Afghanistan News and Views

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Afghanistan, Development: Pentagon’s Economic Development in Afghanistan ‘Accomplished Nothing’

Defence News, Nov. 18, 2014 – 03:45AM   |  By JOE GOULD   |

An Afghan construction worker makes concrete tubes on the outskirts of Kabul. A U.S. inspector general is investigating Pentagon reconstruction efforts in the country. (WAKIL KOHSAR/ / Agence France-Presse)

WASHINGTON — The US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) says he is investigating the Pentagon’s efforts to spark that country’s economic development, which cost between $700 million and $800 million and “accomplished nothing.”

SIGAR’s chief, John Sopko, told reporters Tuesday, that the agency has opened an “in-depth review” into the Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO), a Defense Department unit aimed at developing war zone mining, industrial development and fostering private investments.

“We have gotten serious allegations about the management and mismanagement of that agency, as well as a policy question about what they were doing and whether they should have existed,” Sopko said.

More broadly, Sopko faulted the US government’s economic development efforts in Afghanistan as “an abysmal failure,” saying it lacked a single leader, a clear strategy or accountability. An avenue of inquiry for SIGAR’s investigation into TFBSO could be Afghanistan’s underdeveloped mining industry.

“We have seen hit-and-miss efforts to develop the [Afghan] economy,” Sopko said of the US. “You, the development experts, should have had a plan to develop the economy and you haven’t, so now we’re stuck.”

Untapped mineral wealth in Afghanistan is estimated at $1 trillion, but Sopko noted that Afghanistan has only recently passed mineral laws and legal gaps make investment unattractive. Critics say the law lacks transparency regarding contracts and ownership, and strong rules for open and fair bidding.

The task force did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Sopko has said the US’ unprecedented $120 billion reconstruction investment there is at risk because Afghanistan is rife with corruption and lacks the security, technical prowess and economic health to sustain much of the work the US has done. He cited the case of $486 million the Defense Department spent for 20 G222 transport planes intended for the Afghan Air Force that sat idle in Kabul before they were sold for $32,000 and scrapped.

While the perception on Capitol Hill is that the US commitment is over, Sopko said, it has promised a decade of funding in its bilateral security agreement with Afghanistan.

“We need to make a commitment there because they can’t afford the government we’ve given them, and if our intended goal was a government that would keep or kick the terrorists out, we’re going to have to fund it,” Sopko said.

Afghanistan’s domestic revenues do not cover its total public expenditures, 90 percent of which are funded by the US and international partners, according to a report last year from another government watchdog, the Government Accountability Office.

Corruption continues to feed the insurgency and drain the economy, Sopko said, but Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s focus on anti-corruption and regaining money from the 2010 Kabul Bank failure are positive signs. Sopko was optimistic for freedom of movement and better security within 10 years.

“It is better, but the question I’m asking is, ‘Could it have been better,’” he said. “This is the most money we have spent on reconstruction of a single country in the history of our republic. Shouldn’t it have been better?” ■

Email: jgould@defensenews.com.

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Afghanistan, Development: The West Made Lots of Promises to Afghan Girls, Now It’s Breaking Them

Original article found on: The Daily Beast

By Heather Barr, 10/20/14

One reason given for the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan was to educate girls. But as the Western military shrinks there, so does the funding for those schools.

Shah Marai/AFP/Getty

Shah Marai/AFP/Getty

KABUL, Afghanistan — The girls of Afghanistan have been betrayed. When Taliban rule ended almost 13 years ago, international donors rushed in to promise that young women would no longer be denied an education. Western governments spent a decade patting themselves on the back for what they touted as exceptional work supporting schools for the beleaguered girls of Afghanistan. They talked about bringing women out of purdah, literally as well as figuratively, so they could help their families and their country to prosper.

But the closing of one school after another exposes the hollowness of those promises. In fact, the state of education in Afghanistan is still so shaky that only about half of Afghan girls manage to go to school, and those numbers are set to decline.

In the volatile southern province of Kandahar, for instance, an innovative school for teenage girls will soon close its doors. The Kandahar Institute for Modern Studies, established in 2006 with funding and encouragement from the Canadian government, has run out of donors. And it is only one of a number of Afghan schools to face the budget axe swung by distant governments and cost-cutting politicians.

Other schools have been shuttered because of attacks and threats stemming from the war that continues to engulf the country. In July, girls’ schools closed in one entire district, depriving 40,000 girls of education.

The website of the U.S. development agency proudly proclaims, “In 2013, one million Afghan learners are enrolled in schools with USAID assistance, and over 5 million primary grade students benefitted from USAID assistance.” But in January 2014, the U.S. Congress cut the U.S. government’s allocation of development aid for Afghanistan by half.

Then there’s the United Kingdom. “We agree that expanded access to good quality secondary education that produces skills for employment is essential for Afghanistan’s future prosperity,” the British government wrote in 2013. Yet in a 2012 report the U.K. government had already decided that it had “built too much” in terms of schools and health clinics in Afghanistan and that only “critical” facilities would remain open.

“The fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women,” said Laura Bush, wife of then-U.S. President George W. Bush.
Getting Afghan girls into school wasn’t just a benign-but-unintended by-product of the international military intervention in Afghanistan. Soon after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S. and the invasion of Afghanistan, world leaders explicitly cited the extreme oppression suffered by women and girls under the Taliban as a justification for the operation.

“The fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women,” said Laura Bush, wife of then-U.S. President George W. Bush, in November 2001, giving the weekly presidential radio address in place of her husband.

“The women of Afghanistan still have a spirit that belies their unfair, downtrodden image,” said Cherie Blair, wife of then-U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, also in November 2001. “We need to help them free that spirit and give them their voice back, so they can create the better Afghanistan we all want to see.”

But today, as crises in Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, Central African Republic, South Sudan, and West Africa compete for attention, Afghanistan is not even yesterday’s news—it’s last year’s news. Journalists are leaving Kabul, embassies are downsizing, and donors are quietly and drastically scaling back.

“How’s it going?” I asked a friend who runs aid programs at the U.S. embassy in Kabul not long ago.

“Oh, you know,” he said. “Just shutting things down.”

Military disengagement from Afghanistan is advancing; the newly signed Bilateral Security Agreement with the U.S. and Status of Forces Agreement with NATO pave the way for a continued, but very limited, international military involvement in Afghanistan.

Donor involvement is more important than ever, however. President Hamid Karzai handed over to Afghanistan’s new president, Ashraf Ghani, not just the reins of power but also a badly overdrawn checking account. Ghani’s government has been forced to seek a $537 million bailout from donors just to continue paying civil servant salaries. There are hopes that this new government, fronted by Ghani, a technocrat who was formerly Afghanistan’s finance minister and spent several decades with the World Bank, will bring much-needed fiscal stability to the Afghan economy. But that won’t happen tomorrow.

Afghanistan will have to pay for its own schools one day, and one hopes it is moving in that direction. But it can’t possibly do so right now. The ones who will pay first and worst are the country’s girls as they slide back toward the devastation of illiteracy.

A November donor conference in London will bring together all of Afghanistan’s donors to take stock of commitments made at the 2012 Tokyo Conference and to craft a new partnership going forward. Donors should come to the conference mindful not just of commitments they have made to the Afghan government, but also the solemn pledges they first made to support Afghan women and girls in 2001, and have made over and over since then.

Earlier this month, after the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to two children’s rights activists, Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that Yousafzai, a 17-year old from Pakistan, would be travelling to Canada to accept honorary Canadian citizenship, an honor only five others, including Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama, have ever received. U.S. President Barack Obama was quick to congratulate the Nobel winners as well, saying, “As we celebrate their achievements, we must recommit ourselves to the world that they seek—one in which our daughters have the right and opportunity to get an education; and in which all children are treated equally.”

That’s what Afghan girls want. And that’s what the countries that marched into Afghanistan 13 years ago promised them. This is no time to break that promise.

Original article found on: The Daily Beast

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Development, Afghanistan: Afghan malnutrition – the search for solutions

JALALABAD, 11 November 2014 (IRIN) – Abdullah’s wails of pain are punctuated only by his rasping cough. His arms bound to his body, he is five months old but weighs just 3.2kg, lighter than some newborns. In the next bed, three-month old Shukoria looks withered and worn, her face wrinkled and pained.

Both are suffering from malnutrition, which affects more than 40 percent of Afghan children, killing thousands every year and leaving millions with permanent disabilities.

“Malnutrition is the main reason for deaths of children under five in this province,” Homayoun Zaheer, head of the Jalalabad hospital, said, pointing to the children.

A government-backed report highlighted the extent of malnutrition in the country, yet experts say efforts to tackle the problem are hampered by cultural norms, shrinking health budgets and the short-term nature of aid donations.

Slow starters

While Afghan malnutrition rates have long been high, until recently they had, many aid workers agree, been something of a hidden problem as there was – and still is – a lack of evidence about the scale of the problem.

The issue was therefore often neglected when aid was doled out. Since 2007 the country has been the world’s leading recipient of development assistance as a percentage of its national income, with US$6.2 billion in 2012 alone. Yet that spending has focused on governance and security, and while new health infrastructure has been created, the extent of malnutrition has received little study.

Franck Abeille, country director at Action Against Hunger (known by its French acronym ACF) said that in the early years after the 2001 US-led invasion there was little focus on malnutrition. “ACF, for example, hardly worked on nutrition from 2003 up until 2006-07,” he said.

The most recent National Nutrition Survey – the first in the country since 2004 – released late last year, showed that over 40 percent of Afghan children under the age of five suffered from permanent stunting as a result of malnutrition, while 9.5 percent of children suffered from wasting.

The number of children with severe acute malnutrition had more than tripled from 98,900 in 2003 to 362,317, while the estimated number of pregnant and lactating women requiring nutrition interventions had nearly doubled to 246,283. Acute malnutrition typically kills more quickly than chronic malnutrition, which is the world’s leading cause of preventable mental disability.

Budget issues

The survey, coming alongside other new evidence, has helped prompt both the Afghan government and the UN to commit to focusing their resources on malnutrition, with the problem to be designated one of the three key priorities of the forthcoming Common Humanitarian Action Plan for 2015.

Yet the drive comes at a time when health resources are being squeezed. Under the country’s Basic Package of Health Services (BPHS) healthcare system, international NGOs act as contractors to take on the basic provision of health services in a given district. As the Afghan government has faced financial cutbacks the BPHS budget has decreased, undermining malnutrition outreach programmes. In one province, the monthly budget per patient for all services dropped from 7 euros up to 2013 to 4.7 euros per patient per year in 2014, according to a report from ACF.

“The contract has a set amount of money per patient and the nutrition amount is too small to be useful as it doesn’t allow for any outreach work to take place,” Mark Bowden, the UN Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and the Humanitarian Coordinator for the country. “So essentially nutrition has been ignored within the health system.”

Towards solutions

While all sides now agree on the severity of the malnutrition crisis, the solutions are less agreed upon.

Claude Jibidar, country director at the World Food Programme, said that one route he was pushing for is to fortify wheat – the staple of the Afghan diet – potentially with government subsidies.

“A lot of the micronutrient deficiencies would be immediately dealt with,” Jibidar said. “You fortify with a pack of minerals and vitamins [dealing with] anaemia, iron, vitamin A and vitamin D deficiencies.”

“To address the causes of malnutrition. the first [priority] is culture change – to change the mindset of people towards breastfeeding their children.”

“People say it has an effect on the price – I am told it would cost about $4-5 dollars additionally per kilo. Even if it is 10 times that the benefit is worth it,” he added.

Yet such a scheme, while potentially making older Afghans healthier, would only have a limited impact on the youngest.

Hamza Atim, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) medical coordinator for Boost Hospital in Lashkar Gar – in the contested Helmand Province where acute malnutrition is among the highest in the country – pointed out that many Afghan communities do not have a culture of breastfeeding their newly-born children.

Abeille pointed out that this can lead to stunting. “When a child is born, the first milk from the mother. is really the first thing the baby needs,” he said.

“We treat children who are acutely malnourished in hospital – but this is only addressing the symptoms of malnutrition,” Atim said. “If you need to address the causes you need to do a lot of things but the first [priority] is culture change – to change the mindset of people towards breastfeeding their children.”

“Breastfeeding will stop children from getting a lot of illnesses. But this has gone on for generations, so it is a hard sell to address.”

In Jalalabad, Zaheer said they had launched education schemes for the local population, including group sessions in which mothers are taught about health schemes, but admitted many women, particularly those in rural areas, cannot afford to come every week. “Poverty is the key issue here. Poverty and ignorance – it can be a vicious cycle,” he said.

Bowden, the humanitarian coordinator, agreed that more education schemes are needed. “The highest rates of malnutrition correlate to the highest rates of female illiteracy and lack of female education.”

From humanitarian to development

A shift in attitudes on malnutrition may also help. While emergency humanitarian actors have prioritized acute malnutrition, development agencies are needed.

