Peacekeeping: Taliban Ruined By Reputation


November 1, 2021: Peacekeeping is often required to pacify an area so that foreign aid can be distributed. There is often local opposition to this, or groups that see the foreign aid as a new source of income. Both problems currently exist in Afghanistan but no one is willing or able to protect the delivery of aid.

In Afghanistan the new Taliban government is pleading poverty and demanding help from donor nations that provide most of this aid worldwide. Afghanistan has a problem here because it has long been seen as a region that does diverts foreign aid to other uses the donors would never approve of. For that reason, foreign-aid NGOs (non-governmental organizations, like the UN or Red Cross and thousands more) are currently trying to get all their personnel out of Afghanistan.

The Taliban quickly established a new IEA (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) government in Kabul and began restoring many of the strict lifestyle rules they had imposed in the late 1990s. This included mandatory dress rules for women and restrictions on schooling for women and where they could work outside the home. This alone was a major loss to the economy as well as depriving widows and their children of income. The IEA tried to limit the seizure of homes and businesses by IEA gunmen looking for payback. The U.S. froze eight billion dollars’ worth of offshore bank accounts and other assets of the former IRA (Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) government. The IRA was elected and the recipient of billions of dollars a year in foreign aid, most of it from the United States which audited that aid as much as possible to control the corruption. That effort was partially successful and provided evidence that Afghanistan was no place for unsupervised and unaudited aid distribution.

The Afghan Taliban are an internationally recognized Islamic terrorist organization that long used intimidation (including kidnapping and murder) to extort cash, goods or services from civilians or IRA officials. The IEA is broke and presiding over a crippled economy that they have further damaged with their Islamic rules and regulations. IEA blames their economic problems on American sanctions, demands that the frozen assets be turned over to them, and that foreign aid be resumed because millions of Afghans are hungry and now unemployed. Normally such calls for help would be answered with offers of aid. That was the case when the Taliban ruled most of Afghanistan in the late 1990s, but a lot has changed in how foreign aid is delivered, or withheld, since the 1990s.

Nations suffering from chronic violence, lawlessness and massive numbers of refugees are often not that way because of war but because of other factors, including how many foreign aid groups operate, or try to operate there. The NGOs tend to have their own ideas of how to handle things, and have attitudes are often at odds with the locals as well as the foreign nations that provide the cash and goods needed to deal with the mess. One problem often leads to another as the NGOs, locals, and donors clash over what to do and how to do it. The main problem is there is more to be done than anyone is willing to pay for. To make matters worse there are always disagreements, sometimes violent, over how to apply the aid. That has forced donors to prioritize where they send aid.

It's not just Afghanistan, but more of a global problem. In 2019 the top ten disaster areas contained most of the people in need worldwide, but these nations contained less than five percent of the world population. The ten disaster areas were; Yemen, Congo, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Venezuela, CAR (Central African Republic), Syria, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Somalia. A major problem has been the reluctance of donors to support relief operations in many of these areas. In short, the problem is that too much of the aid is stolen or unable to reach the people most in need. NGOs have no solution, or at least not one that will either turn off the donors (and their donations) or upset the locals, resulting in more violence and chaos.

Most of these needy nations are not the scene of war, at least not in the traditional sense, but they are suffering some serious problems. From the outside this appears to be widespread civil disorder. The trigger for the disorder is most often tribalism as in Yemen, Congo, South Sudan, Afghanistan, CAR and Somalia. In some of these nations, there is an actual civil war going on, as in Yemen, South Sudan, CAR and Syria. Another major cause is religious differences as in Yemen, Syria, and Nigeria. Another common factor is corruption and the inability to create an effective government. Many of these nations are recognized as “failed states” because they have never managed to form a sense of national unity and eventually stable national government. This is common in most African countries as well as Afghanistan and Yemen.

NGOs are increasingly feuding with each other about how to handle the growing money shortages they must deal with. The demand for contributions to buy food and other aid supplies has been increasing faster than donor nations, who supply most of this money, are willing to provide. This is in large part because of growing problems with a lot of the aid being stolen by local bandits and corrupt officials, or diverted to other uses by NGOs.

This is the problem the new IEA government in Afghanistan is encountering. NGOs and aid donors don’t trust the Taliban because the Taliban has already broken promises it made before and after it took control of Afghanistan in August 2021. There is no disagreement over the need for aid in Afghanistan but the IEA is not willing to guarantee any aid will get to those who need it and refuses to give aid donors any control over aid distribution.

There are other problems as well. Increasingly people in the country’s NGOs deliver aid to complain about the NGOs being more concerned about their own safety and comfort than in making the lives of the locals better. But it's not as simple as that. There are also disagreements within the NGO community about how to deliver aid in areas swarming with bandits, Islamic terrorists, and other bad actors. The NGOs that continue to send people to these dangerous areas complain that many NGOs that used to be there with them are now snagging a lot of aid money and moving to some well-guarded urban area to spend the aid money on studies, seminars, and research into how to achieve peace and prosperity via diplomacy, negotiation, and creative financing. The NGOs still out in the field consider this growing interest in this new “non-contact” with the people needing the aid approach to be a craven copout and diversion of desperately needed funds from buying food and emergency services for people.

