- By Clare SestanovichClare Sestanovich and Sylvie Stein are researchers at Foreign Policy.
The Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) and Church World Service (CWS), two aid organizations operating in Afghanistan, were suspended yesterday from carrying out relief projects in the country. The damning transgression? An offending telephone book listing.
Controversy over the operations of the two groups first ignited when Noorin TV, a broadcasting company in Afghanistan, aired footage of baptisms and Christian prayer meetings in the country. Noorin sought to link the clips to NCA and CWS, but later conceded they had no conclusive evidence that either organization is involved in missionary activity. The company’s director, Muhammed Arif Noori, admitted he was prompted to raise the alarm when skimming a directory of non-government organizations working in Afghanistan: the word "Church" in the names of both groups caught his eye and wound up inspiring his attack.
In spite of Noorin’s dubious fact-finding, the government responded by suspending both groups-an action they say is fully backed by the law: in Afghanistan, proselytizing isn’t merely frowned upon. It’s downright illegal. The country’s Constitution bans converting from Islam, or even just trying to get someone else to convert. Both NCA and CWS deny taking part in any evangelical activity. (Indeed, even Mohammed Sediq Amarkhiel, spokesman for Afghanistan’s Ministry of Economy, acknowledged both groups are known for "doing a good job.") The NCA general secretary expressed hope for a "speedy and positive solution" to the fall-out, but at least for now, his organization-and its 8 million dollar budget for Afghanistan alone-will have to sit on the sidelines.