Afghanistan’s Humanitarian CrisisAfter nearly two decades, the Afghanistan War ended in August 2021, when United States forces evacuated the country. For the nearly 40.9 million Afghans left behind, the rippling impacts of the war have created a devastating crisis. Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis has made nearly every aspect of life take a turn for the worst under the rule of the Taliban. Crucially, this includes economic struggles, which then affect access to food and healthcare.

Part of the reason for the harsh and sudden economic downturn for Afghanistan came as a result of the Taliban’s takeover in August 2021. Since then, most foreign aid has been revoked, including from sources such as:

  • The United States
  • The World Bank
  • The International Monetary Fund
  • The Asian Development Bank

As a result, nearly $2 billion in aid has been stopped, causing the economy to collapse, as prior to this, Afghanistan was nearly dependent on foreign aid.

Humanitarian Crisis

The economic collapse was the result of multiple failures or setbacks Afghanistan faced in recent years. Drought, the COVID-19 pandemic and conflicts all came to a head with the Taliban takeover. Food insecurity has been at the forefront of the humanitarian crisis plaguing the Middle Eastern country.

According to the World Food Programme, 95% of Afghans are food insecure as of January 2022. Drought and rising food prices in the last year have increased the severity of food insecurity, which is now up 14 points from 81% the year before.

Food insecurity isn’t due to a lack of food in the country and is rather due to a lack of economic security. As of 2020, 85% of Afghans did not have a bank account. In the current crisis, humanitarian aid is not enough. Afghans need access to secure finances to lift themselves out of poverty and to allow them to purchase food and other necessities.

However, Afghanistan’s Central Bank’s credentials are not recognized internationally, which essentially renders it useless as a financial institution. This is a security measure, as there are fears that the Taliban could use any money for their own purposes. However, the group Human Rights Watch writes of a way to legitimize the Central Bank without giving funds indirectly to the Taliban, in a practice called “ringfencing.”

A Human Rights Watch article stated the ways to protect money going into Afghanistan. By “(ensuring that bank leaders have sole and independent authorities and credentials), put in place independent auditors to monitor the bank’s transactions internationally and domestically and ensure that assets made available are being used for legitimate central banking functions and humanitarian and commercial purposes.”

Measures to ease the burden of the economic crisis will go a long way to aid Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis.

Digital Payments

One creative attempt to relieve the financial woes felt by Afghans is the use of digital payments. The Center for Global Development released a brief in May 2022 on the potential impact of digital payments on Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis.

Digital payments do not include cryptocurrency, though it doesn’t exclude the possibility. They work similar to apps like Venmo or CashApp, where money goes directly to consumers and then to the places they do business. The rise of technology like QR codes has made digital payments even more accessible.

In a country similar to Afghanistan, digital payments are seen as a way to alleviate economic hardship without inadvertently giving money to the Taliban, or paying the Taliban to regulate financial institutions. Instead, security measures including biometric data on smartphones or customer due diligence protocols. The protocols are already in place for digital payments used by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which often utilize digital payments for salaries in the countries they operate in.

The benefit of digital payments is the traceability, unlike bank notes. However, one potential disadvantage is that many Afghan women do not have access to smartphones or are illiterate, which would be a greater barrier to the effective use of digital payments.

There are various digital payment platforms that have already shown success. Fintech for International Development partnered with several NGOs to launch “Lotus20”, which had a successful pilot program in Kenya. In Afghanistan, the platform seeing success is “HesabPay”, which has partnered with more than 4,000 Afghan merchants to accept digital payments.

A Look Ahead

Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis is rapidly growing and will continue to get worse. There are a plethora of other issues contributing to the total devastation and yet so many can be traced back to economic pitfalls. Digital payments have the potential to help Afghans regain control of their finances and lives in a time of near constant crisis.

Emma Rushworth
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Remittance to AfghanistanAbout half of the population in Afghanistan faces food insecurity. With food and fertilizer costs on the rise, organizations such as The World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Bank are dedicating themselves to sending remittances to Afghanistan by boosting crop production for local farmers with a budget of over $200 million.

The Situation

According to a recent Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) study, around 19.7 million people, about half of the population in Afghanistan are food insecure. This means that they are unable to provide food for themselves on a day-to-day basis. These people are suffering mainly due to food prices reaching new highs and an increase in the cost of producing agricultural materials, especially fertilizer.

