Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Saturday, April 20th, 2019

Social Cohesion in Afghanistan: Challenges and opportunities

Afghanistan has witnessed major changes in the distribution of income in recent years. During the last one and half decade, it has enjoyed a relatively revival in its economic opportunities, after more than two decades of war in the country.
Why social cohesion matters for Afghanistan
Economic and social transformations during a specific period lead to growth and bring new stresses and challenges with which governments have to consider well-tailored policies to cope. The challenges encompass inequalities, structural transformations and the requirement to address citizens rising expectations for standards of living and access to opportunities and managing public anger in terms of unequal distribution of resources.
Rising inequality within regions and some ethnic groups has excluded disadvantaged populations from the advantages of the development process and opportunities in Afghanistan. In many cases, these risings within-country inequalities are driven by the increase in the share of top incomes in specific areas that development budget and projects have been allocated to them based on an unfair distribution policy. Growing dissatisfaction of the ethnic groups from the economic policies of the government show that they do not trust the government sharing the economic opportunities equally between them. As a result, such approaches have led to further social conflict instead of social harmony here. When the expectations of the people are not met, it usually undermines the support of the citizens for government reforms and increases social tensions, potentially threatening the stability of the development process. In the context of conflict prone countries, including Afghanistan, social tensions can lead to conflict. 
Social cohesion does not happen in vacuum. While different groups of people do not benefit from the economic policies of the government, it indicates that government policy frameworks have been applied in disregard of people’s desire for inclusive political processes. According to social scholars, development direction in which social inequalities are large, exclusion is widespread, and the scope for voicing dissent small would likely to be flawed. Social cohesion for conflict prone countries is one of the most policy objectives in order to build social trust among different social groups in the concerned society. 
Articulating social cohesion
Social cohesion can act as a broad-based framework to mobilize people around a specific goal. This framework enables the government to build inclusive policy agenda and bring together different policy areas that are otherwise treated separately. These policy areas can create synergy and increase the level of efficiency of government performance to the eye of the different social groups if implemented based on equal distribution of economic opportunities among the people. According to the polls, policies in these areas all interact to have an effect on social outcomes, and one policy area needs to be designed with a regard to the others. In this regard, policies are a fundamental social cohesion mechanism which lead to development.
Afghanistan faces specific challenges to building social cohesion. Past development models have failed to generate opportunities and inclusive growth in the country. The main cause of such failures in Afghanistan is pursuing exclusive policies in the country.  Debate of social cohesion in Afghanistan requires tackling both pre-existing challenges as well as new challenges emerging from the structural transformation that have taken place over the last one and half decade. Among the long-standing challenges faced by Afghanistan, the large number of poor under poverty line and their persisting vulnerability are the issues that need to be addressed urgently.
Any social cohesion policy should address issues of in inequality beyond poverty, including issues of governance. In this regard, social harmony only can be ensured not people are economically treated equally but they should be politically treated equally as well. In other words, they shall have equal access to different levels of public administration. Historical patterns of economic and political distribution of resources and opportunities show that Afghanistan requires structural transformations to achieve social cohesion. Ensuring social cohesion requires to changing our exclusive mindsets to inclusive ones: Applying policies to include all the citizens and providing them the opportunities and resources equally. Inclusive policies enable all the citizens to support the government agenda and feel ownership on government policies.