Aid agencies and the Taliban
A couple of days after the final film in the BBC's excellent "Why Poverty?" documentary7 film series closed with a look at how aid agencies had slumped to the point at which their compounds were indistinguishable from military forts and where many Afghans regarded them as worse than the warlords, comes a briefing paper saying that the only way forward for embattled aid workers is to learn how to work with the Taliban.
In the documentary, former Oxfam chief Tony Vaux wonders aloud whether the Afghanistan experience marks the death of humanitarianism. Another agency spokesman shows little patience with this idea: "The show has moved on," he says, suggesting that the aid business should stop unnecessary navel-gazing and get on with the job, however much it has changed over the years and however much that means working with militaries.
But in the same film, Marc DuBois of MSF says his organisation is expanding in Afghanaistan, and is talking to the Taliban, to explain that MSF is not trying to build democracy and is not taking money from the US or the UK. His approach is on the lines as that outlined in the briefing out this week, "Talking to the other side: Taliban perspectives on aid and development work in Afghanistan".
It makes the point that aid agencies consistently reported relying on elders or other community members to arrange access with the Taliban is a dangerous option for Afghans: "Those who vouched for aid agencies faced dangerous consequences if the agencies then violated the Taliban’s rules. A commander in Almar district of Faryab stated that, if an ‘NGO is spying or doing something against our law, then we will punish the elders’. This calls into question the viability, both operationally and ethically, of such approaches. In particular, there are serious questions about the transfer of risk to community members, who are being asked to put their lives at risk in order to obtain assistance."
The briefing paper admits that "The engagement with the Taliban presents formidable risks and challenges" but suggests "pursuing a structured, informed approach to humanitarian dialogue" may be the only way forward for agencies that want to continue working in Afghanistan.blog comments powered by Disqus