The IPC dates back to January and February 2022. In actuality, “the report predicts that the outlook of June-November 2022 sees a slight improvement in the food security situation, with a reduction in the number of people facing acute food security to 18.9 million.”

To combat this, The Afghanistan Emergency Food Security Project plans to boost the production of crops in order to benefit local farmers in Afghanistan. With help from the Food and Agricultural Organization, (FAO) and The World Bank, a $195 million emergency project has emerged, according to U.N. News.

This project plans to ensure “critical life-saving and livelihood assistance to smallholder farmers.” This reduction is largely thanks to the upcoming wheat harvest that will take place from May to August.

Planned Project

There is hope regarding the current remittance to Afghanistan. According to Mary-Ellen McGroarty, the country Director Representative in Afghanistan of the WFP, the largest food operation was established in August 2021 and assisted over 16 million people. “We are working with farmers, millers and bakeries, training women and creating jobs to support the local economy…Allowing the economy to function normally is the surest way out of the crisis, otherwise suffering will grow where crops can not,” she said to WFP.

According to U.N. News, “It is a historic moment for poor farmers in Afghanistan, and it represents an important milestone in our collective efforts to deliver results at scale… and make real transformative differences in the lives of vulnerable people,” said QU Dongyu, the director of FAO. FAO’s funding for remittance to Afghanistan is supporting about 2 million people during the November and March-November 2023 cultivation seasons.

Also, FAO plans on supporting the needs of children, people with illness and women-led households. The goal is to provide seeds and other necessary tools for gardening and the kitchen combined with training on improving nutrition and nutrition habits. “Secondly, the project will increase access to water for irrigation, while improving soil and water conservation,” U.N. News reports.

WFP has helped more than 16 million people since 2021 by providing remittances to Afghanistan. The organization has granted food to locations across the north of the country in an effort to help the communities there that are cut off during harsh snow storms.

Future Outlook

Both McGroarty and WFP are proud of the achievements that have been made thus far but admitted that the need for assistance amounts to $220 million in order to adequately assist the people of Afghanistan. According to the latest surveys performed by WFP, “an estimated 98% of Afghans are not consuming enough food- a worrisome 17% rise since August 2021.”

Due to increasing the costs of food and fertilizer, half of Afghanistan’s population faces food insecurity. Organizations such as the World Bank and the WFP are dedicating themselves to the people of Afghanistan with a $200 million budget to increase the production of crops and ensure the continuing function of the country’s economy.

– Henry Hyman
Photo: Flickr

Why Afghanistan Needs More Foreign Aid, Not less
A 2019 census reports an average household income for U.S. residents of slightly more than $68,000. The thought of running water to brush one’s teeth, three hot meals a day and educational attainment up to a minimum of nine years is a certitude in all states. Yet, many Afghans are not able to access the same. Roughly 42% of Afghan people have access to safe drinking water and more than half the population lives below the poverty line, with 11 million individuals experiencing acute and severe food insecurity. Furthermore, despite Afghanistan mandating nine years of compulsory education, education is not gendered equitable. Afghan education often leaves girls and women behind. For these reasons, Afghanistan needs more foreign aid, not less.

Poverty in Pictures

The foundation Gapminder “is an independent educational nonprofit fighting global misconceptions.” As an educational tool, Gapminder hosts the Dollar Street project. Anna Rosling Rönnlund invented Dollar Street as a way for the global public to understand data. Rönnlund’s 2018 Ted Talk challenged the world’s views on poverty. She ranked countries and families by displaying their wealth in images by comparing resources such as beds, toothbrushes and toilets. Additionally, U.S. citizens saw the United States rank in the top 2% of the wealthiest countries, a far contrast from the bottom 25% where households survive on less than $200 per month. This blatant exhibition of wealth inequality provides a strong case of why a country like Afghanistan needs more aid, not less.

With poverty in images, the strife in Afghanistan is something that simply cannot be ignored. Foreign aid, for example, the U.S. International Affairs Budget, can make real change in an impoverished country. A September 2021 article by Al Jazeera Media Network reports on data projecting that by the half-year mark of 2022, about 97% of Afghan people will face circumstances of poverty. Economically, a country receiving aid can become an emerging or stronger trade partner when its low-income citizens receive assistance. Poverty assistance is not the only way in which foreign aid helps a country. Foreign aid can serve as humanitarian aid and combat transmissible diseases such a COVID-19. In turn, increased foreign aid has the potential to increase the protection of all Americans domestically and internationally, including U.S. military personnel abroad.