“You have figures for acute malnutrition that are above emergency levels – which is why we treat it as a humanitarian issue – but there are also major issues of stunting, which is largely a development issue,” Bowden said.

Abeille echoed a number of other actors calling for long-term development funding to tackle the root causes of malnutrition.

“When you meet donors they say: ‘one year is perfect, let’s move forward.’ When you suggest three or four years they say: ‘I am not sure we can find the funds.’ So next year we come back with the same problem.”

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Afghanistan: Climate change – Afghans on the front line

Original article found on: IRIN – Asia

By Joe Dyke

Photo1

Naim Korbon is rebuilding his home after devastating floods (Photo: Joe Dyke/IRIN)

MAZAR-I-SHARIF, 4 November 2014 (IRIN) – In northern Afghanistan, the residents don’t often use the phrase – most don’t even know it. But as they describe how increasingly extreme weather patterns are making their lives harder every year, they map out many of the symptoms of climate change. As a new UN report warns that “irreversible” climate change is affecting more people than ever, these Afghans are on the front line.

Naim Korbon says he is 90 years old, though he admits he does not really know. Either way he is too old to be carrying cement. Yet in the northern Afghan village of Rozi Bay in Balkh Province, he and his extended family are rebuilding their homes.

Earlier this year his life’s work was destroyed as vicious floods cascaded through the area. It was, local experts say, the worst to hit the region in 42 years. Nearly half of the village was swept away, including Korbon’s home. All down his street buildings – many of them over 50 years old – are slumped; roofs sliding off, surrounded by piles of debris. “We will rebuild it all better than before,” Korbon said, picking up his shovel.

A young boy sits in front of his partially destroyed home (Photo: Joe Dyke/IRIN)

A young boy sits in front of his partially destroyed home (Photo: Joe Dyke/IRIN)

Floods are not the only weather making the residents’ lives harder. In the nearby village of Baghacha Khan Mula local representative Abdul Jalote Mufakar pointed at the barren earth with a sense of resignation. “In recent years, there are no crops. Only almonds grow any more,” he said.

This pattern of long droughts, poor harvests and flash floods has been a growing trend for the people of northern Afghanistan, with experts largely in agreement that the climate is becoming more extreme. A new report identified Afghanistan as one of 11 countries globally at extreme risk of both climate change and food insecurity.

One trend is for late, harsh cold snaps that can mean snow and sleet hit just as crops and fruits are blossoming, killing the produce. “Every year the cold season comes later and stays later,” Mufakar says.

Such cold snaps also help make the floods more intense, Andrew Scanlon, country director of the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), explained: “If you are getting late snow it is warmer and melts faster. If you get snow up to April, it is not very consolidated and it melts in May; whereas if you get snow in February or March it packs and lasts all the way through until August.”

High risks

Scanlon estimates that since 1982 temperatures in northern Afghanistan have risen about 0.8 degrees per decade, though he accepts that the data is not reliable enough to know for certain.

These changes have coincided with, and partly led to, increasing poverty for the residents in Balkh. In the 1970s, the average Tajik family (the majority ethnic grouping in the area) in northern Afghanistan had 100 goats, one cow and two oxen, according to a report by the NGO Action Against Hunger. Today, it is seven goats and less than one cow or ox per family.

“Among the crops that may benefit is exactly the one that the Afghan government and the foreign forces are seeking to fight – opium poppies.” While three decades of war has been the primary driver of this gradual slide into poverty, the changing climate has also played a role. “Most people here are farmers. In the past we used to have a lot of livestock but after several years of drought, we had to eat the animals,” Mufakar explains.

Mohibullah Niazi, senior shelter technical officer at the north Afghanistan branch of the Norwegian Refugee Council, says the climate may have reached a tipping point.

“People are experiencing flash flooding, river flooding, landslides [and] avalanches in [the past] three years, [the likes of which] they had not experienced in past 56 years.

Adapt or die

Adjusting to such a situation requires radical thinking. Scanlon said there was a push from the UN, civil society, NGOs and local Afghan groups to encourage the nascent Afghan government towards a larger programme of what is called watershed management.

This would include more schemes to protect individual towns like Khulm in Balkh Province. The town has been spared some of the worst flooding in recent years following the creation of a watershed project designed by the World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization. Three dams harvest the rain and floodwater, while two reservoirs feed a drip irrigation system – helping water 150 hectares of land planted with trees. This also leads to more stable earth, reducing the risk of flooding.

Other adaptation mechanisms are being employed as well. To reduce the flood risks, houses built to government standards are required to have stronger foundations, while expensive burnt bricks are used wherever possible to reduce the risk of collapse.

A March 2014 Afghan government planning document seen by IRIN also highlights the need for farmers to shift the crops they produce.

The long drought that followed the floods has left the earth parched (Photo: Joe Dyke/IRIN)

The long drought that followed the floods has left the earth parched (Photo: Joe Dyke/IRIN)

“Whilst certain crop species may actually benefit from carbon enrichment and increased temperatures (e.g. wheat, which may experience an expansion of its growing season), it is likely that the increase in intensity and duration of both droughts and floods will significantly decrease the productivity of most species,” the document said.

Among the crops that may benefit is exactly the one that the Afghan government and the foreign forces are seeking to fight – opium poppies. The US government has spent $7.6 billion in the past 13 years trying to tackle poppies, which form the basis of heroin, according to a report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. Yet in recent years there has been a resurgence in cultivation, partly as poppies require less water than other crops.

“More water intensive staple crops will become less attractive to farmers, with a likely increase in the attractiveness of those that are more drought hardy, including opium poppy,” Niazi said.

Part of the issue is that villages like Rozi Bay cannot do it alone. Most areas affected by flooding are downstream, but the problems start far higher at the source of the rivers. “People start to do protection work in the lower catchments to protect the [populations] but you have to really start way back up in Badakhshan where the problems are emanating from,” said Scanlon, referring to the northern mountainous province.

Scanlon said that only in recent years have the reporting mechanisms in the country been strong enough to start to build up the country’s meteorological data, enabling better understanding of environmental change. UNEP, along with the Afghan government and other partners, is in the process of establishing a national environment data center. This, he said, is beginning to enable them to develop a bigger picture of the challenges with the aim of establishing better early-warning systems among others. “We need to embrace complexity and then come up with solutions for complex situations,” he said.

While he was careful not to talk about specific towns, Scanlon suggested that a debate needs to be had about whether it is feasible to keep rebuilding in areas that are likely to see yet more extreme weather in the coming years. It could, he posits, be better to move communities on to higher regions rather than continue to invest in rebuilding those in flood-prone ones.

But in a region where attachment to land is incredibly high, any such moves are likely to face fierce resistance. Mufakar tells a cautionary tale of one man who left his village after the floods to seek a new life in the state capital Mazar-i-Sharif. “When I see him now he just cries – before he had land, now he has nothing,” he said.

And back in Rozi Bay, Korbon, too, has little time for such pessimism in the face of climate change. Pointing to newly built foundations and burnt bricks, he is confident the problem is dealt with for good.

“We borrowed more [than the NGO gave us] so we only have to do this once, never again,” he said. The meteorologists may not be so sure.

Original article found on: IRIN – Asia

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Afghanistan: Afghanistan’s first lady to focus on humanitarian assistance

 

Original article found on: Khaama Press

By KHAAMA PRESS – Fri Sep 26 2014, 12:22 pm

 

Afghanistans-first-lady

Afghanistan’s first lady Rula Ghani Ahmadzai will focus on humanitarian assistance after Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai takes office as the new president of Afghanistan.

Dr. Ashraf Ghani said his wife will start charitable works for women and children and internally displaced individuals who are in need of assistance.

Shukria Barekzai, a member of Dr. Ghani’s camp, said the decision by Afghanistan’s first lady is a good news for women and children who are in need of support and assistance.

Barekzai said Rula Ghani was involved in humanitarian assistance activities in the past as well but she will double her activities after her spouse takes office.

The presidential inauguration for the president-elect of the country is expected to be organized on coming Monday.
Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai was declared the president-elect by the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan earlier this week.

The announcement was made following the conclusion of an agreement between Dr. Ashraf Ghani and Dr. Abdullah for the formation of a national unity government.

Original article found on: Khaama Press

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Afghanistan: Afghan Media Org Convenes High-Level Meeting on Access to Information

Original article found on: Internews

October 9th, 2014

Historically, the government of Afghanistan has been marked by a lack of transparency, with only a vague – and thus far unenforced – reference in its decade-old constitution to the guaranteed right to access to information.

That all might be changing soon: earlier this summer, Afghanistan’s Lower House of Parliament approved the country’s first-ever Access to Information Law. Now, Internews partner Nai is leading multi-stakeholder advocacy efforts to encourage the swift and responsible passage of the law by Afghanistan’s Upper House, and ultimately by Afghanistan’s new President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai.

Having met with the Upper House of Parliament earlier this summer, last month, Nai convened media, civil society, and government leaders – including former President Karzai’s legal advisor and high-ranking officials from the Ministries of Information and Culture, Defense, Interior Affairs, and Commerce and Industry – for a roundtable discussion on the effective and fair implementation of the law.

Although spokespeople for the Ministry of Defense emphasized a need to keep information concerning national security and the wellbeing of Afghan troops confidential, the group agreed that government agencies should start preparing now to put systems in place to allow Afghan citizens to request and gain access to government-held information in a timely fashion. These mechanisms include establishing access to information committees in Kabul as well as in seven additional zones across the country, trainings for government workers, classifying and even digitizing data if possible, and setting up clear channels of communication and cooperation between government agencies.

Nai legal advisor Qasim Rahmani called on the National Assembly to hold a joint committee session to allow lawmakers to reconcile different existing drafts of the law. That way, he said, the government can prevent confusion and misinterpretation once the law goes into effect.

In numerous press releases, media briefings, and roundtable discussions leading up to Parliament’s vote on the law, Nai has repeatedly stressed how critical such a law will be for reducing corruption, protecting journalists, and building a more democratic Afghan society.

The law, said Executive Director Mujeeb Khalvatgar, will “allow Afghan journalists to work in a better and safer environment than they do now…it will lay the groundwork for journalists to produce more investigative reports.”

“The Access to Information Law is an important piece of legislation for all, but specifically for media outlets,” said Nasir Maimanagy, who attended the meeting representing Internews radio partner Salam Watandar. “This law will provide the strongest tool ever – access to information – for the media to monitor the activities of both the government and the private sector.”

Maimanagy noted that for all of the law’s promise, however, its proper enforcement is far from a done deal. “Implementation is a daunting task,” he said. “If not implemented properly, the hopes of media organizations will turn to dismay and frustration.”

Internews’ support for Nai is funded by the US Agency for International Development.

Original article found on: Internews

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Afghanistan: Afghanistan’s Political Transition

Original article found on: International Crisis Group

Kabul/Brussels | 16 Oct 2014afghanistan-16oct

In its latest report, Afghanistan’s Political Transition, the International Crisis Group examines the politics surrounding the deeply contested 2014 presidential election, analysing threats and opportunities. Any election during an escalating civil war will never reflect the full breadth of popular opinion, and the polls were marred by substantial fraud. Still, the most peaceful transfer of power in Afghanistan’s history creates opportunities to improve governance, reduce corruption and steer the country toward greater stability.

The report’s major findings and recommendations are:

  • The formation of a national unity government including Ghani and his election rival Abdullah Abdullah presents opportunities to stabilise the transition, preventing further erosion of state cohesion – but it also poses risks, particularly of factionalism within Kabul. Afghanistan and its donors must focus on the stability of the government while implementing the reforms promised in Ghani’s manifesto.
  • Ethnic tensions became more acute during the second round, in particular, as ethnic Pashtuns and Uzbeks rallied in large numbers around Ghani and his running mate Abdul Rashid Dostum; at the same time, Abdullah’s ticket became identified mainly with ethnic Tajiks and some Hazara factions. Reducing such mistrust will be crucial if this political transition is to survive.
  • Some of the political fallout from such a divisive process could be addressed with a transparent review of lessons to be applied to strengthen the 2015 parliamentary and 2019 presidential elections. Such a review, with the potential for reconsidering laws, regulations and even the constitution, may allow for some dilution of the winner-takes-all presidential system.
  • In the short term, Ghani and Abdullah must steer the government through urgent business, including satisfying the requirements of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework (TMAF), to prevent Afghanistan from being blacklisted by financial institutions and ensure continued donor support.

“Ghani and Abdullah will need to continue serving as voices of restraint as they strive to make the unity government function, and they deserve to receive international support in these efforts” says says Graeme Smith, Afghanistan Senior Analyst. “The Afghan government cannot afford to drift, and any disunity in Kabul will affect the country’s ability to fight its battles and pay its bills”.

