As the United States withdraws from Afghanistan, we are forced to face difficult questions about the future of those who remain. Many took comfort in knowing that some humanitarian organizations were allowed to continue operations in the countryside. However, even if the Taliban are to be believed, there is significant reason to believe that these organizations may not be as effective as they once were.
For many humanitarian organizations, the principles of impartiality and neutrality guide their operations. However, after a decades-long “hearts and minds” campaign, in which the coalition International Security Assistance Forces Deployed teams to deliver humanitarian and development assistance, many policymakers and aid practitioners say there has been an erosion of “humanitarian space”. While aid workers were once relatively free to assist victims without worry, aid organizations now face growing political and violent opposition due to their perceived affiliation with the West.
Consider Afghanistan to be one of the most dangerous countries in the world for aid workers. During the last research, we show that 691 violent attacks against aid workers took place in the midst of active combat operations in Afghanistan from 2008 to 2012 alone, claiming nearly 1,000 lives. Even though the Geneva Conventions provide explicit protections for humanitarian organizations operating in wartime, the Taliban and other fighters in Afghanistan have routinely violated prohibitions on target aid workers since the beginning of the war effort led by the United States.
This is of particular concern in Afghanistan, where humanitarian assistance has long been essential to the survival of Afghan civilians. In the decade since the start of the war in Afghanistan, the country received more than $ 36 billion in humanitarian and development aid. Today, 75 percent of all social services in Afghanistan are provided through contracts with international aid organizations.
Although many humanitarian organizations try to distance themselves from the government’s counterinsurgency operations, maintaining this separation has been difficult for a number of reasons. First, because the Afghan government was administratively weak, aid organizations were forced to fill gaps in government services, which effectively helped the government stay in power.
Second, many aid organizations in Afghanistan, such as Doctors Without Borders and Save the children, have origins in countries providing troops to coalition forces, which makes it difficult to appear neutral. As a spokesperson for the Taliban Noted in 2008, “The UN was created to guarantee the rights of nations, but now this organization supports one part in Afghanistan and wants to eliminate the other part.”
Third, the US government was heavily involved in providing aid to Afghanistan, forming an apparent association between the governing coalition and aid organizations. Indeed, Colin PowellColin Luther Powell In Afghanistan, the lines between aid and government programs are blurred The Powell Doctrine could have helped us avoid the debacle in Afghanistan A shock and fear approach to economic sanctions MORE declared that “NGOs are such a force multiplier for us, such an important part of our combat team”.
For these reasons, the Taliban have long viewed humanitarian organizations as supporting the Afghan government. A senior Afghan official clearly describes this logic: “Aid agencies are targeted because they provide services for the government. In interviews with members of the Taliban led by the Humanitarian Policy Group, one commander explained: “When we became convinced that our support for [aid agencies] has resulted in benefits for the current government and the Americans, we have started to oppose it. Another Taliban commander offered a similar explanation, saying: “When our leaders recognized that these [aid] the activities were aimed at benefiting the government and foreigners, they issued orders to ban them so we blocked their activities with one call.
If previous state sponsorship of humanitarian organizations led the Taliban to associate them with the United States and the West, what can be done to re-establish “humanitarian space” to provide vital resources?
In the short term, there may be very few. However, that does not mean that the Taliban will completely block the relief arrangements. Instead, the consequences will manifest in the diminished bargaining power of humanitarian organizations. In all likelihood, humanitarian organizations will be forced to agree to higher conditions on the type of aid and its recipients in exchange for access.
For example, the Taliban are likely to ask aid organizations to decouple some development work in education and health from providing basic resources, and they may initially focus on access to basic resources. areas where they are supported. They may also demand larger benefits from visas, import duties and other administrative costs, like Liberian leader Charles Taylor. asked 15 percent aid for entry into its territory to be paid as an import tax.
In the longer term, the United States and the West will face the deeper dilemma of using aid and aid organizations as force multipliers in stability operations. As the Afghan example shows, countries must carefully balance the private incentive to politically co-opt humanitarian operations with centuries of collective work to establish “humanitarian space” for relief efforts.
Neil Narang is Research Director and Professor at the Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation (IGCC) at the University of California and Affiliate Professor at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University.