The Need for More Foreign Aid

The Borgen Project’s economic and political model is a strategic approach for making real change. The Borgen Project influences multiple U.S. legislative policies to impact foreign aid contributions. Currently, the U.S. donates a mere 0.18% of gross national income (GNI). This contribution of 0.18% is far below the official development assistance target of 0.70% GNI. This 0.70% target was developed and based on the work of Nobel Prize winner Jan Tinbergen. His work demonstrates that a contribution of 0.75% of GNI from high-income nations would allow “developing economies to achieve desirable growth rates.” The U.N. agreed to this target, establishing a timeline for countries to meet this goal by 2015. Yet, since the target was set, the goal has still not been achieved.

Increasing the International Affairs Budget

Aligning with The Borgen Project’s mission, the U.S. and the global community must remember the commitments made to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in 1970 in order to make significant strides in global poverty reduction. A small increase to the International Affairs Budget will assist humanitarian aid organizations seeking to help Afghans on the ground with immediate needs, such as food, shelter and access to clean water. As a country riddled with conflict, violence and poverty, it is clear why Afghanistan needs more foreign aid, not less. With more individuals supporting the International Affairs Budget, Afghans have an opportunity to rise out of poverty and look toward a brighter tomorrow.

– Michelle Renée Genua
Photo: Flickr

efforts to mitigate food insecurityAccording to the Council on Foreign Relations, about 135 million people experienced severe food insecurity before the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has worsened this crisis with less access to quality food and prices skyrocketing. COVID-19 has already destroyed decades-worth of work made toward reducing global hunger. There are already predictions that millions of children will suffer more from malnutrition, obesity and stunting. Global hunger is an impediment to international development, increasing tensions within developing countries.

How Food Insecurity Worsened During COVID-19

The U.N.’s World Food Programme (WFP) states that millions of citizens across 43 developing countries face an “emergency phase of food insecurity in 2021.” The majority of those experiencing food insecurity in those countries are either refugees or anyone forced to migrate.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies reported that 272 million people are food insecure one year into the pandemic. Many believe that higher food insecurity rates worldwide occurred due to the shortages from panic buying and stockpiling. However, the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) determined that agricultural production reached its highest level. In 2020, the world produced 2.7 billion tons of the most commonly grown crops. The reality is that disruptions within the supply chain are the root cause of this worsening issue.

Actions of the World Bank

As part of its efforts to mitigate food insecurity during COVID-19, the World Bank increased funding for more effective agricultural systems in Guatemala to reduce disruptions in the supply chain. Its assistance also aimed to help alleviate the food insecurity caused by economic challenges and droughts. The World Bank helped Liberia by incorporating a Contingency Emergency Response Component that allows the government to respond to the needs of those at a higher risk of food insecurity. The component also helps increase crop production and helps normalize the supply chain there.

How to Overcome Economic Challenges

The pandemic also worsened the economic situation in developing countries. People received fewer remittances preventing them from accessing essential goods. Latin America has been most impacted by reduced remittances. However, food prices in other regions facing conflict became higher than many people’s daily salaries, making the situation difficult to overcome.

Haiti is a country with the highest food insecurity rates and faced severe impacts from the reduced remittances. The pandemic and reduced remittances hurt farmers the most. The World Bank assisted by providing programs with enough funding for farmers to produce enough crops for a two-year time frame. The programs will also help farmers incorporate safety precautions into their practices during the pandemic.

Other Efforts to Mitigate Food Insecurity

The World Bank’s other efforts to mitigate food insecurity included issuing a transfer of funds to families with food insecure infants and toddlers in Tajikistan to alleviate malnutrition. It sent food for 437,000 citizens in Chad facing food insecurity. The organization also provided additional funding that went toward addressing the concerns that the pandemic caused in Rwanda.

Accomplishments Occurring with the World Bank’s Help

The World Bank also provided more certified seeds to local communities in Afghanistan and helped farmers produce more yields than before. The U.S. sent $87.8 million to help provide more equipment for dairy and poultry farmers in Bangladesh. The World Bank’s programs in India resulted in further women’s empowerment with the establishment of women’s self-help groups that work with hygiene, food administration and storage. As of 2021, there are 62 million women that participate in these groups.