“While the two candidates’ power-sharing deals may be imperfect, they have also opened a conversation about revising the overly centralised presidential system”, says Samina Ahmed, South Asia Project Director and Senior Asia Adviser. “Afghanistan needs constitutional reforms to dilute some powers of the presidency and give more responsibilities to elected local officials. This would help mitigate factional tensions in the government and lower the stakes in future elections”.

Original article found on: International Crisis Group

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Afghanistan: There’s no hiding US failure in Afghanistan

Originalar ticle found on: Ground Truth

By Ben Brody on October 2nd, 2014

Blog: Troops who remain on the ground no longer try to sugarcoat the reality that the war has accomplished little of permanence.

Deep into the drawdown, fuel is no longer distributed to smaller bases by road — it is too dangerous and there aren't enough trucks. Two Chinooks at Kandahar Airfield prepare to deliver fuel containers to a small contingent of troops at FOB Apache in neighboring Zabul Province. (Ben Brody/GlobalPost)

Deep into the drawdown, fuel is no longer distributed to smaller bases by road — it is too dangerous and there aren’t enough trucks. Two Chinooks at Kandahar Airfield prepare to deliver fuel containers to a small contingent of troops at FOB Apache in neighboring Zabul Province. (Ben Brody/GlobalPost)

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — In ten years of covering the American military at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, I’ve become pretty used to the avalanche of Orwellian strategic messaging that comes with an embed. “Good news” is highlighted and discussed without context or sense of irony, “bad news” is excluded.

This last trip to Afghanistan was different. I was primarily there to cover the mechanics of the drawdown of troops, so of course the drawdown itself was presented as running along pretty smoothly. Fair enough. But this time there was no attempt to put the current mission into the larger context of a successful endgame. Even the military’s own messaging experts won’t touch a conclusion that absurd.

Iraq was always more saturated with strategic spin than Afghanistan, and no amount of unbridled optimism was ever considered unseemly or naive in the military’s eyes. I’ll never forget when a brigade commander told me that he expected his 4,000 soldiers to control Baghdad so thoroughly that no additional troops would be necessary at the end of his tour.

This was in January 2005, the insurgency in full swing, Sadr City boiling over. As the cradle of civilization burned, his media embeds were shown pointless construction projects and soldiers handing out Beanie Babies to children.

In Afghanistan, embedded reporters have been typically given more free rein, particularly during the 2009-2012 troop surge. At that time, it was easy to get to an isolated combat outpost and patrol alongside ground troops for weeks at a time. That brings its own editorial challenges, as reporters are expected to bond with troops through shared hardship, gradually nudging war coverage toward the positive.

Certainly, the story of the American war in Afghanistan has its positive aspects, but you can’t accurately tell the story of building a school for girls without putting it in the context of its tenuous lease on life and impending collapse.

As US troops leave their combat outposts, the Taliban is resurgent in a few key places and the Afghan Army is hard pressed in Helmand, the poppy-growing capital. Kabul is more dangerous for foreigners than ever, due to a new Taliban strategy of opportunistic assassinations. A few weeks ago, a US soldier momentarily stepped out of his armored truck to help a Kabul police officer direct traffic.

A Taliban fighter who happened to be nearby seized the moment, and stabbed the soldier to death before fleeing on a motorcycle.

Whether or not the Afghan Army can hold their ground against the Taliban in the Pashtun south, electricity is about to become a serious problem there with USAID’s failure to move the Kajaki Dam hydroelectric project forward. Kandahar City could be essentially without electricity from 2015 to 2018, according to the US military’s best-case-scenario projections.

The Taliban’s murderous goals and the continuing debacle of Kajaki, however, are relatively minor problems compared with the makings of a civil war that have been brewing over the presidential election. Afghanistan has been in a state of political and economic paralysis for the last ten months, as a tainted election threatens to draw at least four northern provinces into open rebellion against the central government.

The makeshift power-sharing solution, with Ashraf Ghani named president and his rival Abdullah Abdullah as chief executive, is a tenuous arrangement at best. Both men have different visions for Afghanistan, and it’s hard to imagine an era of compromise and consensus springing forth in Kabul.

Many soldiers and airmen I spoke with casually — at the chow hall, at the bazaar, waiting at the flight line — said they felt conflicted about the drawdown. They all see Afghanistan quickly descending into chaos as the Americans leave, perhaps even before, however they disagree about whether 50 or more years of occupation would fundamentally change anything about the place for the better.

“It’s rewarding to be able to say that we’re helping get NATO home,” said Maj. Chris Carmichael, whose unit is responsible for shipping the bulk of military equipment from Bagram Airfield to the United States. “But in my own opinion, we need to be here another 50 to 70 years. Look at South Korea and how they’re a major economic powerhouse now. How can you change a whole culture in 10 years?”

After 13 years of war, you’d be hard pressed to find a soldier who believes that a few more years of boots on the ground in Afghanistan would put the country on the road to stability, much less prosperity. Of course many young soldiers want to go out and fight there anyway, but that is not because they believe in the larger strategic gambit. Combat is the central rite of passage in America’s all-volunteer military culture, and an entire generation of soldiers before them have had that experience.

One clear winner has emerged from the murky, indecisive conflict in Afghanistan: the companies employing military contractors. Troop levels are a bit misleading, as they do not prescribe the number of contractors on the ground. At the end of 2014, Bagram Airfield will house approximately 5,000 troops, and 10,000 contractors.

President Ghani has signed a deal that permits 9,800 US soldiers to remain in Afghanistan after 2014, but soldiers already there say that number is arbitrary and that the military will hire as many contractors as they need to in order to accomplish the missions they prioritize.

Bagram Airfield is the nerve center for the military drawdown in Afghanistan, and the place where the most US troops will be stationed after 2014. The mechanics and machinery of the drawdown are impressive. The new hardened US headquarters buildings have an amazingly solid, imperious feel to them, as though they are meant to last forever as monuments to an occupation that transformed Afghanistan for the better.

They also feel more sterile than a building in Afghanistan has any right to be, insulated from both Taliban rockets and from the reality of the continuing conflict — as well as the country’s history as the graveyard of empires. The crumbling Soviet office buildings and aircraft hangars next door probably felt the same way 30 years ago.

Originalar ticle found on: Ground Truth

 

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On the Media, Afghanistan: Tech Rising – The Influence of Social Media and New Technologies in Afghanistan’s Democracy

Original article on: United States Institute of Peace

 

The U.S. Institute of Peace invites you to join a discussion on the evolving role of media and new technologies in Afghanistan’s democratic process. Experts from Afghanistan will discuss how new media and technology tools influenced the recent elections and how they can be used to promote better governance in the country.

Kabul Pilot Workshop-During Practice: Female trainer is directing the trainees about making social media account on facebook. Photo Credit: Flickr/Impassion Afghanistan

Since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, the use of social media and mobile technology has proliferated in Afghanistan and the impact on the democratic process has been astounding. There are now four telecom companies offering 3G services, boosting internet access through mobile broadband. In the most recent presidential election, all candidates used Facebook, and most had Ttwitter accounts. Social media allowed political candidates unprecedented access to young Afghans who make up 68%of the voting bloc. Mobile phone penetration is at 89% and allowed many observers to capture episodes of fraud, reducing corruption during the elections.

On Thursday October 16, USIP will host an event that will explore the evolving role of media, technology and data use in Afghanistan’s democratic process, particularly elections. Experts will discuss these topics and share important findings from a report summarizing community concerns in seven provinces around the 2014 elections and beyond.

Join the conversation on Twitter with #AFGNext.

 

Original article can be found at: United States Institute of Peace

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Afghanistan: Afghanistan – the largest refugee repatriation in the world

Original article on: Foreign Policy

The World Bank stated in a new report released on Monday, that 5.7 million refugees have returned to Afghanistan in the past decade (Pajhwok). According to the report, the return to Afghanistan is the largest refugee repatriation effort in the world. However, the report also notes that Afghanistan is the second-largest source country of refugees and that “large numbers remain forcibly displaced.”

Car bomb kills at least four in Helmand province

A car bomb killed at least four people on Wednesday when it exploded in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand district (Pajhwok, TOLO News). Omar Zowak, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said the incident occurred at 11:00 AM near the house of Abdullah Khan, a former district police chief; Khan was wounded in the blast. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Action commences on Kabul Bank investigation

Kabul police chief Lt. Gen. Muhammad Zahir Zahir announced on Tuesday that the city’s police have initiated arrests in the Kabul Bank investigation (Pajhwok). Zahir stated: “We have received a list of 19 individuals and two of them have already been arrested.” Sher Khan Farnoud, who was the founder and chairman of Kabul Bank, is reportedly among those accused.  Zahir’s statement follows newly inaugurated Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s direction last week to reopen the case. On Tuesday, Rahmatollah Nazari, Afghanistan’s deputy attorney general announced that the Attorney General’s office would reopen the case (TOLO News).

 

–David Sterman; October 8, 2014

Original article can be found at: Foreign Policy

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Afghanistan, Development: Less is More – International Intervention and the Limits of Afghan Growth

Original article found on: Heinrich Boll Stiftung

By Philipp Munch on September 17th, 2014

Construction workers at a roadside in Kabul, Afghanistan. Photo: Neelab Hakim. Creative Commons LizenzvertragThis image is licensed under Creative Commons License.

Construction workers at a roadside in Kabul, Afghanistan. Photo: Neelab Hakim. Creative Commons LizenzvertragThis image is licensed under Creative Commons License. 

Development projects and construction work around military bases make up an overwhelmingly large part of Afghanistan’s economy. With foreign troops withdrawing and declining aid, the country is looking for its future economic path.

Based on the financial scope, Afghanistan has clearly topped the list of recipient countries of international aid for many years now.[1] Since 2001, donors have been able to improve medical facilities and levels of education by a very considerable degree – to name but some of the most important accomplishments.[2] However, external funds make up an overwhelmingly large part of Afghanistan’s economic performance with little sign of self-sustained economic development.[3]

In addition, greater scrutiny reveals that those sectors of the Afghan economy that have been newly created or strengthened are tailored towards serving the conditions created by the international intervention. Above all, it is the construction and retail industries that have profited from the numerous development projects and military bases, with retail benefiting from the logistic needs of the intervention forces and the comparatively high spending power of those Afghans they employ. Afghanistan’s domestic agricultural production, on the other hand, has contracted.[4]

As a consequence it is to be expected that the sectors in question will collapse once the intervening forces have withdrawn. However, considerable parts of the population have become used to such standards of living. On top of that, the funds thus generated do prop up a political system that, until now, has prevented a relapse into large-scale civil war. Still, it is more than likely that the exceptionally high external subsidies will decrease in the long run, posing the question of how to achieve self-sustained economic development. As a first step I would like to sketch out the main reasons why this has failed to materialise until now – in spite of the unprecedented amount of spending. As a second step, and based on this, I would like to present a few possible attempts at a solution.

An overabundance of aid money

One of the main reasons Afghanistan lacks economic development certainly are its much cited “rentier state” features. The country’s most senior political actors are doing their best to skim off international funds and redistribute them to their camp followers via patronage networks. Funds provided by the donors are thus being turned into “rents” that subsidise parts of the population without ever being invested in profit-making businesses.[5] Although it is often claimed, this practice is not questionable per se, as these funds, however much misappropriated from the donors’ perspective, do still serve their purpose, that is, they create political stability that is much greater than anything witnessed during the 1990s.

Even when viewed from a micro-level perspective, it becomes obvious that the concern of the established political actors to keep the international subsidies alive is crucial in preventing the outbreak of widespread violence.[6] Clearly questionable however is the increased hoarding of international resources by some political actors who do not redistribute them to their clientele. Funds that are being invested in secure Dubai or transferred into Swiss bank accounts will not profit the country.[7]

Nevertheless, the many donors, too, will have to be investigated as possible culprits for the lack of economic development. The deluge of funds, unparalleled in the country’s history, has meant that Afghanistan’s currency is overvalued, something not apt to facilitate exports. As the donor countries’ organisations vie with each other for the most qualified sections of the labour force they are willing to pay inflated salaries. The most able Afghans are thus employed by foreign state and non-state organisations, a phenomenon only too familiar from other countries.[8]

Efforts to build up an effective Afghan administration are thus being hampered. On top of that, competition between international actors and their efforts to spend all budgeted funds within the respective fiscal year creates an overabundance of aid money. Accordingly, this has fostered a recipient mentality among Afghans, that is, a mindset that views international aid as the norm and any efforts to become autonomous or to preserve the achievements made as superfluous. The frequent donation of grain, moreover, has the effect that local agricultural produce is rarely profitable.

Counterproductive reforms

An equally decisive factor is the faulty sequence of developmental steps undertaken in Afghanistan. While it makes basic economic sense to build more roads, this also facilitates the influx of imported goods into a country without a domestic industry able to compete on international markets and lacking tariffs to protect it. Internationally sponsored education initiatives that have proliferated since 2001 are certainly well intentioned, yet without adequate jobs for graduates this will only fuel discontent.

