US calls off aid program to Afghans amid persistent issues with Taliban
Stars and Stripes May 23, 2023
A $49 million American humanitarian program to aid Afghan war victims will close after five years, amid difficulties that arose after the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country.
The Conflict Mitigation Assistance for Civilians program will end June 30, Nitin Madhav, director of the office of Afghanistan affairs at the U.S. Agency for International Development, said Friday.
Experts say the program highlights contradictions in American policy toward Afghanistan, where the U.S. remains the largest donor but also does not want to be seen as legitimizing the militant group that ousted the U.S.-backed government.
The Taliban attempted to interfere with the selection of where aid went, but the end of the program is not tied to that, as it had been scheduled from the outset to close in 2023, Madhav said.
The 35 remaining staff members have completed final aid deliveries and requested a 14-week extension of the program for closing offices and disposing of equipment, Madhav said.
The program was established in 2018 to aid Afghan civilians affected by insurgent attacks and military operations.
The Taliban takeover in the summer of 2021 paused the program for several months but, after some recalibrating, it resumed in December of that year.
The program, administered by the USAID, continued to send aid after the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan while trying not to run afoul of both the Taliban and U.S. policy.
It used to provide training to Afghan government ministries but stopped after the Taliban takeover, an April report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said.
Though American forces withdrew from Afghanistan, the U.S. continued to authorize humanitarian aid to the country amid concerns that such aid may legitimize the Taliban as they grow increasingly oppressive, especially regarding the rights of women.
“U.S. aid to Afghanistan … may inadvertently confer legitimacy onto the Taliban, both internationally and domestically,” according to a February SIGAR report.
The program ran into numerous disputes with the new Taliban government, the report added. For example, Taliban authorities accused staff members of being corrupt and pressured the program to assist recipients the government selected.
Female staffers were told to work from home starting in December 2022 as a result of a Taliban ban on women’s employment, the April SIGAR report said.
In Parwan province, an official requested that 10% of the assistance go to Taliban personnel. In three provinces, staff members were accused of distributing aid without government approval.
Abdul Qahar Balkhi, a spokesman for the Afghan foreign affairs ministry, said Monday the office had not received any complaints about these incidents.
The U.S. and the Taliban have inherent trust issues, said Graeme Smith, senior consultant on Afghanistan for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.
“It’s reasonable to assume that the Taliban are not comfortable with their old enemies picking and choosing who gets assistance,” Smith said. “Fair to assume some lack of trust between the Taliban and the Americans about how to define victimhood.”
The U.S. is faced with a dilemma in regard to aid to Afghanistan, Smith said.
“Nothing gets solved in Afghanistan while the relationship between the Taliban and the outside world remains this dysfunctional,” he said.
USAID said it continues to explore options to extend support to Afghan victims of the conflict beyond June.
In December, a Gallup survey found that life in Afghanistan is worse than anywhere in the world. On a scale of one to 10, 98% of Afghan women and 97% of Afghan men rated the quality of their lives as four or lower, which is classified as “suffering.”
Also, 86% of survey respondents said they couldn’t afford food.
In the five years of its existence, the USAID program assisted more than 40,000 Afghans, Madhav said, adding that it doesn’t provide assistance to the Taliban.