The history of Afghanistan is a fascinating kaleidoscope of peoples and beliefs engulfed in a perpetual state of conflict. What its history tells us is that Afghanistan has never been an isolated country. The British drew its eastern borders in 1893 and the Soviet Union supported a rapid 'modernisation' and implementation of socialist reforms which escalated into armed conflict in the 1970s and 80s. The U.S. openly supported the rise of the Taliban and, in 2001, following a civil war and brief but very destructive Taliban government, the country again became center stage - this time in the international fight against terrorism.
What the International community found in the wake of the Taliban was an almost total erosion of all government institutions and their ability to provide some of the basic services to the population. The police and the judiciary were practically non-existent as warlords divided the country into private spheres of influence.
To date, strong ethnic and tribal ties continue to define the social and political landscape of Afghanistan and often dictate the law that rules. The importance given to kin and ethnicity has contributed to nearly endemic corruption and often arbitrary exercise of power. “The Rule of Law” is ultimately a set of norms regulating the often-complex relationship between the State and the individual - a relationship which in Afghanistan is fragile at best. In Afghanistan, few trust in the capacity of the government institutions to pave the way for a more sustainable life or provide security.
"I've been a Mujaheed all my life and now you want me to teach your justice…"
The country is still trying to consolidate a common identity as the fabric of society is a patchwork of norms and regulations that at times overlap but more often conflict. Thus, strengthening the rule of law is nothing short of a challenge. It entails working with a multidimensional jigsaw puzzle consistent of tradition, customs, religious beliefs, and remnants of Taliban justice. Working in Afghanistan as a civilian expert entails to preach alternatives to war in a heavily militarised environment which only reinforces the perception of the State as the ultimate powerhouse.
The photos bring a human dimension to the common effort of the international community to facilitate a transition from years of conflict. Fallckolm Cuenca recalls –
"Being responsible for training police and prosecutors across the country, I specifically remember one training. One man in particular, did not say a single word during the ten days of lectures. At the closing ceremony he told me – I've been a Mujaheed all my life and now you want me to teach your justice…"
Fallckolm Cuenca was working in Afghanistan between 2012 -2015 as a civilian expert for the European Union. The photos were taken while delivering countrywide training to prosecutors and police officers together with a team of national trainers. Follow the link for an interview with Fallckolm in the Chicago Policy Review.