Precisely this is what happened with Afghan education initiatives after World War II. Up until the 1970s government-affiliated client networks were able to absorb graduates, yet the rising national debt signalled the end of this system. Almost all the leading proponents of Jihadi organisations that began their uprising in 1975 or 1978-79 respectively belonged to this group of thwarted social climbers.[9] A similar dilemma arises from the fact that, since 2001, improved humanitarian conditions have enabled Afghan families to raise more children. Today the average age in Afghanistan is circa 15. Not least because this will exacerbate the problem of subdividing inherited estates, an issue already familiar from before the war, it is currently completely up in the air what employment opportunities there may be for the younger generation.[10] The consequence of such developments is instability, a situation hardly conducive to economic growth.

It can be argued, moreover, that many of the economic reforms favoured by the intervening powers since 2001, have been counterproductive. Mostly, they where based on neoliberal assumptions and other economic theories prevailing in the West, which view economic activity in ahistorical ways and without considering the actual power structures. This led to the expectation that a market with very few barriers would, by force of nature, create growth for all.[11] For Afghanistan the result has been that the overvalued currency along with a deluge of cheap imports has relegated formerly self-employed craftsmen into the ranks of day labourers.[12] Domestically the absence of a state monopoly on legitimate violence[13] and of a separation of powers between politics and economics, which gave rise to an unbridled market, have resulted in a few actors gaining economic monopolies.[14]

The dilemma of the donors

Solutions for the main obstacles identified in this paper have to be sought, above all, on part of the donors. They are faced with a dilemma: On the one hand, they will have to reduce their funding considerably, on the other, as seen with the fall of the Najibullah regime in 1992, this may in no case be allowed to occur too rapidly. Historically, whenever one group of the Afghan populace has been dropped from the patronage network, the result has been conflict – and the same may be expected to happen again. Instead, aid funds should be cut gradually and slowly – and this process will have to go hand in hand with boosting Afghanistan’s economic performance.

In order to make such developments viable the country should be allowed to close its markets against imports. A reduction in aid will reduce the overvaluation of the Afghan currency, thus cutting labour costs. In addition, the international community should agree on measures to stop the flight of capital from Afghanistan – although this phenomenon is closely linked to the country’s “system of rents.” Consequently, this may only be effected through external supervisory measures that will erode Afghanistan’s sovereignty even further. According to international law such an intervention would be dubious as well as difficult to implement – and it would likely turn out to be counterproductive as it would further undermine Afghanistan’s already weak statehood.

The lack of co-ordination between development projects as well as the excessive amount of money poured into the country are both generated by the donors’ interest-driven policies, that is, the donors are unwilling to subject their measures to any kind of central authority and they are defending their sizable budgets, no matter whether they are helping the country or not. Thus, the lack of co-ordination between donors is not a question better fine-tuning, it is an expression of the actual power structure. As a consequence, it is anything but realistic to expect changes in the near future.

Read the original article on  Heinrich Boll Stiftung.

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Afghanistan, Development: Challenges around aid access in Afghanistan

By John James

Original article can be read at: IRIN

Photo: John James/IRIN Reaching the needy is a challenge

Photo: John James/IRIN
Reaching the needy is a challenge

DUBAI/JALALABAD, 9 September 2014 (IRIN) – Few issues get more attention nowadays in Afghanistan’s aid circles than insecurity-engendered restrictions on humanitarian access.

“In almost every district where security has been handed over from ISAF [NATO-led International Security Assistance Force] to Afghan security forces we’ve seen an increase in attacks,” Omar Hamid, head of Asia Analysis at IHS Country Risk, told IRIN. “The writ of the government to provide security to aid agencies is reduced and there’s a risk that the situation will only get worse as the political instability increases.”

Disputed elections and the imminent pull-out of ISAF forces is compounding an already difficult situation for aid workers.

“In terms of fragmentation [of the country], it’s getting increasingly similar to the 1980s and 90s,” said Arne Strand, from Norway’s CMI development research institute, the author of a recent Chatham House briefing paper on innovative aid delivery.

“More serious NGOs will probably remain: they have the knowledge and dedication of staff. But monitoring capacity will need a boost in the current environment. These direct links are vital, and a kind of control on your own staff – you need to have those kinds of control mechanisms.”

The evidence in this year’s Humanitarian Needs Overview is that areas with the greatest need often have the fewest humanitarian actors. With the overall aid package to Afghanistan anticipated to drop, this year’s tightly-focused humanitarian appeal for US$406 million (currently 56 percent funded) attempts to shift work towards the areas of greatest need.

Nuristan

The eastern province of Nuristan on the border with Pakistan is a case in point. State control is limited and there are few aid workers despite needs judged “high level” in nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), and health, by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

The infrastructure is poor with four separate valleys lacking direct road connections between them. Those roads that are usable can be blocked by snow for long periods in winter. International aid sometimes has to be delivered by donkey. Humanitarian convoys have been attacked, and the government’s disaster management authority, ANDMA, is “reportedly non-existent” on the ground, according to the OCHA overview.

The only international NGO with a stable presence in the area is the International Medical Corps (IMC), while the Afghan Red Crescent is the main local actor.

To face the future security challenges, analysts suggest a range of measures, from negotiating with a broader set of stakeholders, to using cash-transfer schemes, remote management, third-party monitoring, and having a greater tolerance for risk, allied with risk mitigation measures.

Talking to anti-government forces

With the withdrawal of international forces, more of the fighting is now between Afghans themselves. Security analysts predict that this will mean more intense combat, more casualties, and less access for humanitarians. Potential power vacuums after withdrawal may also increase criminality.

The mid-year Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict report from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan showed a 24 percent rise in civilian casualties on the same period last year.

“This year has been one of the worst since the conflict started: It’s definitely not getting better, and that’s obviously a concern,” said Alexander Buchmann, head of mission for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Afghanistan. “Access is not improving for patients needing to get to health centres or for aid actors to get to those needing help. What is clear is that things are not getting better and at best things have stabilized at a very high intensity of violence.”

Where local power holders are anti-government actors, humanitarians find themselves in a difficult position – do they negotiate and risk the ire of the state? Discussions and even agreements with such groups can inadvertently mean giving them legitimacy.

“We need to be thinking ahead and talking to the other side,” one international aid worker, who asked not to be named, told IRIN in the eastern town of Jalalabad.

While large humanitarian organizations may have the potential to reach out to key leaders, that is not something that is possible for all, especially with shifting leadership structures. “It’s not realistic for [a] small organization to go to Quetta [in Pakistan, an important base for the Taliban leadership],” said a protection specialist in Kabul. “Anyway, lower level commanders are not necessarily in contact with the overall leadership. Showing a letter from [Taliban leader] Mullah Omar might not even go down too well with these guys.”

Anti-government forces are not necessarily opposed to humanitarian interventions, especially in particular sectors like health.

“We talk to all parties to the conflict and try to guarantee safe access for patients,” said MSF’s Buchmann. “There’s a general acceptance of the idea, but it varies on the ground in the application.” MSF has long-standing projects in places like Helmand, but Buchmann says the key challenge is getting out of provincial centres to address needs in distant districts.

Many provinces contain a shifting scene of local warlords, commanders and tribal alliances. Nuristan itself has 7-8 separate armed groups with different agendas. This is where the knowledge of local NGOs can be particularly useful. Muslim NGOs are also seen as a possible way to gain greater acceptance for humanitarian work.

But aid workers stress that it is not just about educating people on humanitarian principles; you need to also show that you can deliver. “Services buy access”, one aid worker told IRIN in Jalalabad.

Working with communities

Communities and their leaders have long been a favoured route for gaining access.

“People ask us how we manage to work in areas that are not nominally under government control,” said Nigel Jenkins, former country head at the International Rescue Committee (IRC), which has run programmes in the country since 1988. “The simple answer is through community acceptance. In this country, people very much work on trust, on memory, on history and it takes a long time to build up a relationship with a community.”

IMC’s Country Director in Afghanistan, Giorgio Trombatore, recommends hiring community-based staff with outstanding reputations and avoiding unnecessary branding. “The local community or shura must be involved or consulted at every stage of the humanitarian work being done in the area, bridging the role between NGO/humanitarian organizations and non-state actors to prevent any potential misunderstandings or misbeliefs about what is being done,” he said. “All the amendments or potential changes in the given set programmes must be thoroughly discussed and conveyed within the community.”

The flip side of building strong community relations though is that this may lead humanitarians to work where they have relations rather than where the needs are greatest. It is clear that building community understanding and support takes time.

The European Commission’s aid body ECHO is involved in a number of projects to boost access, something that can be difficult for NGOs to dedicate resources to under normal short-term project funding.

“Access is something that is difficult to measure – not like counting shelters constructed or hygiene kits distributed,” said Danielle Moylan, protection and advocacy manager at the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). “It’s an extremely long-term project, but rolling out projects is proof that access works.”

“This year has been one of the worst since the conflict started: It’s definitely not getting better, and that’s obviously a concern” NRC have been working in Kandahar for 18 months – setting up, just as many agencies were leaving. This week they start a new push to work on rural projects in Faryab Province.

“Recruiting people from villages in Faryab where we want to work, is a big element of gaining acceptance. We also empower all our 500-plus national staff so everyone knows what we stand for. That has an incredible benefit for community liaison,” said Moylan.

Some groups, like the International Committee of the Red Cross, have long worked with armed groups and also wider community leaders to spread the word about international humanitarian law and protection issues. These are long-term efforts, which, when successful, build acceptance of aid work.

New methods

Technological developments do potentially open up some new avenues for aid workers to manage a lack of aid access.

As US troops pull-out, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) is reportedly looking for bids on a five-year monitoring contract, potentially worth up to $170 million, to keep an eye on aid projects after the drawdown using a range of tools including smartphones and GPS technology.

Mobile phones are increasingly widespread in Afghanistan, with network coverage increasing as well. In 2010 USAID estimated 61 percent of the population had access to a mobile phone. Communication, photographs and even GPS are all possible on relatively cheap devices.

The World Food Programme’s Beneficiary Feedback Desk, allows beneficiaries to call into a hotline to report issues with aid delivery.

Nevertheless aid workers or their partners could also face the risk of appearing to be spies as they carry out their monitoring work. And technology rarely provides a complete solution. Network coverage is still patchy, and mobile phones are largely in the hands of men, and also under shifting ownership.

“You need to have a combination of solutions – mobile phones won’t solve everything but it can provide a record,” Strand told IRIN. “It’s a kind of add-on to the documentation, and also a way to set-up complaint mechanisms. But you still need physical visits. You need to sit and drink tea.”

The idea of remote management of projects is seen negatively by many in the humanitarian community. According to a January 2014 report by the Afghanistan Public Policy Research Organisation (APPRO), “most [international NGOs] recognize that remote management cannot be a permanent substitute for ongoing onsite management because the quality of the work would very likely suffer.” Corruption is seen as a significant risk when working without an on-the-ground presence.

An older technology, radio, is seen by many as the most useful channel for communication with communities, and NRC have a long-running project supporting a popular radio drama that explains humanitarian work.

Approach to risk

Greater risks around humanitarian access mean risk assessments become far more important, according to the Chatham House briefing.

This is something underlined by the head of OCHA in Afghanistan, Aidan O’Leary, who writes that “Humanitarian agencies need to build a culture of ‘how to stay’ as opposed to ‘when to leave’, allowing actors to take acceptable risks when these are warranted and using creative approaches to reduce risk.”

The setting up of the Common Humanitarian Fund this year has helped encourage humanitarian actors to move into key areas where access can be difficult – funding frontline healthcare, evacuating civilians, and providing basic health and nutrition services in contested areas. A humanitarian risk management unit was also established this year to better identify risks and put in place mitigating measures.

The humanitarian coordinator for Afghanistan, Mark Bowden, says he believes progress is being made on access, pointing to the absence of attacks on health centres during the presidential election, despite the controversial use of several as voting centres.

“It’s a tangible aspect of what I think is better recognition. We still don’t have anything like free and open access from either side. But there’s a feeling that we’re moving forward on this issue, and that legitimate humanitarian actors are being recognised,” he said.

For long-term actors in Afghanistan, the concern is that the easiest response to access problems will be to abandon difficult zones for the relative safety of urban programming and informal slums.

There is no magic bullet that fits all agencies. Instead, humanitarian actors need to each develop their own access strategies in line with their operations and dynamics, says ECHO’s Luc Verna. Support from NRC helps actors to share strategies and learn from others.

“Access is also about having flexibility without putting staff at risk; acting where possible, withdrawing when you need to,” said Verna. “It’s about not putting staff at risk simply to go where no one else is.”

By John James

Original article can be read at: IRIN

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Afghanistan: Kabul Program Highlighted in AWWP Documentary

Read the original post on the AWWP Summer 2014 Newsletter.