The World Bank also reports that farmers in developing countries face food insecurity and works to alleviate their distress. The organization helped Cambodia incorporate new agricultural practices that led to farmers receiving higher incomes with increased productivity. The World Bank also taught farmers in the Kyrgyz Republic the proper practices to grow more crops while conserving water. Eventually, more than 5,000 farmers gained an income that allowed them to buy essential goods.

The World Bank’s efforts to mitigate food insecurity in developing countries are effective so far. These international programs brought more farmers out of poverty and further combat global hunger. Many of these countries made commendable progress with this support, which is a significant step toward future development.

– Cristina Velaz
Photo: Flickr

U.S. foreign AidThe percentage of GDP toward U.S. foreign aid is lower than most people expect, not even making it among the top 20 when compared to similar OECD nations. However, the U.S. does rank first in the amount of aid given, with over $34 billion going to foreign aid. The second-highest-ranking country is Germany, which gave about $24 billion to foreign aid. Many Americans may wonder where does this $34 billion go to and how is it used?

Top 5 Recipients of U.S. Foreign Aid in 2019

Iraq ($960 million)

The U.S. government’s role in war-torn Iraq shaped the way the U.S. allocates foreign aid in the country. Post-Iraq invasion saw mostly aid in the form of investments into essential services. ISIS and the areas it controlled and used to fund itself damaged the country. So, the plans following 2010 for U.S. foreign aid revolved mostly around reconstruction and infrastructure investments. Today, humanitarian aid mainly addresses those displaced by violence, especially those in former ISIS-occupied areas and those recovering from economic collapse.

Egypt ($1.46 billion)

Since 1978, Egypt received more than $50 billion in U.S. military aid and $30 billion in economic assistance. According to the Center for Global Development, military aid remains steady as of recent. However, humanitarian assistance is slowly declining since the 1990s. Although military aid makes up a majority of Egypt’s aid, issues relating to health, such as infant and maternal mortality rates, are improving. In addition, USAID made significant investments in Egyptian education. The aid currently works to foster economic development in the public and private sectors.

Jordan ($1.72 billion)

According to U.S. News and World Report, most of Jordan’s aid in 2019 is economic unlike the two countries above. The latest numbers for the year 2020 show significant investments from the U.S. to Jordan. U.S. assistance for Jordan’s COVID-19 response adds up to about $35.4 million. This includes almost $20.8 million in humanitarian support to assist refugees in Jordan. Throughout the years, Syrian refugees in Jordan received $1.7 billion in humanitarian U.S. aid since the start of the Syria crisis.

Israel (3.3 billion)

New statistics in 2020 indicate the U.S. granted Israel an additional $500 million to the Israeli state. The aid falls under the long-term agreement signed by the Obama administration. U.S. Foreign aid to Israel is almost all military aid. Since 2000, 70% of foreign aid assistance is military aid and in 2019, military aid made up a record high of 99.7% of Israeli aid. In total, Israel received the most U.S. foreign aid of any country since World War II.

Afghanistan ($4.89 billion)

As in Israel and Egypt, a large amount of U.S. foreign aid to Afghanistan is military support rather than humanitarian organization assistance. As for other forms of aid, the U.S. government recently announced a $266 million humanitarian aid package for the Afghan people. It will support people in the midst of conflict and facing severe food insecurity. Since 2020, USAID to Afghanistan amounted to $543 million. Essential products, food and direct cash will benefit more than 2.3 million people. This includes the most vulnerable and damaged families and households, many of whom have fled their homes. People flee due to the violence in the region or an inability to pay for necessities due to COVID-19’s economic effects on the prices of goods.

– Gene Kang
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Period Poverty in Afghanistan Period poverty in developing countries, such as Afghanistan, is a public health crisis and global poverty exacerbates the issue since it leads to individuals being unable to afford menstrual hygiene products. The American Medical Women’s Association explains period poverty as “inadequate access to menstrual hygiene tools and educations, including but not limited to sanitary products, washing facilities and waste management.”

Lack of Menstrual Education and School Absenteeism

Period poverty negatively impacts female education due to menstrual-related absenteeism. The Child Deprivation Analysis of 2020 indicates that “30% of girl students in Afghanistan are absent during menstruation because schools do not have adequate water, sanitation and hygiene facilities.” Explaining the severity of girls’ school absenteeism, UNICEF says that “This, in turn, translates to significant economic losses later in life for themselves — and their nation that is deprived of their talents and productivity.” For this reason, addressing period poverty in Afghanistan essentially means “safeguarding the dignity, education and overall life opportunities of girls and women.”

