
Courage will be needed. Hakimyar wants the Ayaran movement – named for an Afghan folk hero, similar to Robin Hood in Western folktales – to enable Afghans to combat “systemic state corruption,” which he says is “sucking people’s blood.” He cites a 2010 United Nations survey that about half of Afghans had to pay at least one bribe in the previous 12 months to secure a government service or to avoid unfairly being targeted by a government official, such as a customs officer or tax collector. The bribes totaled $2.5 billion in 2010, by UN estimates.
Hakiymar proposes to focus Ayaran on fighting secrecy and corruption in Afghanistan’s energy and utility sectors – specifically, in the production and distribution of much-needed petroleum, propane gas, electricity and water.
“Economic self-reliance in Afghanistan depends on how we handle our energy resources,” explains Hakiymar, adding that 65 percent of Afghanistan’s national budget comes from international aid.
“Our dependence on aid from outside the country obviously is not sustainable over the long term,” he says. “We have to become sustainable through better management of our natural resources.”
Seed money in hand to recruit help
Lest his call for economic self-reliance sound impossibly idealistic, Hakiymar spent much of the fall and winter of 2013-14 in Afghanistan writing a five-year strategic plan for Ayaran, along with a major grant proposal. The effort served as his required master’s degree practicum and garnered Ayaran a significant grant from the Tawanmandi Civil Society Strengthening Program, funded by the Nordic countries and United Kingdom.
Hakiymar says Ayaran will first seek to rally university students and groups of athletes in Afghanistan’s three most populated cities – Kabul (the capital), Herat (in the west) and Mazar-e-Sharif (in the north).
“Nelson Mandela was a great man, but what is most important to me is what I can learn from him and his contribution to the South African movement anti-apartheid revolution,” Hakiymar told EMU News Service. “Most importantly how can I apply some of his great ideas and leadership guidelines in my own context to fight our own challenges, using his strategy of nonviolent actions?
“Leading a nonviolence movement is not a one-man job,” he continued. “We need energetic and committed leaders all over Afghanistan to have a willing heart, to be honest, to be loyal to the poor, to fight for justice, and to be ready for any sort of sacrifice.
“The ongoing injustice, corruption and failed government policies and bad practices have created pain in my heart. This pain made me to launch this movement, so I will stand next to you till my death. I know the risk. I know this is war and war is not fun.”
Inspiration of an earlier Pashtun man, Bāchā Khān
Within Hakiymar’s tradition – he is partly of Pashtun heritage – he looks to Khān Abdul Ghaffār Khān (popularly known as Bāchā Khān, living 1890-1988), a Pashtun man who grew up in the border region of what is now Afghanistan and Pakistan, graduated from a British mission school, and became the leader of a nonviolent resistance movement against the British occupiers. He and Gandhi were close compatriots until Gandhi’s assassination in 1948. At his height, Khān could mobilize a hundred thousand people. As a threat to the status quo, he spent much of the 1960s and 1970s either in jail or in exile.
Like Martin Luther King Jr., Hakiymar plans to enlist some of the intelligentsia of his country to document the depth and extent of the injustices that need to be addressed. “In the energy sector we will demask key failed policies, people and institutions, and we will provide alternative solutions.”
Hakiymar grew up in Kabul during its civil wars. By the time U.S. troops arrived in 2002, he had established a center where he was training students in English, computers and science, giving them the basic skills they needed to pursue a profession. For three years, he worked for the Open Society Foundation on democracy empowerment. He then became a political and policy researcher for various think tanks, eventually founding his own organization, Afghanistan Organization for Strategic Studies/AOSS, dedicated to studying war, peace, security and strategic affairs in Afghanistan and in the Southeast Asian region. Just before he enrolled in EMU as a full-time student in 2012, he was a political-military advisor to the Danish mission in Afghanistan.
From skeptic to believer in nonviolence
Hakiymar took his first course under EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP) at the 2009 Summer Peacebuilding Institute. He didn’t arrive at the institute feeling positive about peacebuilding coursework – it was simply an experiment to test peace teachings against his “realistic” analytical mind.
But gradually, one course at a time, Hakiymar became more open at CJP to “envisioning a better future – one without war” and embracing the difficult steps that might need to be taken to arrive at that future.
Now that he has received a hefty amount of seed money for Ayaran – after writing a thick proposal that went through 23 steps of vetting – he finds himself wondering, “Will I control the money, or will it control me?”
He is worried that having money – and being responsible to the funding agency – might spoil him or his team. “Everyone is looking for a piece of the pie – this might corrupt my team, it might attract a lot of spoilers.”
He says one of the most important take-aways from CJP is this: “It gave me a different lens for looking at the world and helped me to realize that there are lots of people who sincerely want justice and peace and who are not motivated mainly by money and power. This has given me a sense of hope.”