Kabul Program Highlighted in AWWP Documentary, Alex Footman Films AWWP Workshop in Kabul

Documentary filmmaker Alex Footman completed a short film highlighting the work of the Afghan Women’s Writing Project in Kabul. Footman, along with his production assistant, Ellie Kealey, has done several projects in Afghanistan, using his filmmaking expertise to connect people to one another by sharing the wealth of stories he finds in his travels.

The documentary will be available on Vimeo through August. After that, it will be available for use at AWWP events. To access the video now, visit AWWP’s Vimeo Page — let us know what you think!

To learn more about AWWP check out their website here: http://awwproject.org/

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Afghanistan: Kabul cafe is a front line in a war over culture and social mores in Afghanistan

washingtonpost.comby Pamela Constable, Aug. 14, 2014

 In one curtained room, half a dozen young men and women huddle on cushions, smoking hookahs and chatting. In the next, a troubadour strums a guitar and sings protest songs for a party of high school soccer players. In a cubicle between, customers take turns kneeling to say their prayers.

Welcome to Kabul’s Art Cafe and Restaurant, the latest front line in a seesawing urban culture war between a post-Taliban, Internet-savvy generation that wants to push the limits of democratic freedom and a deeply conservative Muslim establishment that is determined to preserve its traditions — especially the segregation of the sexes.

The Art Cafe is one of a cluster of hip hangouts that have opened in a busy commercial section of west Kabul in the past year, attracting a mix of students, artists, journalists and other young sophisticates. Police have kept a watchful eye for alcohol and other infractions, but until last week, there had been no serious confrontations.

Then, at 4 p.m. on Aug. 9, a squad of police burst into the cafe with guns drawn and started grabbing and shoving people. According to the co-owner and several witnesses, they shouted sexual insults at some of the women and hustled some of the men off to police headquarters, where their long hair was cut off — a punishment once meted out by the Taliban religious police.

“We asked them why they were doing this, and they said they had orders to round up the rabble around the city,” said Hassan Fazili, a partner in the cafe. “I’m an artist and a filmmaker, and we have an open atmosphere here, but we are doing nothing wrong. We do not allow alcohol or weapons. We are all Muslims. And we are definitely not rabble.”

Duniya Sadeqi, 29, an actress, said she had gone to the cafe that day to meet a friend who was making a documentary. During the raid, she said, the police punched and cursed her. “They said, ‘You are a whore, or you would not be in such places,’ ” she recounted Wednesday, dressed in a pink head scarf and long black dress. “I was very scared.”

But if the city police were trying to enforce an obsolescing moral code, their superiors at the Interior Ministry were apparently embarrassed by the incident. After complaints from civic groups, Afghan news outlets reported that some of the officers involved were arrested, and Wednesday, a delegation of ministry officials visited the cafe to work things out.

“It was all a misunderstanding,” said one official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, as he left the premises surrounded by half a dozen police guards. Repeated efforts to reach officials and spokesmen for the Kabul police were unsuccessful.

The misunderstanding, though, runs much deeper than ham-handed police vigilantism. The collapse of the Taliban in 2001 and the advent of Western ideas, aid and technology have opened an isolated Islamic society to the modern world. The impact has been especially pronounced in the capital and other large cities, with colleges and jobs for those who learn English and computer skills.

Conflict has been inevitable, often between parents and grown children who seek to marry for love, try to date or simply want to spend time in a mixed-gender environment — all of which are strictly prohibited by Afghan social and religious codes. Muslim clerics often warn of the dangers of Western influence on the young.

“We are extremely concerned about the spread and infiltration of foreign culture in our society,” said Enayatullah Balegh, a member of the national council of Muslim clergy. “There is a big distinction between Islamic culture and others in the way we dress and interact with each other. Islam favors modern development and science but not immoral and corrupt behavior.”

In rural areas, families and tribal elders have continued to keep a tight rein on the behavior of the young, especially in conservative southern regions. In several recent high-profile cases, strong local support forhonor killings, and other punishments against girls who elope or are raped, suggests that rigid traditional mores are reasserting themselves as Western troops, civilians and influence start to withdraw.

But in large northern cities such as Kabul, Herat and Mazar-e Sharif, many young people have found sanctuaries such as the Art Cafe where they can talk, flirt and express themselves freely about politics and social change as well as love.

On Wednesday, Naser Royan, 27, held a young audience spellbound as he sang a series of original folk songs to an urgent guitar rhythm. One ballad beckoned listeners to visit the “reality” of Afghan life occurring under city bridges where opium addicts gather. Another was about a girl in Italy who was killed protesting against injustice.

In the hookah room next door, young men and women sat close and laughed with a carefree intimacy that would have shocked many older Afghans. Yet they all described themselves as observant Muslims, and most of them periodically left the room to pray.

“We come here because there is a new level of freedom. We all want change, but only within the Islamic framework,” said a 21-year-old law school student who gave her name as Attiyah and who was texting on her iPhone between puffs on a tall glass pipe.

But there is another dimension to this trend that highlights the differences between ethnic and religious groups in Afghanistan. In Kabul, places such as the Art Cafe are confined mostly to the city’s western district, a redoubt of its Shiite Muslim and ethnic Hazara minority; both Herat and Mazar-e Sharif have large Shiite populations.

The Hazaras, often regarded as inferior by other Afghans, tend to be more liberal and worldly than the Sunni-majority Tajiks and Pashtuns, in part because many were exiled and educated in Iran during Afghanistan’s years of conflict. Some of the cafe customers said they were born in Iran and came back with their families after the fall of the Taliban; many attend Shiite colleges in the city.

During a decade of Western-backed democracy, this group has been able to flex increasing political and cultural muscle, but activists worry that these gains could be lost as the protective international presence here diminishes.

“Some authorities think if democracy grows, society will escape the bound of our religion,” said Salman Dostzada, a political activist who protested against the cafe raid. “Our society has begun to liberalize in these years, but the cost is already too high.”

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Afghanistan, Media: Oral Stories Project – Afghan Women’s Writing Project

I Just Keep Delivering

Illiterate Afghan Women Get in a Word on Pregnancy & Childbirth

Afghanistan has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the world, according to the World Health Organization, whose statistics show one in 11 Afghan women die of causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. Who’s to blame? In a mix of poverty and cultural tradition, girls marry and give birth too young. Family planning is rare. Access to doctors and public health facilities is minimal at best, and non-existent in rural areas.

Don’t miss these ten interviews with illiterate Afghan women by writers of the Afghan Women’s Writing Project.  Ten short pieces that enable western readers to hear the womens’ first-hand thoughts on family planning and pregnancy. Read all of them and share with your friends!

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Afghanistan: Afghan war inflicting devastating toll on civilians – U.N.

Source: Reuters – Wed, 9 Jul 2014 08:23 GMT, Author: Reuters

People look at a cracked side window of a bus which was damaged at bomb blasts in Kabul June 6, 2014. AbREUTERS/Ahmad Masood

  
Afghans receive food charity during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in Jalalabad city July 8, 2014. REUTERS/Parwiz
By Maria Golovnina

KABUL, July 9 (Reuters) – Afghanistan’s war is inflicting an increasingly devastating toll on the civilian population, with the number of casualties rising by almost a quarter in the first half of this year, the United Nations said in a report on Wednesday.

U.S.-led forces are gradually withdrawing from military bases scattered across Afghanistan after 12 years of war against Taliban insurgents, contributing to deteriorating security, with civilians bearing the brunt of the violence.

The U.N. report comes out as a political crisis unfolds in Afghanistan, threatening civil unrest on top of the insurgency as supporters of the two presidential candidates go head-to-head over the result of a presidential run-off.

Preliminary results announced on Monday gave Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank official, 56.44 percent in the run-off on June 14, but his rival Abdullah Abdullah immediately rejected the outcome, saying the vote had been marred by widespread fraud.

Abdullah’s supporters rallied in Kabul on Tuesday, demanding he form a parallel government. Washington responded forcefully, warning it would withdraw financial and security support from Afghanistan if anyone tried to take power illegally.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said ground combat was the leading cause of conflict-related deaths and injuries to Afghan civilians, with child casualties more than doubling in the first six months of 2014.

It said two-thirds more women were killed and wounded in ground combat compared with the same period of 2013.

“The nature of the conflict in Afghanistan is changing in 2014 with an escalation of ground engagements in civilian-populated areas,” said U.N. Special Representative for the Secretary-General in Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, Jan Kubis.

“The impact on civilians, including the most vulnerable Afghans, is proving to be devastating.”

It said that from Jan. 1 to June 30 it documented 4,853 civilian casualties, up 24 percent from the same period in 2013. The death toll included 1,564 civilian deaths, up 17 percent, and 3,289 injuries, up 28 percent.

Total child casualties jumped 34 percent to 1,071, including 295 killed and 776 injured, while total women casualties increased 24 percent to 440, it said.

The period has seen more fighting in densely populated areas as foreign forces pull out from most regions, with injuries caused by mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire jumping dramatically in the first half of this year.

The rise in casualties comes despite repeated promises by the Taliban leadership not to target civilians. Yet, the report said the Taliban carried out 69 attacks deliberately targeting civilians, including tribal elders and government officials.

“In 2014, the fight is increasingly taking place in communities, public places and near the homes of ordinary Afghans, with death and injury to women and children in a continued disturbing upward spiral,” said Director of Human Rights for UNAMA Georgette Gagnon.

“More efforts are needed to protect civilians from the harms of conflict and to ensure accountability for those deliberately and indiscriminately killing them.” (Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

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Afghanistan: 36 Years of Turmoil in Review

Thomson Reuters Foundation, Updated: Tue, 20 May 2014

IN DETAIL

Afghanistan has experienced more than three decades of conflict, and fighting is still raging in much of the country.

The country is the source of nearly a quarter of the world’s refugees and, although millions have returned home since 2002, about 2.5 million are still living as refugees, most of them in Pakistan or Iran. Another 620,000 people are displaced within Afghanistan.

U.S.-led troops ousted the Taliban in 2001 after they refused to hand over Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda leader behind the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington.

But violence has surged since 2006, with the Taliban fighting a guerrilla war in the south and east and carrying out high-profile suicide and car bombings across the country.

The Taliban regrouped with the help of safe havens across the border in Pakistan and money from drug lords.

Billions of dollars have been poured into rebuilding the country since 2001, but corruption and the lack of security have hampered development and been a source of frustration to many Afghans.

Aid agencies struggle to access most of the country, especially rural areas where the needs are greatest.

Although nominally women have recovered many of the rights lost under the Taliban, a combination of tribalism, poverty and conflict make the exercising of those rights a significant challenge.

SOVIET INVASION

At the crossroads of regions and empires, Afghanistan has been subject to periodic intense foreign interest for centuries.

In more recent history, a Soviet-backed communist government seized power in 1978, sparking a number of uprisings around the country as it tried to impose radical social reforms. Deteriorating security and a coup by another communist faction precipitated the Soviet invasion at the end of 1979.

Villages were bombed and thousands of civilians arrested and tortured during the occupation.

Religious fighters, or mujahideen – covertly funded by the United States and Saudi Arabia – formed the backbone of the resistance to the occupation.

The Afghan jihad, or holy war, became a cause for Muslim warriors from around the Islamic world. The future al Qaeda leader bin Laden was among them.

The Soviets withdrew in 1989, leaving behind the communist government of President Mohammad Najibullah. Stricken by defections, Najibullah’s government collapsed in 1992, and he eventually took sanctuary at a U.N. compound in Kabul, where he was hanged by Taliban forces four years later.

A mujahideen government was established in April 1992, but it was riven with factional rivalry, and the country disintegrated into civil war during which at least 40,000 people were killed in Kabul alone.

THE TALIBAN

The power vacuum allowed the Taliban, a militant student movement that grew out of hardline religious schools in Pakistan, to take the southern city of Kandahar in 1994 and Kabul in 1996.

The regime, which adhered to a strict interpretation of Islam, barred women from most activities outside the home and ruled they must wear a head-to-foot burqa in public and be accompanied by a male relative. Many women still wear the burqa.

Bin Laden and al Qaeda relocated to Afghanistan in the mid-1990s after being forced to leave Sudan. They based themselves around Kandahar.

The Taliban provoked international condemnation, particularly over their treatment of women. Only three countries – Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – recognised them as the legitimate government.

In 1999, the United Nations imposed sanctions to force the Taliban to turn over bin Laden, who was wanted in connection with the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in the Kenyan capital Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania.

THE NORTHERN ALLIANCE

Throughout the Taliban’s rule, fighting continued between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. The Alliance was made up of ethnic Tajik-dominated groups who had united to fight the Taliban.

Two days before al Qaeda launched its Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S., a leading member of the Northern Alliance, Ahmad Shah Massoud, was killed by suicide bombers posing as journalists. Al Qaeda members were believed to have carried out the assassination to curry favour with the Taliban.