The NGOs are trying to keep this dispute from becoming a public debate as they all agree that putting these issues into the news would probably reduce contributions even more. NGOs are, for the most part, charitable organizations that take money from individuals, organizations and governments and use it for charitable work in foreign countries. The Red Cross is one of the oldest, and best-known NGOs, dating back to the 19th century. In the mid-20th century, the UN became the largest NGO. The Catholic Church could be considered one of the first major NGOs, as it organized large scale charity efforts over a thousand years ago. By the late 20th century, the number of NGOs grew explosively. Now there are thousands of them, providing work for hundreds of thousands of people.

The NGO elite are well-educated people, usually from Western countries, who solicit donations or go off to disaster areas and apply money, equipment and supplies to alleviate some natural or man-made disaster. Governments have been so impressed by the relative efficiency of NGOs that they have contracted them to perform foreign aid and disaster relief work that was once done by government employees.

Problems, however, have developed over the years. The Western employees of NGOs, while not highly paid, are infused with a certain degree of idealism, and that brings to disaster areas a bunch of outsiders who have a higher standard of living and radically different ideas. Several decades ago, the main thing these outsiders brought with them was food and medical care. The people on the receiving end were desperate, and grateful for the help. But NGOs have branched out into development and social programs.

These new activities caused unexpected problems with the local leaders. Development programs disrupt the existing economic and political relationships. This is especially the case if the NGOs try to change the way things are done. The local leaders are often not happy with this, as the NGOs are not always willing to work closely with the existing power structure. While the local worthies may be exploitative, and even corrupt, they are local, and they do know more about popular attitudes and ideals than the foreigners.

NGOs with social programs like education, especially educating women, new lifestyle choices and more power for people who don't usually have much, often run into conflict with the local leadership. Naturally, the local politicians and traditional leaders have resisted, or even fought back. Local governments will sometimes try to regulate or expel NGOs. That often includes local NGOs, who are doing some of the same work as the foreign ones. In these cases, the government is responding to complaints from old school tribal and religious leaders who are unhappy with all these foreigners, or urban locals with funny ideas, upsetting the ancient ways in the countryside.

NGOs are not military organizations, but they can fight back. They do this mainly through the media because they also use favorable media coverage to propel their fundraising efforts. NGOs will also ask, or demand, that the UN or other foreign governments send in peacekeeping troops to protect the NGOs from hostile locals. This had disastrous effects in Somalia during the early 1990s. Some NGOs remained, or came back to Somalia after the peacekeepers left. These NGOs learned how to cope on their own, although with increasing difficulty. The NGOs hired local muscle for protection, as well as cutting deals with the local warlords. But eventually, the local Islamic radicals became upset at the alien ideas these Western do-gooders brought with them and began to chase the NGOs out.

The Somalia experience and past performance of the Taliban towards foreign aid are the major factor the IEA is not getting the aid response it expected. There are few parts of the world that don't know about NGOs, who runs them and what these organizations do. NGOs are no longer seen as just charitable foreigners coming to help. The local leadership often sees the NGOs as a potential threat. While the material aid the NGOs bring is appreciated, the different ideas are not. And there are more NGOs showing up with more agenda than physical aid. NGOs have become more adept at dealing with local power brokers. That turns NGOs into diplomats, which they are not. NGO stands for Non-Governmental Organization but sometimes they act like government bureaucrats. NGOs that get too heavily into diplomacy are no longer regarded as NGOs. This has always been a problem, but now it's getting worse as NGOs have become a worldwide presence. And the decade old UN policy of deliberately politicizing aid efforts has turned the aid workers from angels of mercy to political targets.

This trend, from delivering aid to delivering ideas, often unwelcome ones, has put all NGOs at risk. The NGOs have become players in a worldwide civil war between local traditional ideas, and the more transnational concepts that trigger violent reactions in many parts of the world. Another problem is the money given to NGOs to spend on aid for a country is money the local officials would rather have control over. There are two reasons why donors prefer NGOs to have control over the aid. The primary problem is corruption. Money given to the government tends to get stolen. Often more than a third of it disappears into the pockets of government officials, their kin and friends. But letting the donors, and NGOs handle the money also sees about the same portion lost. This is because these donations often come with requirements that much of the money be spent on goods and services from the donor nation. This particularly bothers the locals as it means a lot of highly (especially by local standards) paid Western aid workers are supervising whatever is done in the aid receiving nation. The higher NGO pay standards are very visible because the Westerners tend to live much better than locals. The Westerners are also accused of not understanding the needs of locals, but the NGOs are also less prone to devote most of the programs to local traditional (tribal) or senior government officials. The locals would like to gain control of all the aid money, or at least get more of it spent inside the nation receiving the aid, but have not had much success. All of this just adds to the growing hostility towards NGOs, and the violence it generates. No one has a solution that doesn't involve bribes or local mercenaries, and the problem just keeps getting worse.

China is trying to negotiate an aid deal with the IEA but has learned from Western experience and demands a degree of validation and control over aid that the Taliban considers unacceptable but not entirely out of the question.




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