Much of the international aid to Afghanistan over the past seven years has been spent to achieve military and political objectives, and the current approach to aid lacks “clarity, coherence and resolve,” a group of international NGOs said in a report to the heads of NATO-member states. The report warns of over-reliance on short-term military gains at the expense of longer-term peace and development.
“There is a need for a truly comprehensive strategy for the long-term reconstruction and stabilisation of Afghanistan,” said the April 3 report by 11 aid groups, entitled “Caught in the Conflict: Civilians and the International Security Strategy in Afghanistan.” NATO commands about 47,000 troops from 39 nations, including 26 member states, and operates 26 Provincial Reconstruction Teams across Afghanistan.
To prevent a blurring of the lines between military and humanitarian actors, aid agencies and NATO-led forces agreed on a modus operandi in 2008, but this is being largely ignored less than a year after it was signed, the report charges. “We have seen no difference on the ground,” said Matt Waldman, Oxfam’s policy and advocacy manager in Kabul.
The NGOs—including Oxfam, CARE Afghanistan, ActionAid and Save the Children-UK—are concerned about the growing impact of armed conflict on civilians and the increasing use of aid for military and political gain. In a summary of the report Oxfam wrote:
The report warns the military are blurring the distinction between aid workers and soldiers by doing extensive humanitarian and assistance work for counter-insurgency purposes, and by using unmarked white vehicles, which are conventionally only used by the UN and aid agencies. This undermines local perceptions of the independence and impartiality of aid agencies and therefore increases the risk to aid workers, and threatens to reduce the areas in which they can safely work.
The agencies recommend a phase-out of militarised aid and a substantial increase in development and humanitarian funding for civilian institutions and organisations.
According to a recent report by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), over 2,100 civilian Afghans were killed in the conflict in 2008—about 55% by various insurgent groups and the rest by pro-government forces. The NGOs also voiced concern about a significant increase in civilian deaths resulting from aerial strikes by international military forces which were reported to be 552 in 2008; 72 percent higher than 2007, according to the UNAMA report. (IRIN, April 3)