The United States launched bombing raids on Afghanistan in October 2001 after the Taliban refused to hand over bin Laden.

With U.S. help, the Northern Alliance took the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, then Kabul. The rest of the country swiftly followed.

It is believed bin Laden fled to Pakistan when U.S. and Afghan forces captured his main base in the Tora Bora mountains of eastern Afghanistan in late 2001. Many other al Qaeda militants also fled to Pakistan.

2001 AND BEYOND

At the end of 2001, members of the opposition and international organisations gathered in Germany and drew up the Bonn Agreement, which provided a political roadmap for Afghanistan and a timetable for reconstruction.

Hamid Karzai, an ethnic Pashtun born to the Popalzai clan – a sub-group of the royal Durrani tribe – was chosen to head an Interim Authority. He was later installed as president and won an outright majority in the first presidential election in 2004. Parliamentary elections were held the following year.

Presidential elections in 2009 – a key milestone for peace – were plagued by violence, widespread fraud and low turnout. Karzai won, after his main challenger Abdullah Abdullah pulled out saying a planned runoff vote was not going to be free and fair.

Parliamentary elections in 2010 were calmer.

Presidential elections were held in April 2014, the same year all foreign combat troops are due to leave the country. The Taliban stepped up attacks ahead of the polls and threatened to disrupt the elections. But, on the day, there were fewer attacks than feared, and less fraud than in 2009.

A run-off vote between two candidates – Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani – will be held in June. Under the constitution, Karzai was not allowed to stand in 2014.

Tribal leaders in Kandahar – the birthplace of the Taliban insurgency – say the insurgency has been stoked by the growing wealth and power of Karzai’s family during his 12 years in office.

The government’s authority remains fragile and violence has soared. Militants have crossed the border from Pakistan to join the ranks of the Taliban fighters, who are staging increasingly sophisticated attacks, including multiple roadside bombings and complex ambushes.

Taliban numbers swelled from 7,000 in 2006 to roughly 25,000 in 2009, according to a 2009 U.S. intelligence assessment. More recent estimates vary from between 20,000 and 35,000.

U.S. President Barack Obama decided to send additional troops to Afghanistan in 2009, boosting the total number of foreign troops to about 150,000. Most of the new U.S. troops headed south to the heart of the Taliban insurgency, where British, Canadian and Dutch soldiers did not have enough strength to keep hold of ground they captured.

NATO leaders began transferring responsibility for security to Afghans in 2011. The Afghan army took command of all military and security operations in June 2013.

Foreign troops work with the Afghan National Army, which was about 183,000 strong in June 2013. The Afghan national police force numbered about 150,000.

More than 13,000 Afghan soldiers and police officers have been killed in the past 13 years, according to Afghan government statistics. Although there is no year-by-year breakdown in the figures, most are likely to have been killed in the past three years when Afghan forces grew in number.

Since 2009, when the United Nations established an electronic database to record civilian casualties, more than 14,000 civilians have been killed in the conflict.

The high number of civilian casualties angered Karzai and weakened public support for the continued presence of foreign troops.

Relations between Kabul and Washington were also strained over a string of incidents involving U.S. forces in 2012, including the massacre of Afghan villagers for which a U.S. soldier was jailed for life in 2013, and the inadvertent burning of copies of the Koran.

Some of the most daring, complex attacks in Afghanistan have been blamed on a militant group called the Haqqani network, which operates in both Pakistan and Afghanistan and is allied with the Taliban.

The Haqqani network fought the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, with support from Pakistani, Saudi and U.S. officials. The Haqqanis view part of southeast Afghanistan known as “Loya Paktia” as their rightful homeland.

Since early 2011, the U.S. government has been seeking to hold peace talks with the Taliban, but it is unclear whether the militants are cohesive enough to agree on a joint diplomatic approach to the talks.

In May 2011, bin Laden was killed by U.S. special forces in northwestern Pakistan. By then, al Qaeda’s influence on the Taliban had greatly diminished.

NATO plans to keep a small military training and support mission in Afghanistan after the end of 2014, which the Taliban says is an encroachment on the country’s independence.

Western officials say that the exit of most foreign troops will remove one of the Taliban’s main recruiting tools.

GOING HOME

Millions of Afghans fled to neighbouring countries during the years of conflict, and the Taliban’s fall triggered one of the largest and swiftest refugee repatriations in the world.

Since 2002, Afghans have been streaming home, mostly from Iran and Pakistan. More than 5.7 million Afghans have returned to their country, according to the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR). Another 2.5 million refugees and many undocumented Afghans were still in Pakistan and Iran in 2013, and further afield.

Pakistan and Iran have said they want the remaining Afghans on their soil to go home.

The number of people displaced inside Afghanistan is about 620,000, according to UNHCR. However, this is a conservative estimate because it is impossible to access and collect information in many areas.

The majority have fled their homes because of clashes between NATO-led troops and Taliban-led insurgent groups in the south, southeast and west of the country, IDMC said. Natural disasters and local conflicts, such as land disputes, have also displaced people.

Rural areas are increasingly insecure, forcing many returning Afghans to migrate to towns and cities.

Many also face the risk of landmines and unexploded ordnance left behind from years of war. Hundreds of civilians are killed or injured each year, most of them children, according to Landmine Monitor. Many of the mines are near roads, health facilities, camps for the displaced, airports, bridges and irrigation systems, U.N. Mine Action Service says.

The contamination poses a formidable challenge to the country’s social and economic reconstruction.

RECONSTRUCTION HURDLES

Billions of aid dollars have poured into Afghanistan to help rebuild the shattered infrastructure and economy. Afghanistan depends on aid for most of its spending.

International donors provided $35 billion in aid to Afghanistan between 2001 and 2010.

And, in 2012, major donors pledged another $16 billion in development aid through 2015, in an attempt to prevent it from deteriorating further when foreign troops leave in 2014, but demanded reforms to fight widespread corruption. The aid was tied to a new monitoring process to help prevent money from being diverted by corrupt officials or mismanaged.

While strides have been made in improving access to education and health care, less than a third of the population of 33 million is literate and the average person earns only about a $1,000 a year, according to the U.N. Development Programme.

Much of the donor money went back to donor countries, the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief and Development (ACBAR) alliance of aid agencies said in a March 2008 report. An estimated 40 percent of the $15 billion spent in aid between 2001 and 2008 was returned to donors in corporate profits and consultant salaries, the report said.

And whereas spending on aid by all donors between 2001 and 2008 amounted to about $7 million a day, the U.S. military spent some $100 million a day fighting Taliban insurgents, ACBAR said.

The United Nations launched a $4 billion development plan in October 2009, to run from 2010 to 2013. This U.N. Development Assistance Framework covered governance, peace, agriculture, food security, health, education, water and sanitation.

Afghans rank insecurity, corruption and unemployment as their top concerns, according to a 2013 survey by the Asia Foundation.

CORRUPTION

Reconstruction efforts have been dogged by allegations of corruption and waste on the part of the government, aid agencies and contractors.

Public sector corruption is rife and Afghanistan, along with Somalia and North Korea, are considered to be the most corrupt countries in the world in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.

Government officials and international aid workers have been accused of stealing money or taking bribes. Some companies that won contracts to rebuild the country have been accused of delivering shoddy roads, hospitals and schools or even nothing at all.

Corruption and cronyism are among the main gripes of ordinary Afghans.

Many also complain that parliament, which is supposed to voice their grievances and keep the government in check, is made up mainly of ex-warlords and powerbrokers who use their position to serve their own interests.

Karzai has accused the international community of helping to fuel corruption and has asked foreign donors to stop awarding massive reconstruction projects to contractors linked to senior officials in his government.

Donors spend most aid money outside state channels to avoid it being siphoned off by corrupt officials. But they have done so without telling the Afghan government how and where the funds were being spent. Critics say this undermines the government’s authority, and complicates planning and coordination between donors and provinces.

In July 2012, donors agreed to channel more through the Afghan government, if the government made progress in fighting corruption and improving governance.

That same month Karzai issued a decree to begin implementing the reforms. He ordered all ministries to take steps to cut down on nepotism and corruption, and directed the Supreme Court to accelerate investigations already under way. In September, he dismissed five governors and changed leading positions in nearly a third of the country’s provinces.

Real and suspected waste and misspending turned parts of the Afghan population against aid workers, with their relatively large salaries and expensive cars, according to local independent watchdog Integrity Watch Afghanistan.

HUMANITARIAN CRISIS

Civilians have borne the brunt of years of conflict and underdevelopment. Thousands are killed every year and millions have been displaced. An estimated 36 percent of the population lives below the national poverty line, and nearly 60 percent is chronically malnourished.

The Taliban insurgency has forced many schools and health clinics to close.

Natural disasters also affect tens of thousands of people every year, including earthquakes, frequent floods and  drought.

Humanitarian needs increased in 2013, mainly because of the worsening conflict, and U.N. experts say the needs are likely to rise even furtheras a result of the withdrawal of foreign troops in 2014.

At the same time access to the most vulnerable has fallen because of a rising number of attacks on aid workers and offices.

Aid agencies rely on air services to reach people in remote or insecure areas. More than 160 organisations use the U.N. Humanitarian Air Service, which has two airplanes and a helicopter, to transport aid workers and supplies.

Some Afghan non-governmental organisations and movements, including the Afghan Red Crescent Society, have greater access than international NGOs.

There are reports of growing numbers of people displaced and some 5.4 million people have extremely limited access to health care. The number of civilians wounded rose 77 percent in 2013 compared with 2012, most of them in the south.

Aid agencies are particularly concerned about people in the country’s Hilmand, Kunar, Badghis, Nangarhar and Ghor provinces, where the needs are greatest and access is limited.

Some aid has been channelled through Provincial Reconstruction Teams run by foreign troops, and many aid agencies have used armed convoys to move around. As a result, aid workers are seen by the Taliban and other armed groups as being an extension of NATO forces and therefore seen as legitimate targets. Scores of aid workers have been wounded, kidnapped or killed.

Violence is not the only threat to life. Children die of easily preventable diseases, and malnutrition. Afghanistan is one of three “polio endemic” countries with most cases in the turbulent south, according to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

Tuberculosis is another major public health challenge. Experts say women in particular suffer high rates because they tend to spend most of their time indoors and have less access to medical care than men do.

The results of the Afghanistan Mortality Survey 2010, released in 2011, raised major questions among health experts about the reliability of data both past and present for maternal and infant death rates, and average life expectancy.

For example, the survey concluded that average life expectancy is about 60 years, compared with previous estimates of 49 years.

The survey was carried out by the Afghan government and U.N. World Health Organization.

DRUGS

Afghanistan produces 74 percent of the world’s opium, the United Nations says. The Taliban, which banned cultivation during their rule, are now exploiting the trade to fund their insurgency. The majority of poppy fields are in the country’s south and southwest where the Taliban are most active.

One of the main tools in combating the narcotics trade involves fostering alternative livelihoods. The idea is to wean farmers away from poppy cultivation by offering them fertilisers and seeds for legal crops.

For many years, the United States focused its efforts on destroying poppy fields. This infuriated farmers who said they would be destitute without their crops. Many farmers depend on loans provided by drug traders as a down payment for the subsequent drug harvest.

Former U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke and other experts have said that attempts to destroy crops penalise the farmers and have no impact on the Taliban’s earnings from the trade – rather it helps them recruit.

With the withdrawal of U.S. troops, counternarcotics operations are increasingly in the hands of Afghan authorities.

Drug addiction does not just affect those beyond Afghanistan’s borders – there are more than one million addicts in the country, according to UNODC. Drug use is high among refugees returning from Iran and Pakistan.

WOMEN

During the Taliban years, the regime prohibited women from attending universities and shut girls’ schools in Kabul and other cities, although primary schooling did go on in many other areas of the country. Earning a living was also very difficult, a tragedy in a country with tens of thousands of war widows – in Kabul alone there are estimated to be up to 50,000.

Today, women have the right to vote and are elected to parliament. Millions of girls go to school and women are allowed to work outside the home. Several women ran in the 2014 presidential elections, despite death threats and assassination attempts.

Other female leaders have been killed. In Laghman province, the local director of women’s affairs, Naija Sediqi, was assassinated in December 2012. She had been in the role for five months, following the assassination of her female predecessor Hanifa Safi. Although their murders were attributed to the Taliban, women’s groups have complained that there were no thorough investigations carried out.

The daily life of many women is still dominated by the threat of violence and backbreaking toil, and women generally are kept from public roles especially in rural areas in what is one of the most conservative countries in the world.

Many girls are married off as children or young teenagers, and the vast majority never learn to read or write.

Human Rights Watch says violence against women and girls remains rampant, including domestic violence, sexual violence, and forced marriage.

In many cases, women who are raped are charged with immorality and imprisoned. Women can also be jailed for running away from their husband.

In May 2013, Afghanistan’s parliament failed to ratify a bill banning underage and forced marriage, domestic violence, rape and forced prostitution.

