KABUL – The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has raised concerns over escalated Taliban interference with the operations of non-governmental organizations, resulting in a consistent decline in humanitarian access throughout 2023.
Numerous U.N. officials representing diverse agencies have indicated that the Taliban’s infiltration and influence within U.N.-managed assistance programs have grown substantially. Incidents of such interference surged by 32% between January and May 2023 compared to the same timeframe in 2022.
In the 60th quarterly report from the U.S. Special Inspector for Afghanistan Reconstruction, John F. Sopko, it is emphasized that the Taliban’s pursuit of heightened control and authority over aid distribution has contributed to their consolidation of power. Sopko stated, “It is no longer a question of whether the Taliban are diverting assistance from our programs to help the Afghan people, but rather how much they are diverting.”
The report cites an analysis prepared by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) for USAID, which has been shared with SIGAR. This analysis underscores that humanitarian organizations face a complex ethical dilemma in Afghanistan under Taliban governance. While acknowledging that discontinuing aid due to the Taliban’s restrictive policies would leave millions of Afghans without crucial resources, SIGAR notes that grappling with this dilemma will only become more challenging over time.
SIGAR’s report highlights the ongoing implementation of increasingly stringent Taliban policies, including the ban on women’s participation in NGOs. While acknowledging that USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA) has reported some provincial and local-level exemptions to this ban, SIGAR underscores that these exceptions remain fragile and subject to conditions such as the requirement for female field staff to be accompanied by a male guardian.
Quoting insights from the USIP analysis, SIGAR underscores the Taliban’s willingness to accept foreign-funded aid and services under discreet, apolitical circumstances that yield immediate tangible benefits. The analysis also reveals the Taliban’s view of the U.N. system as an additional revenue source, one they seek to monopolize and tightly control.
In this context, the Taliban exploit the altruistic intentions of the U.N. and other donors, leveraging their eagerness to provide aid to the distressed Afghan populace. While donors are focused on delivering aid quietly, as suggested by the USIP, the Taliban are motivated to be seen as providers of essential resources, enhancing their reputation locally, regionally, and potentially internationally.