With support from the Finnish government, the Ministries of Education and Rural Rehabilitation and Development and UNICEF provided menstrual education training to more than 500 female Afghan teachers. UNICEF also distributed more than 100,000 menstrual hygiene management (MHM) educational booklets to teachers and girls. In 2021, UNICEF aims to train more than “550 male and female teachers in 130 schools across Afghanistan.”

Menstrual Stigma and Health Consequences

The cultural stigma surrounding menstruation worsens period poverty in Afghanistan. The conservative culture of Afghanistan is a prevailing reason for the taboo surrounding menstruation. Whilst menstruating, women and girls are regarded as unclean and as a result, they are prohibited from engaging in certain daily activities, eating certain foods and participating in religious practices. The stigma surrounding menstruation continues to exclude and discriminate against women and girls. As a result, women and girls feel persistent shame and their daily lives are disrupted due to a natural biological function.

Period poverty also poses negative health consequences. Without access to menstrual-related information and sanitary products to properly manage menstruation, girls and women are at more risk of infection as they resort to using “potentially harmful domestic alternatives such as wood shavings, dried leaves, hay, old socks filled with sand” and more.

There are additional risks when there is limited access to clean water. The lack of clean water has the potential to lead to urinary tract infections and yeast infections, which is why some organizations are providing developing countries with menstrual hygiene management facilities to encourage better menstrual hygiene practices.

Organizations Fighting to End Period Poverty

Multiple organizations aim to alleviate the negative impacts of period poverty. For instance, Safepad hopes to empower Afghan women and schoolgirls through work opportunities and access to reusable menstrual products. Located in Kabul, Safepad provides professional training and employs Afghan women to sew, make and pack Safepad products. Safepad not only empowers Afghan women through adequate access to menstrual products but women also benefit from a reliable source of income.

UNICEF works to keep Afghan girls in school by focusing on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities. This includes ensuring access to water, constructing gender-segregated bathrooms, including “washrooms in girls’ toilets” and adding menstrual education to the school curriculum.

The Menstrual Equity for All Act

In a March 6, 2021, press release, U.S. Rep. Grace Meng urged President “Biden to take action to end period poverty.” The Menstrual Equity for All Act, reintroduced by Rep. Meng in March 2019, aims to ensure U.S. foreign assistance incorporates principles of menstrual equity. Although the Menstrual Equity for All Act did not progress any further, it conveys an important message that “Menstrual equity is the issue of ensuring equitable access to menstrual products. One’s ability to access and afford these products is a basic need and a health care right; it is a human right.”

Looking Ahead

Poverty and humanitarian crises can limit women’s and girls’ access to culturally appropriate, high-quality menstrual supplies and safe, private washing facilities. Period poverty in Afghanistan widens the gender gap, which is a result of extreme poverty and stigma. This can harm those who menstruate due to a lack of education, adequate facilities and clean water.

Access to menstrual education and products to properly manage menstruation empowers Afghan girls and women. In turn, girls and women are able to rise out of poverty as they continue their daily lives without disruption and pursue education and employment.

