On August 15, 2021 a new period began in Afghanistan, with the flight of former President Ashraf Ghani and the take-over of power by the Taliban. The change created a myriad of uncertainties about the future of the country and its people. In this uncertainty many domains of life for the people of Afghanistan were profoundly disrupted. Thousands left the country, while the livelihoods and day-to-day lives of those men and women who remained in the country became harder to sustain. In this disrupted state, it many actors did not know how to move forward.
In light of this new reality, there was a need for a space where Afghan civil society leaders, experts, and representatives of civil society could come together and jointly take stock of these abrupt developments, and assess their implications for the future of civil society in Afghanistan. While there was broad agreement across most actors involved in Afghanistan on the need to sustain civil society, there was a broader spectrum of conflicting views on which shape it should take, which functions it should serve, and what relationship, if any, it should have with the de facto authorities.
It was in this context that we a group of 30 Afghans who are leaders or experts in civil society, decided to engage in a Transformative Scenarios Process for the future of Afghan Civil Society to develop a set of stories about possible futures. The scenario team imagined different possible futures, at the edge of what might be plausible, in order to consider what they might have to face, adapt to, and what they might be able to influence. Their shared aim has been to develop and share understanding of the changed context of their country and what that context could mean for wider civil society.
These scenarios are being shared in order to activate critical thinking about the future of Afghanistan, particularly through the lens of civil society. Scenarios are a tool for exploring how different actors can move forward in uncertain times. They reveal key opportunities for change and how different actors can influence the future. Grounded in reality, they highlight where there is hope, and what risks must be avoided.
To create the scenarios the team used a methodology called Transformative Scenarios Process (TSP). It is an approach that brings concerned stakeholders from different, often competing, perspectives together around pressing sets of problems to build stories that illustrate a range of potential futures.
Shutters Scenario: Imagine a fully shuttered room. It is dark and isolated. There is little sense of time or of connection to what is happening outside. In this scenario Afghanistan is closed off from the rest of the world, and within the country, the people are disconnected from one another. Furthermore, in this scenario, the de facto authority refuses to bend to the demands of its people or of other countries, leaving it unrecognized and with limited access to political and material resources.
Light through the cracks: Imagine a closed and stifling room. It is mostly dark. There is little change, little movement. However, through the darkness, there are also some cracks or small openings in the shutters, letting in rays of light. In this scenario the de facto authority has managed to create fragile calm in the country. This condition is established and maintained by limiting the flow of ideas and criticism, restricting political opposition, and by attempting to maintain a basic level of wellbeing for people in Afghanistan.
Breeze of Change: Imagine opening a window and letting in a breeze. The breeze clears out the stale air and brings in movement and change. In this scenario a closed and ineffective governing authority fails to meet the needs of its people, while simultaneously limiting their rights. With time larger and larger numbers of people become discontented.
Open Curtains: Imagine opening curtains to look outside. In the act of pulling them aside, you go from being separated from the world to being able to see, understand, and engage with what is on the other side. In this scenario, there is a growing ability to understand, connect, and change. A slow process of dialogue and reconciliation moves the country towards an inclusive way forward.