LINKS

The Feinstein International Center has published several in-depth reports on aid in Afghanistan.

The Afghan Human Rights Research and Advocacy Consortium (HRRAC) produces useful reports on Afghans’ views.

The Afghanistan Mortality Survey (2010) showed improvements in maternal and infant death rates, as well as average life expectancy. But the gains are so great that experts are questioning its accuracy.

The think tank International Crisis Group has lots of information about Afghanistan’s conflict past and present.

UNICEF has plenty of facts and figures on children in Afghanistan. Save the Children also has some useful background.

Another good site is Pajhwok Afghan News, the country’s largest local news service. The news is broad-based and some of the reporters benefit from a wealth of local contacts, although inaccuracies sometimes pop up. Note that you have to pay to access some of the material. The service runs stories in Dari, English and Pashto.

The Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), an international journalism organisation, carries well-written features on the country.

iCasualties is an independent site which keeps track of foreign troop casualties in the country, breaking it down by province and nationality.

The International Security Assistance Force site has details of foreign troop numbers and contributions.

Afghanistan Online says it is the biggest and most visited Afghan website.

For Afghan feminism, consult the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, which was founded in 1977 by women intellectuals. The organisation supports women’s rights and education.

UNHCR’s Afghanistan page has useful statistics on refugees and the internally displaced. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centrealso has good background.

The Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief alliance of aid agencies has useful reports on aid in Afghanistan.

Both ACBAR and Human Rights Watch have raised grave concerns about the impact of the conflict on civilians.

For information on demining see the Landmine Monitor report on Afghanistan.

TIMELINE

A chronology of events since the end of the Soviet occupation. It does not include many of the attacks on civilians that have happened since 2001 and have been blamed on both the United States and Taliban.

1989 – Last Soviet soldier leaves under 1988 agreement. Moscow-installed Najibullah government remains in place in Kabul

1992 – Communist government collapses. Mujahideen groups set up a government which is riven by factionalism. Country disintegrates into civil war

1994 – Battles reduce much of Kabul to rubble. Mullah Mohammed Omar, a Muslim cleric, sets up Taliban movement of Islamic students, who take up arms, capture Kandahar and advance on Kabul

1996 – Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who fought with mujahideen groups against Soviet occupation, returns to Afghanistan. Taliban take Kabul, hang former President Mohammad Najibullah and set up Islamic state

1997 – Afghanistan renamed Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Taliban impose their version of Islam. But ethnic Uzbek factional chief Abdul Rashid Dostum retains control in five northern provinces

1998 – Taliban take northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, massacring at least 2,000 mainly ethnic Hazara civilians, according to Human Rights Watch. Bamiyan, a Hazara stronghold in the centre of the country, follows. Taliban later destroy colossal stone Buddhas of Bamiyan

Northern Alliance, made up of non-Pashtun mujahideen militias, fights back against Taliban

U.S. forces bomb suspected al Qaeda bases in southeast in reprisal for bombings of U.S. embassies in east Africa

1999 – United Nations imposes sanctions to force Taliban to turn over bin Laden

2001

Sep – Al Qaeda-linked suicide bombers assassinate military head of Northern Alliance, Ahmad Shah Masood

Sep 11 – Al Qaeda suicide plane hijackers attack New York and Washington, killing thousands

Oct – U.S. begins bombing Afghanistan to root out bin Laden and his Taliban protectors

Nov – Northern Alliance forces enter Kabul as Taliban leaders flee

Dec – Afghan groups sign deal in Bonn on an interim government headed by Hamid Karzai, a leader from the biggest ethnic group, the Pashtun

First members of multinational peacekeeping force arrive

Interim authority takes power. Bonn plan says an emergency Loya Jirga, or grand assembly, must be held in six months

2002

Jun – Emergency Loya Jirga agrees on a transitional authority. Karzai sworn in as its head

2003

Nov – French UNHCR worker Bettina Goislard shot dead by suspected Taliban militants in Ghazni town, leading to suspension of many aid missions in south and east

2004

Jan – Rival factions at the Loya Jirga agree on a constitution, paving way for first free elections

Oct – Presidential elections. Karzai sworn in on Dec 7. Parliamentary vote is put off amid security concerns and logistical problems

2005

Sep – Elections held for a lower house of parliament, the Wolesi Jirga, and provincial councils. Former commanders of military factions, three ex-Taliban officials and women activists win seats

Dec – Parliament sits for first time

2006

Jan – International conference in London promises Afghanistan economic and military support in return for pledges to fight corruption and drugs trade

Aug – Suicide bomber rams his car into a NATO convoy in Kandahar killing 21 civilians in the worst suicide attack to date

Oct – NATO assumes responsibility for security across the whole of the country after taking command in the east from a U.S.-led coalition force

2007 – Taliban step up suicide attacks throughout the country

Jan – Karzai says he’s open to talks with Taliban

Feb – Taliban threaten a spring offensive of thousands of suicide bombers as U.S. doubles its combat troops and takes over command of NATO force from Britain

Mar – NATO and Afghan forces launch Operation Achilles, targeting Taliban and allied drug lords in Helmand

Nov – More than 70 people, mostly schoolboys are killed, in a suicide bombing in the northern town of Baghlan. The dead include six members of parliament

Dec – Afghanistan expels two senior EU and UN envoys after accusing them of making contact with the Taliban

2008

Feb – A suspected suicide bombing kills more than 100 people in Kandahar in the most deadly attack since the ousting of Taliban.

Jun – Donors pledge around $20 bln in aid at Paris conference

Sep – Karzai offers peace talks and asks Saudi Arabia to help with negotiations. Taliban however refuse to negotiate

Dec – Afghanistan and Pakistan decide to form joint strategy to fight militants in their border regions

2009

Feb – U.N. says 2,100 civilians killed in 2008 – a 40 percent rise on 2007

U.S. President Barack Obama announces he plans to send another 17,000 U.S. troops. Karzai says Afghanistan turning a new page in relations with United States

May – U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates replaces commander of U.S. forces with Gen Stanley McChrystal, saying the battle against the Taliban needs “new thinking”

July – U.S. army launches major offensive against Taliban in Helmand province

Taliban call on Afghans to boycott presidential and provincial elections

Aug – Elections marred by widespread Taliban attacks, low turnout and claims of serious fraud

Oct – Electoral Complaints Commission declares tens of thousands of votes invalid and calls for a run-off election

Nov – Run-off presidential vote cancelled after Karzai’s remaining challenger Abdullah Abdullah pulls out saying the vote cannot be free and fair. Karzai declared president for a second term

Dec – Obama decides to raise troop numbers to 100,000 and says will begin withdrawing forces by 2011

2010

Feb – Taliban reject Karzai’s invitation to a peace council

NATO-led forces launch Operation Moshtarak to try and secure Helmand province

Karzai takes control of the U.N.-backed Electoral Complaints Commission, which helped expose massive fraud in October presidential election

Jul – International agreement to transfer control of security from foreign to Afghan forces by 2014. General David Petraeus takes command of U.S. forces

Aug – Independent Election Commission says over 900 polling centres will be closed due to security fears during Sep. parliamentary elections

United States says Karzai ban on all foreign private security firms may affect aid and development work

United Nations says civilian casualties up by 31 percent since 2009, with Taliban responsible for 76 percent of deaths

Unidentified gunmen kill 10 aid workers, including 8 foreigners, in Badakshshan province

Sep – Parliamentary elections pass off relatively smoothly despite a Taliban threat to disrupt the poll

Nov – NATO agrees plan to hand control of security to Afghan forces by 2014-end

Dec – Final election results announced

2011

Mar – The number of civilians killed by fighting rose 15 percent in 2010, compared with 2009, United Nations says. A total of 2,777 civilians were killed during 2010, 75 percent of them by Taliban

Apr – Violent protests break out against Koran burning in a U.S. church. At least seven foreign U.N. workers are killed when protesters storm the U.N. compound in Mazar-e Sharif

May – Bin Laden shot dead by U.S. special forces near Pakistan’s main military academy in the northwestern garrison town of Abbottabad

Taliban launch “spring offensive”

Jun – U.S. President Obama announces 10,000 U.S. troops to leave during 2011, and another 23,000 by Sep. 2012

U.S. says it is participating in Afghan Peace Council talks with Taliban

268 civilians reported killed in May, highest monthly toll since 2007

Jul – Senior government officials assassinated, including Karzai’s half-brother who was governor of Kandahar

ISAF forces hand over security of seven regions to Afghan troops

United Nations says 1,462 civilians killed by conflict during first half of 2011, a rise of 15 percent from the same period in 2010 and the highest since 2001

General John Allen replaces General David Petraeus as head of ISAF, U.S. forces

Sep – Militants carry out major attack on U.S. embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul, killing 27 people. Officials blame Taliban-linked Haqqani Network, and U.S. top military commander accuses Pakistan of backing attack

Human Rights Watch report says Afghan militias and police are committing serious abuses

Oct – India and Afghanistan sign strategic partnership

Bomb near U.N. housing and assault on NGO offices in Kandahar kill at least five people

U.N. report is released, detailing torture of detainees by Afghan security officials

Karzai says the government is to abandon peace talks with Taliban and focus on dialogue with Pakistan

Nov – Hundreds of political elite attending a loya jirga traditional assembly endorse Karzai’s bid to negotiate a 10-year military partnership with the United States

Dec – Pakistani Sunni militants Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claim responsibility for attacks on Shia holy day Ashura, killing more than 80 people and injuring at least 100

Pakistan boycotts Bonn conference on Afghanistan

2012

Jan – A leaked NATO report says the Taliban, with Pakistan support, is poised to retake control after NATO withdrawal

Taliban said had opened an office in Qatar as part of confidence building measures agreed on with U.S. and German govts

Feb – Reports of NATO troops burning copies of Koran trigger violent country-wide protests

NATO, UK and France recall civilian staff from ministries after two senior U.S. military officers killed in Afghan Interior Ministry. Taliban claim responsibility

United Nations says the civilian death toll rose in 2011 to 3,021

Mar – U.S. soldier Robert Bales shoots 17 villagers including 9 children in Kandahar’s Panjawi district.

Taliban break off prisoner exchange talks with U.S.

Apr – U.S. and Afghanistan agree a strategic partnership deal

Taliban launches a multi-city “spring offensive” in Kabul, Nangahar, Logar and Paktika provinces

Pakistan, Afghanistan and United States discuss reviving peace talks

May – NATO summit says 2014 withdrawal of troops “irreversible”

ISAF announces al-Qaeda second-in-command killed in Kunar province

Arsala Rahmani, a former Taliban minister and key member of the High Peace Council, is killed in Kabul. The Taliban deny responsibility

Jul – Tokyo donor conference pledges $16 billion in aid, and promises to channel more aid through the Afghan government if Afghanistan does more to tackle corruption

Aug – U.S. military discipline six soldiers for inadvertently burning copies of the Koran in February

2013

Mar – Two former Kabul Bank chiefs are jailed for a massive fraud that nearly led to the collapse of the entire Afghan banking system in 2010

Jun – NATO forces hand over command of all military and security operations to Afghan army

Aug – Robert Bales is jailed for life for massacring unarmed villagers in March 2012

2014

Jan – A Taliban suicide attack on a restaurant in Kabul’s diplomatic quarter kills 21 people, including the IMF country head. It is the worst attack on foreign civilians since 2001

Feb – The number of Taliban attacks rises with the start of the presidential election campaign

Apr – Presidential election

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Afghanistan: Bicycle a new metaphor of freedom for Afghan women

Paghman (Afghanistan), 27 June 2014 – AFP

Anuj CHOPRA / FEATURE

Trundling down dun-coloured mountain slopes, they ignore hard stares and vulgarities from passing men, revelling in an activity that seemed unthinkable for previous generations of Afghan women –- riding a bicycle.

The sight of a woman on a bicycle may not be unusual in most parts of the world, but it is a striking anomaly in Afghanistan where strict Islamic mores deem the sport unbecoming for women.

The country’s 10-member national women’s cycling team is challenging those gender stereotypes, often at great personal risk, training their eyes not just on the 2020 Olympics but a goal even more ambitious — to get more Afghan women on bikes.

“For us, the bicycle is a symbol of freedom,” said Marjan Sidiqqi, 26, a team member who is also the assistant coach.

“We are not riding bikes to make a political statement. We’re riding because we want to, because we love to, because if our brothers can, so can we.”

One crisp morning, dressed in tracksuit bottoms, jerseys and helmets, Marjan and half a dozen team members, all aged between 17 and 21, set out for a training ride from Kabul to the hills of neighbouring Paghman.

Mindful of turning heads and ogling eyes, they rode in the amber light of dawn through a landscape of grassy knolls, fruit orchards and tree-lined boulevards.

A little boy dressed in a grubby shalwar kameez stopped by the wayside and stared at the girls with wonder and amazement.