– Grace Watson
Photo: Flickr

Afghanistan_economy Afghanistan is a nation with a turbulent history. It is a nation embattled as a result of the many conflicts that have transpired within its borders. In recent years, Afghanistan has sustained a steady disfiguration of its landscape as a result of the protracted War on Terror, along with the various terrorist activities in the nation which several militaries, the North American Treaty Organization (NATO) most notably among them, have sought to suppress. Before the War on Terror, Afghanistan started to incur devastating losses in a war with the Soviet Union from 1979 to 1989, during which over one million Afghanis were killed. Afghanistan was again challenged by a brutal civil war in the 1990s in which extensive violence led to more casualties and internally displaced persons. Conflict in Afghanistan has thus resulted in enduring regional instability over the past 35 years, much to the detriment of national infrastructure improvement. Consequently, economic development has been difficult to implement as well as sustain. Afghanistan performs poorly in many areas considered benchmarks of human development. On the actual human development index, Afghanistan ranks 172nd in the world out of the 187 countries that were surveyed. The performance of the nation’s economy is consistent with the assertions of its human development index ranking. The gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in Afghanistan is $1,399 and is ranked 161st in the world by the World Bank. The country’s literacy rate is also among the lowest in the world at 28.1%. In spite of Afghanistan’s persisting limitations, it has seen significant progress over the course of the past decade. Enrollment in Afghanistan’s schools has increased to nearly eight million from its 2002 total of just one million. Access to basic health resources increased from 9% to 60% between 2003 and 2012, and the number of healthcare facilities saw an increase of over 100% in the same period. Significant improvements were observed in the country’s energy infrastructure as well. Since 2004, the number of Afghani homes with access to grid power increased from 6% to 25%. As a result of investment in these areas, especially in the case of healthcare, both employment and the economy at-large have performed well and experienced steady growth. For the entirety of the War on Terror, total GDP exhibited average growth of 9.2% topping out at 11.8% in 2012 as a result of advantageous weather conditions and, as a result, a booming agricultural sector. The agricultural sector in Afghanistan, which constitutes over 70% of the country’s economy, has been aided by the administration of the World Bank’s National Solidarity Program. The National Solidarity Program has also led to the creation of 34,000 Community Development Councils. Many of these councils have garnered further investment from the World Bank totaling $1.12 billion, funding thousands of projects that these local collectives have sought to introduce. With the complete withdrawal of NATO security forces from Afghanistan set to take place in 2014, the economic outlook for the country is riddled with unresolved security concerns. Since 2001, the security apparatus in Afghanistan has been comprised almost exclusively of foreign troops, and their withdrawal is anticipated to have potentially severe implications for future development efforts. Contrastingly, in yet another period of war, Afghanistan has seen unprecedented growth of infrastructure considered necessary for poverty-reduction. In spite of security concerns that will likely take a long time to address, there is certainly cause to be optimistic about the progress that has been forged in Afghanistan since 2002. – Benjamin O’Brien Sources: Transparency International, World Bank Photo: Able2know

U.S. involvement in Afghanistan
The roller coaster ride of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan continues to twist and turn even as it nears its end. If security issues and a Taliban insurgency are not put in check, the withdrawal of U.S. troops could cause getting off of that symbolic rollercoaster to be even bumpier and more dangerous than the rocky ride itself.

The Taliban, in the short term, are not expected to take over the country, Afghan security forces, standing at 350,000, greatly outnumber the current 84,000 international troops deployed in the region.

Even as international troops are deployed to less than one fifth of their present number, Afghan’s provincial capitals are mightily defended. The largest city in Afghanistan’s south, Kandahar, has seen attacks by insurgents drop in half since 2011 at the high point of influence by American troops.

So, what is there to worry about?

Impending elections and the vulnerability of small outlying outposts torment the collective conscious of Afghan civilians. Smaller districts experiencing a pullback of international troops have described in increase in attacks by the Taliban. Residents fear a takeover by these insurgent forces in the coming years of political transition and global extraction.

Wheat in some districts rose to numerous times its normal price as a result of roadblocks and other siege methods used by insurgents. In these cases, the Taliban has surrounded some towns and cut off supplies while prohibiting police and soldiers to access medical attention for simple injuries or illnesses, leaving them to die from preventable causes.

Upcoming elections mean Afghan president Hamid Karzai, accused of fraternizing with the Taliban enemy, will be stepping down. Fraud, corruption and security issues are not absent from the problems anticipated in the election process. It is possible to stop these complications from having substantial impact on the legitimacy of the election as a whole, yet there must be guidelines and rules to keep the situation in check.

It would be sophomoric to assume these rules would completely resolve extreme mistrust and conflict between candidates and their parties, and as such the international community has been advised to keep this in mind. The concept of an internationally mandated mediator is on the table, and could possibly ease tensions to some degree. Some even surmise that the election process may help advance peace talks with the Taliban.

Security issues with U.S. involvement in Afghanistan

U. S. involvement in Afghanistan has been, some may say, far too long. Reducing troop numbers and assistance levels is a necessary step to eventual withdrawal from the country.

Yet how much security remains necessary is under debate.

In order for a few NATO troops to remain in the country to advise and help administer the transitional process, Afghanistan and the U.S. need to sign a bilateral security agreement. Karzai is hesitant in this regard, having refused to sign the document multiple times.

Self sufficiency and independent governance in a secure and prosperous environment are among many hopeful goals the international community sets for Afghanistan’s future. These goals are not unachievable. It just may take some time, and some awareness of the country’s situation, to get there.

