Islamabad, May 3
A Taliban fighter recently fired his rifle into the air at a food distribution event in Afghanistan, an example of their harassment of nongovernmental groups operating in the country, a report from a US watchdog said Wednesday.
The Taliban last December barred Afghan women from working at NGOs, allegedly because they were not wearing the hijab — the Islamic headscarf — correctly and were not observing gender segregation rules. In April, they said this ban extended to UN offices and agencies in Afghanistan.
The measure is being actively enforced by the country’s intelligence agency, which reports to the Taliban’s leadership in Kandahar, although their chief spokesman says there are no obstacles for U.N. operations in Afghanistan.
The latest quarterly report from the watchdog for US assistance to Afghanistan, SIGAR, cited examples of Taliban interference and harassment of NGOs, including the rifle incident.
Organizations face security risks and harassment at Taliban checkpoints, unannounced Taliban visits to NGO offices, repeated requests for information on work plans, budgets, operations, and personnel, and demands for increased involvement in project decision-making and implementation.
The April ban on women working for the United Nations likely signals that they will “continue to interfere” in NGO operations to the detriment of the Afghan people, according to the report.
The U.N. told SIGAR that, in addition to the challenges posed by specific Taliban policies, weak Taliban governance and tension between central and provincial authorities make an effective humanitarian response difficult to implement.
“This dysfunction is expected to limit the ability to implement policies which sustain critical public and basic services and reduce needs,” the report said, with the U.N. telling the watchdog that a “more restrictive environment lies ahead.” Aid agencies have been providing food, education and health care support to Afghans in the wake of the Taliban takeover in August 2021 and the economic collapse that followed it. But distribution has been severely affected by the Taliban edict banning women from working at NGOs — and, now, also at the U.N.
The Economy Ministry, which supervises NGO work in Afghanistan, rejected the SIGAR claims. Ministry spokesman Abdul Rahman Habib said there were no reports of checkpoint harassment or other interference.
A “special procedure” to improve NGO performance and solve problems has been shared with all aid agencies and U.N. offices in Afghanistan, he said, without providing further details on the procedure.
He also reiterated that the December order, issued by the ministry, remains in place. Afghan women are permitted to work for NGOs in certain sectors, such as health and education, but not others.
SIGAR’s report follows a closed-door U.N. summit on Afghanistan that the world body described as an event where nations and organizations were trying to reach unified stances on human rights, governance, counterterrorism and anti-drug efforts related to Afghanistan.
The Taliban were not invited to the meeting, which was held in Qatar. AP
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