Figuring out how to support the Afghan people without strengthening the Taliban has been the challenge that is confronting the global community
A drop in agriculture and construction activities has dampened the demand for both skilled and unskilled labourers, consequently affecting household incomes and the aggregate demand.While all the actors—the international community, aid organisations and the Taliban—recognise the indispensability of aid to the country’s survival, the constant back and forth on what a common and coordinated approach should be to navigate through the crisis, along with the Taliban’s intransigence on certain policy issues complicates the situation further. Understanding these differences in approach and interpretation is imperative to address the aid conundrum effectively, while ensuring that the Taliban do not use incoming foreign aid as a tool to strengthen their hold on power.
While officials from the UN were successful in winning exemptions for critical sectors like education and health, it showed how the Taliban’s regressive policies have a knock-on effect on the disbursal and allocation of aid.Apprehensions about the aid reaching the intended population have also affected donor decisions. Recently, the legal advisor of the Afghanistan mission in Geneva accused the Emirate of interfering with aid deliveries by asking NGOs to register and provide information. Reports about funds diverted to the Taliban’s supporters or the group misusing the hawala system which has become important in the absence of formal banking channels have also surfaced. Even during the Republic, aid was used as a tool to aggrandise political capital, with distribution happening on the basis of political factors like ethnicity. The lack of a formal sustainable payment channel, with the Da Afghanistan Bank in limbo, capital control and confusion over what is permissible under the sanctions also dampens the ability of aid organisations to continue their funding as there is no one sustainable channel. Even though revenue collection has increased under the Taliban, with the IEA collecting 173.9 Billion AFN (US$1.95 billion) in the last fiscal year (March 22, 2022-February 21, 2023), the expenditure patterns of the group do not reflect a positive trend, with a big slice of their budget being assigned to the security and its allied sectors and only 8 percent on developmental initiatives. Thus, the continuous flow of aid to Kabul may give the group the space to continue using its revenue collections on areas related to security while leaving human development and investment in socio-economic areas on external aid alone.
Owing to its strategic location, Afghanistan’s neighbours as well as countries outside the region have used the provision of aid to secure their strategic interests vis-à-vis other countries.To adopt a common approach, the members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) unanimously passed two resolutions on Afghanistan on 16 March 2023. The first extended the mandate of the UNAMA by another year, i.e., till 17 March, 2024, whereas the second urged the Secretary General to conduct an assessment and come out with ‘forward looking recommendations’ for developing an integrated approach towards Afghanistan. While the success of the members to arrive at a consensus is in itself a reason to rejoice, reservations about their utility in ameliorating the situation still stand. Mirroring the fault lines that now define the relationship between the countries of the West and Russia and China, the member states’ explanation of how they interpret what is it that will be ‘assessed’ or which factors should be given more importance differed significantly. While the US was initially reluctant to approve an assessment as it would signal an undermining of the mandate of the UNAMA, China and Russia wanted it to include broader questions of engagement with the Taliban, arguing that it should be highlighting the ‘true’ issues facing the country like the impact of a freeze on assets and the unilateral sanctions. The biggest roadblock in forming a coherent approach is the question of who the ‘relevant stakeholders’ in Afghanistan are and whether they include the Taliban as a legitimate political actor in the country. Figuring out how to support the Afghan people without strengthening the Taliban has been the Gordian knot. With countries differing in their approaches, the possibility of the Emirate taking advantage of the divisions to solidify their brutal regime can’t be ruled out. Moving forward, it will be interesting to see whether the countries are able to conduct a successful assessment and what possible recommendations it could highlight to address the problems of the nation. The trajectory of aid disbursement will also depend on the future policy directives of the regime and the spill over effect it will have on other aspects of life in the country. Calling it a ‘Catastrophe of Choice’, the Norwegian Refugee Council warned that the failure to address this year’s funding requirements will push next year’s demands to around US$ 10 million. To avoid such a situation, the donor countries need to respond to the humanitarian appeal and prepare a risk sharing approach with the NGOs.
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Shivam Shekhawat is a Junior Fellow with ORF’s Strategic Studies Programme. Her research focuses primarily on India’s neighbourhood- particularly tracking the security, political and economic ...Read More +