-Jaclyn Stutz 

Sources: The New York Times
Photo: DC Clothesline

The rights and legal protection of women in Afghanistan are in jeopardy. Since July 2013, four female police officers have been killed; in addition, there have been multiple assassination and kidnapping attacks against female members of parliament. Recent allegations that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been fraternizing with the Taliban, a fundamentalist group that does not believe women should be allowed outside of the home; the knowledge that various candidates for the upcoming April presidential election share this view does not help allay fears.

A hopeful turn of events came on February 17, when Karzai demanded that a proposed law return to the ministry of justice to be amended. The law would have essentially muted claims of domestic violence and forced or child marriages by barring judicial authorities from questioning the defendant’s relatives. While the law had already passed in both houses of parliament, international campaigns for women’s rights highly criticized the legislation as a “major setback for women’s rights.”

Whether or not the amendment will fully mend the issue at hand is questionable. Hamid Karzai’s spokeswoman, Adela Raz, has not specified the alterations being discussed for the law, and Heather Barr of Human Rights Watched asserted that the law possesses two large problems; however, the government is only fixing one so far. The fact that changes are being considered, however, is reason enough for some to feel optimistic.

According to a December 2013 United Nations report, violence against women increased by 28 percent. The original format of the law, in accordance with fundamentalist beliefs, signaled to some a return of the Taliban to power. This contemplation of a major flip in criminal law shows that advocacy is not dead. Activists and diplomats, both domestically in Afghanistan and internationally, launched a dynamic campaign against the legislation as soon as its details were made public.

Some may claim that Karzai was slow to act on behalf of those opposing the law. But in the face of sluggish bureaucratic formalities and pressure from the Taliban, Karzai did not fail to act. There is hope yet for women’s rights in Afghanistan, and all over the world.

– Jaclyn Stutz

Sources: Al Arabiya, Al Jazeera, The Guardian
Photo: New York Times

Afghanistan has appointed a new police chief, and her name is Jamila.

Colonel Jamila Bayaz, Afghanistan’s first female police chief, was appointed on January 14. She’ll head up the first District of Kabul, one of the most important parts of Afghanistan’s capital city.

“This is a chance not just for me, but for the women of Afghanistan,” the 50 year-old mother of five told NBC News.

The announcement is a triumph for the violence-torn country where most girls do not go to school for more than six years.

Based on recent gender equality rankings, statistics on maternal mortality rate and the high number of attacks on girls’ schools, Amnesty International has called Afghanistan one of the worst countries in which to be a woman.

Concerning female police officers, there are only between 1,500 and 2,000 total throughout the entire country- representing less than one percent of Afghanistan’s police force. Unsurprisingly, they serve mainly in gender and administrative units.

Bayaz is the first female officer to be promoted to such a senior rank, to which she has said “I will not waste it. I will prove I can handle this burden.”

Suggesting steadfast commitment to her newfound role, Bayaz has said she only took the job after being granted “full authority.”

“Before this post,” she said, “I was offered a similar one but I refused to accept it because I told them I would not accept a symbolic job.” Bayaz had previously worked in the investigative branch in the Kabul police headquarters.

Kabul’s provincial police chief, Major General Mohammad Zahir, applauded Bayaz’s appointment, calling it a “wise step” taken by the interior ministry. He added, during the small ceremony for the occasion held at her police station, that “women are capable of working like men.”

Sediq Sediqi, a spokesperson for the Interior Ministry, called Bayaz’s appointment a first step in promoting women within police ranks: “We will see a female provincial police chief in the near future,” he claimed.

Supporting such a notion is the announcement by the Interior Ministry that it planned to increase the number of female officers to 10,000 by the end of the year, with an intention to continue to promote more women up the ranks.

On her safety, Bayaz said “My children are worrying about me, but I am optimistic that I will stay safe.”

Her children’s concerns are not unfounded. In 2013 alone, amid rampant gender-based violence throughout the country, unknown attackers killed two senior female police officers in the southern province of Helmand.

Despite all the dangers and the long road ahead for women in Afghanistan, Bayaz’s tone was one of gratitude.

“I want to thank America and the international community for all of their help and support. I would not be here today if it weren’t for all their assistance,” she said.

Kelley Calkins

Sources: Amnesty International, Al Jazeera, Global Post, NBC News
Photo: Powervrouwen