Afghanistan Protecting the Protectors
The country is very insecure after exit of forces.
General Stanley McChrystal was the Commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2010. A man about whom the former US Defence Secretary Robert Gates had said, ‘He is perhaps the finest warrior and leader of men in combat I have ever met.’ General McChrystal had famously said that ‘US could beat Taliban with one hand tied behind its back. But the enemy was not the problem, protecting the people was.’
Whether it is the conduct of a UN legitimized military operation by an international force in a targeted country or the provision of humanitarian relief and aid by the international aid agencies there, the local militants who take up arms against such interventions almost invariably respond by raising the stakes of the ethical and moral dimension of the war and to do that they target and kill the innocent civilians on one pretext or the other. The Taliban are doing the same in Afghanistan and today, in the crosshair of their gun sights, are the workers of international aid agencies working there.
The job that these aid workers perform is not easy. The mission of the international aid workers is always very challenging and full of dangers. Yet men and women belonging to the aid organizations put their lives at stake to undertake and execute humanitarian relief missions in countries where the war weary people deserve immediate relief. But can international aid workers continue their work in Afghanistan given the increased number of attacks they have come under in that country this year? What can Afghanistan do about it? Can it afford the numerous aid agencies to wind up their work and leave the country? Would this not have serious consequences for the people who heavily rely on their aid in the absence of aid and services that should be provided by the government of Afghanistan itself? Does the Afghan government have any security plan and do its security forces retain the ability and the capacity to safeguard and protect the international aid organizations in the country? These are some of the critical questions the answers to which will actually determine the continuity or partial and total discontinuity of humanitarian aid work in Afghanistan in the coming days by many NGOs.
People in Need (PIN) had been delivering humanitarian work in
Afghanistan since 2001. Recently, 9 Afghan aid workers belonging to this Czech organization were attacked in their guest house in Zari district of Balkh Province in the relatively peaceful and quiet Northern Afghanistan. The attack was the worst ever on an aid agency in terms of the causalities it inflicted and forced the aid agency to respond by suspending all its work in Afghanistan. The attack came weeks after a guest house in Kabul popular with the aid agencies was attacked and 14 people, mostly foreigners, were killed. Earlier, in April this year, five Afghan workers for ‘Save the Children’ were found dead after they were abducted in the Afghan southern province of Uruzgan.
According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), last year 57 aid workers were killed in Afghanistan. This year 26 aid workers have already died, 17 have been injured and another 40 have been abducted so far. Given the increased militant activities due to the ongoing spring offensive by the Taliban and the poor protection measures provide by the government to the aid agencies the number of attacks on aid workers and the casualties may rise profoundly in the coming months.
Whether it is Americans, Russians, Indians, Iranians, Chinese, Saudi Arabians or Pakistanis, all seem to have their own interests in the wartorn country. Unfortunately, everything these countries have done so far in Afghanistan has remained tactical and has not been able to change the bigger picture which is, that despite the huge aid that Afghanistan continues to receive from some of these countries, it remains very insecure and amongst the fifteen least developed countries in the world.
What could reduce the security threat in Afghanistan is the continuity and sustainability of military to military cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The fight against terrorism has gained impetus but so has the level of cooperation between the two countries since the election of President Ashraf Ghani. The security interest, like the long border of the two countries, is ‘shared’ and it is not only the Taliban but now the emergence of the ISIS in the region that not only worries these two countries but the whole world community.
However, the assurance of the leadership of the two countries at their joint press conference in Kabul on 12 May 2015 is very re-assuring. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said that ‘the enemies of Afghanistan cannot be friends of Pakistan’ and President Ghani in return said that ‘enemies of Pakistan cannot be friends of Afghanistan.’ If this could move beyond the leadership rhetoric and could be seriously implemented as a joint resolution for bilateral military cooperation between the two countries, the criminals and militants on each side will find it very difficult to plan, organize and execute attacks in either country. As much as the aid agencies and their workers are busy in Afghanistan to lay the foundation for the future peace and development of the country, the security forces in Afghanistan also need to provide them the much needed protection and security umbrella to execute their work.
Aid workers in Afghanistan run a feeding program for the undernourished and malnourished children, they provide medical care, assist people who get displaced from the conflict zones and extend help to almost all the vulnerable and needy people who require such help and assistance. The Taliban who officially espouse a policy that rejects attacks on humanitarian workers need to re-examine the impact of the brutality of such attacks not only against whom they are targeted but against the very people of Afghanistan who will suffer the most when and if such aid work is called off and discontinued.
Besides depending on the central government, the provincial governors of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces can also introduce and execute an informal security system in which the over 2460 villages in Afghanistan can each have defence committees that can take over the responsibility of safeguarding and protecting any international aid organization and its workers who set up a camp or a facility in their area. These defence committees could consist of armed men who should take it upon themselves to ensure the physical protection of such organizations.
Easy said than done, President Ghani’s government in Kabul is continuously under severe criticism by the various provincial governors for failing to stop the growing insurgent attacks all over the country. The way forward is not criticism but to end the political disagreements and infighting between Kabul and its provinces and proceed to create a security system that encompasses both informal and formal security. Such a system will raise a competent, effective and efficient defence shield against the attacking insurgents and the militants and also lay down a defence strategy that can create those necessary security circumstances and conditions that will encourage the international aid agencies to continue their work in Afghanistan. President Ghani would also do well to announce the much delayed appointment of a defence minister in his cabinet or defence and security of Afghanistan may continue to be neglected.
Aid workers in Afghanistan run a feeding program for the undernourished and malnourished children.