Up ahead, dour-looking bearded men in a Toyota minivan pulled up parallel to the cyclists — their stares were more menacing.

But the wheels continued to spin as the women powered ahead undaunted.

They have become accustomed to the hostility, often accompanied by insults:

“Whore.”

“Slut.”

“You’re bringing dishonour to your families.”

“Go home.”

But the team say they are emboldened despite such attitudes -– partly due to the encouraging support from unexpected quarters.

– ‘Living my dream’ –

Fully cloaked in black, the mother of one cyclist came out to cheer them on the way to Paghman, waving, applauding, and exuding enthusiasm that is not shared by most of her extended family.

“My daughter is living my dream,” said Maria Rasooli, mother of 20-year-old university student Firoza.

“My parents never allowed me to ride a bicycle. I can’t let the same happen,” she said, adding that she and her husband kept relatives and neighbours in the dark about their daughter’s sport because “they just won’t understand”.

Thirteen years since the Taliban were toppled from power in a US-led invasion, Afghan women have taken giant strides of progress with access to education and healthcare.

Female lawmakers are no longer an anomaly in Afghan politics and the ongoing election saw the participation of the country’s first woman vice presidential candidate.

That marks a sea change in women’s rights from the Taliban-era, when women weren’t allowed to leave their homes without a male chaperone and were brutally repressed and consigned to the shadows.

But gender parity still remains a distant dream as conservative attitudes prevail.

That sentiment is portrayed in a mural by graffiti artist Shamsia Hassani on the walls of a Kabul cafe: burqa-clad women trapped in a watery universe — an allegory of women in the post-Taliban era who have a voice but still cannot be heard.

– ‘Boys or girls?’ –

It’s hard to reason with self-proclaimed arbiters of “morality” who regard a woman mounted on a bicycle as unconceivably risque, say members of the cycling team.

On a recent training session outside Kabul, three young Afghan men riding a motorbike swooped out of nowhere and sideswiped one of the cyclists, 18-year-old Sadaf Nazari, who tripped and tumbled on top of Marjan.

Marjan badly injured her back in the incident, which drove Mohammed Sadiq, head of the Afghan Cycling Federation who was trailing the women in his SUV, into a paroxysm of fury.

He chased down the men -– the two pillion riders escaped, but he caught the driver by his collar and hauled him over to the police headquarters.

Sadiq, who established the team in 2003 after his own daughter expressed an interest in cycling, said the women’s safety was a constant concern — and plans for international troops to pull out of Afghanistan by 2016 has perpetuated those anxieties.

“If the Taliban return, the first casualty will be women’s rights,” he said in an interview in Kabul’s old city.

As he spoke, half a dozen young women, some sporting kohl-accented eyes and henna-dyed hair, convened in his living room for a discussion about nutrition and diet with Shannon Galpin, an American competitive cyclist who is coaching the team for the forthcoming Asian Games in South Korea.

Back on the training ride, the exhausted girls gathered by a freshwater stream in Paghman to refuel on naan bread, raisins and cottage cheese.

Near a roadside kiosk where fresh plums, cherries and mulberries dangled from strings, a curious Afghan man sidled up to Marjan.

“Are you with those cyclists going around the mountain?” he asked.

Startled, Marjan’s eyes darted around as she braced for trouble.

“Yes,” she replied hesitantly.

“Are they boys or girls?” the man enquired.

Marjan’s face lit up with bravado.

“Girls,” she beamed proudly.

 

http://www.afp.com/en/news/bicycle-new-metaphor-freedom-afghan-women

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Afghanistan: Stark choice for many Afghans: sickness or debt

KABUL, 2 July 2014 (IRIN) – The cost of health care is throwing many poor Afghans into a cycle of debt. While most now have access to basic public health care, the quality is so low that many patients seek out private services at a higher cost than they can afford – driving some of them further into poverty.

When Reza Gul’s children get sick, she takes them to a private clinic. Like most Afghans, she thinks she will get better health care there, so she forks out 2,000-3,000 Afghanis (US$35-53) for each visit.

But in order to do so, her jobless husband is forced to borrow money. They have had to borrow 35,000 Afghanis (US$615) to cover health costs. In the winter, her family migrates to Pakistan in search of work and then comes back to Afghanistan during the summer, when employment opportunities pick up in the capital Kabul. They fear they may never be able to repay their debts.

According to a recent report by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which surveyed 700 patients in four provinces, 44 percent of respondents were forced to sell their possessions or borrow money to get health care during a recent illness.

“When families get into debt, they cannot afford proper food. Their kids get sick, and malnourished and it creates this perpetual cycle,” said Edi Atte, the field coordinator at Ahmed Shah Baba Hospital in Kabul.

“They have to borrow money from a neighbour or someone who has money in order to take care of their child.

“The children can die from something simple, something easy to cure in the hospital. This cycle affects their whole life. The next time around, maybe they cannot get the money. Another child dies. Or if they do get the money, it just adds to the debt they already owe.”

Even though nearly 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and unemployment hovers between 35 and 40 percent, reports dating back to 2006 show the vast majority of the population rely heavily on private health care.

Two in three people who described their household as “poor to extremely poor” in the MSF survey (living on US$1 a day or less) had paid an average of $40 for health care during a recent illness. One in four spent more than $114.

“Most people seek private services over governmental ones because their services are of higher quality,” said Mohammad Amin, a supervisor at Ahmed Shah Baba Hospital. “And if you compare people’s income to the cost of the health services, the cost is higher than their income.”

But even the private healthcare system pales in comparison to neighbouring countries such as Pakistan and India, according to Amin, prompting Afghans to travel abroad for care. MSF found that 65 percent of those who went to Pakistan for treatment were forced to borrow the money or sell goods to make the trip.

Tough choices

The public health system presents its own very serious risks.

Recently, a young woman in Paktia Province was sent to hospital due to complications during pregnancy. On the way, the woman went into labour, according to a woman who accompanied her to the hospital and gave only her first name, Leila. The baby, a stillborn, was only partially delivered – only the head and one hand had exited the mother’s body.

“When we reached the hospital, it was night time,” Leila told IRIN. “The baby was still half-delivered and the woman was in bad condition, but the female doctors told us they could not admit the patient because it was too late.”

The women turned back. By the time they got home, the mother was also dead.

“We had to pull the baby out of the patient’s body,” said Leila, visibly distraught.

This quality of public health care leaves most of the population with limited choices: access the public system and risk poor treatment or access the private system and risk impoverishment.

Nearly 20 percent of patients interviewed by MSF had had a family member or close friend die in the past 12 months due to lack of access to health care. According to the report, the three main obstacles to accessing health care, in cases where its inaccessibility resulted in death, were lack of money, long distances, and conflict.

A grandmother’s experience

Leila, a grandmother living in a household with more than a dozen family members, cannot afford to go to private clinics in her province of Paktia.

“When you’re sick, you have to spend a lot of money in private clinics. We don’t have money and we can’t afford it, so we go to the public clinic. They don’t have a lot of medicine and qualified people, so we just take the medicine we’re given and wait. We hope and see if we get better – or we die.”

The public clinic in her village closed after the Taliban fired rockets on it.

Leila and her husband heard that MSF provided free, quality care so they risked a dangerous five-hour trip to get their pregnant daughter-in-law to MSF’s maternity hospital in Khost. The trip cost the equivalent of $80 – they used their savings from selling pine nuts, but had to borrow $50 to make up the shortfall.

While health costs place considerable strain on people from all strata of society, the poor are hit particularly hard. A 2010 Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU) report found that some families were refused treatment in private clinics because they could not afford it.

Corrupt doctors?

In line with Afghanistan’s constitution, primary health services, including medication, at public facilities is free. But stocks often run out, and patients are then forced to buy the medication in private pharmacies or at the bazaar.

The MSF survey showed that 56 percent of patients interviewed who visited a public facility paid for all their medication.

“Often, the doctor has a relationship with a pharmacy,” said Ahmadullah Safi, a medical staff member at Ahmed Shah Baba Hospital. “When people go [to the doctor], maybe they don’t need an antibiotic, they need something else. But to do their business [and make money], the doctor prescribes a lot of medicine.”

The private sector accounts for 70 percent of the largely unregulated pharmaceutical market – a system that is contaminated with “substandard, falsified, counterfeit and diverted” medicine, says one report published in what has since been renamed the Journal of Pharmaceutical Policy and Practice.

For Najibullah Safi, a primary healthcare officer at the World Health Organization, the Afghan health sector is doing the best it can under challenging circumstances.

“There are certain standards that must be followed and we are following those standards. If we compare to some other places, definitely there are a lot of problems with quality… but the types of facilities that are locally acceptable or feasible at this stage are available here.”

According to the World Bank, 85 percent of the Afghan population lives in districts with facilities able to deliver a basic package of health services; and around 60 percent live within one hour’s walking distance of a public health facility.

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Afghanistan: How to Oversee Aid in Uncertain Times

From the U.S. Institute of Peace blog The Olive Branch. You can view this post on the USIP web site here. June 23, 2014

By Colin Cookman

Last weekend, as many as 7 million Afghan voters are reported to have defied skeptics and cast their ballots for a second time this year in a runoff election to choose a president. Although the U.S. and other international partners are moving to reduce their military presence in the country, the next Afghan administration will still need significant military and non-military assistance. A report by USIP and the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) lays out the discussion of a joint symposium that explored how aid could be prioritized, designed, managed and monitored.

Although the Afghan government has taken steps to improve its ability to generate revenue from customs and taxation, the country remains highly dependent on donor funds for many key functions, and in recent years, revenues have stagnated. The United States will need to think carefully about how to structure its assistance to the next Afghan government.

Although the United States and its partners have made considerable progress in supporting the development of an Afghan government capable of securing its own territory against militant and transnational terrorist groups, “the task is not over, and will require long-term international support — albeit at more sustainable levels than those of the past decade,” Andrew Wilder, vice president for USIP’s Center for South and Central Asia, wrote in the report.

USIP and SIGAR organized the symposium to gather experts and practitioners from across and outside the U.S. government earlier this spring to assess the lessons and challenges for overseeing aid distributed in active conflict areas such as Afghanistan. The highlights of those discussions are now available in a conference report released today by the two organizations.

The U.S. and other donors have committed to financing the Afghan army and police through the next decade, and the administration’s 2015 fiscal year budget request includes $1.2 billion in non-security assistance for Afghanistan. While this represents a major decline from peak appropriations in 2010, Afghanistan remains one of the largest U.S. aid programs globally. Yet movement outside of guarded compounds is being increasingly restricted as the military coalition that helps provide security draws down.

Managing that aid effectively will prove a significant challenge, cautioned John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, in the report. He noted that “significant portions of Afghanistan are already inaccessible to SIGAR and other U.S. civilians,” and ” ‘oversight bubbles’ are getting smaller as U.S. military units are withdrawn and coalition bases are closed.”

Conference participants expressed concern about the Afghan government’s substantial needs and about the risks facing aid implementers in the country’s uncertain security environment. They also underlined the need to be realistic about what development assistance can accomplish and the importance of effectively managing the continuing partnership with Afghanistan.

If international donors and Afghan recipients both work to meet previous commitments to enact reforms on each side, reduced but sustained aid might help consolidate and strengthen Afghan institutions and political processes. Those ultimately will determine the government’s ability to support itself over the long term.

Some participants argued that reduced U.S. assistance, managed carefully, could even spur more strategic thinking about how to best prioritize aid and how to ensure that aid does not fall prey to waste, fraud or mismanagement.

“With external resources for Afghanistan shrinking during the coming years, there will be a need to prioritize spending — rather than spending money because it is there to spend –which in itself should improve the quality of projects being implemented,” USIP’s Wilder wrote in the report. That would require building monitoring and evaluation into project design from the beginning, and working to clearly link those project assessments to broader stabilization strategies at the macro level.

Improvements also depend on better coordination and information-sharing among and within donor organizations to ensure that the declining, but still substantial, assistance is not wasted due to duplicate efforts or a lack of institutional memory about what sorts of programs have seen successes and which have not worked in the past.

New technologies can potentially help extend oversight on some indicators in remote or otherwise inaccessible areas, where civilian aid officials may no longer have international security force protection. But these tools face clear limits for what they can reveal, particularly in gauging qualitative impact.

Engaging closely with local Afghan partners, communities and the Afghan government on project design, implementation and evaluation, and working to build local capacity to assess the effectiveness of aid, can potentially help offset a declining international presence. But this carries its own set of risks. It may be difficult to confirm the reporting of local partners or to manage security threats against Afghans who cooperate with the international community and with their own government.

Leaders at USIP and SIGAR have said they plan to continue the discussion going forward, in order to share lessons between aid managers, implementers and overseers on how to best remain engaged with Afghanistan while also mitigating risks to the overall objective of stabilizing and securing the country.

Colin Cookman is a senior program specialist in USIP’s Center for South and Central Asia.

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