Foreign Aid efforts in AfghanistanAfghanistan’s evolution after two gruesome decades of immense adversity has caught the attention of countries all over the world. The South Asian nation has made breakthroughs in infrastructure, getting millions of girls in school and improving community development. Nonetheless, foreign aid efforts in Afghanistan are still crucial for the further development of the country.

Foreign Aid Skepticism and COVID-19

The world wants to see Afghanistan succeed, but despite willing donors, definitive complications hinder the level of aid that Afghanistan is severely reliant on. The imminent withdrawal of U.S. troops has caused violence from the Taliban to spike while pressures of long-awaited peace talks between the two powers unfold, making donors wary of sending money that could be wasted due to corruption based on past events.

On top of that, COVID-19 is running rampant and bruising economies all over the world, cutting aid efforts in half compared to previous years.

Afghanistan’s rooted systematic issues will continue to undermine any reconstruction and development efforts unless a clear and mindful plan is made that addresses the topical concerns affecting the nation and motions toward this kind of growth are beginning to come to fruition. There are several important facts to note about foreign aid efforts in Afghanistan.

Cuts to US Forces Links to Cuts Toward Aid

To end the United States’ longest war, the Pentagon announced that a cut to U.S. forces in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 will be underway by mid-January 2021. This decision has already sparked vigilance and tensions between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban, as there is a great concern that the Taliban will feel invited to expand its influence and interfere with hopes of peace and progress. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, urges that Afghans are in “acute need” of humanitarian support, stating that nearly 300,000 Afghans have been displaced by conflict in 2020.

Deadly attacks on Afghan forces show the Taliban’s intentions during a time where peace talks are being strained after months of stagnance and it has made donors feel uneasy about whether the Taliban could abuse any funding meant for aid. Even amongst suspicions, foreign donors like Germany are still showing support, urging the international community “not to turn their backs on Afghanistan.”

Ensuring Prosperity is an International Effort

After 19 years of promised reforms and attempts to grow the economy after the U.S. ousted the Taliban in 2001, Afghanistan will still be reliant on international support for the foreseeable future. Ministers from about 70 countries and officials from humanitarian organizations have pledged a total of $12 billion to the war-torn country over the next four years, at Afghanistan’s international donor conference held on Nov. 23 and 24 of 2020.

Germany has pledged $510 million in civilian assistance, the United Kingdom pledged $227 million in civilian and food aid, Norway pledged $72 million in development assistance and humanitarian aid and the United States pledged $600 million in civilian aid but made half of it conditional on the progress of Taliban peace talks. The U.S. was not alone in donating with specific conditions. All donors stressed that aid would only come as long as Afghanistan shows that it is committed to the peace process and that all parties to the Afghan conflict must respect human rights.

COVID-19 Causes Donation Restraints

Afghanistan is one of many countries taking an economic plunge due to COVID-19. The poverty level jumped from 54% last year to 70% during the pandemic, with more than half the population living on $1.14 a day, despite the billions of dollars devoted to the country over the last two decades.

A global pandemic combined with fragile circumstances emphasizes the need for foreign aid in Afghanistan, but with the heavy burden of COVID-19, most international donors have made significant restrictions on how much they can give. At the last donor conference in 2016, countries pledged a total of $15.2 billion for the years 2017-2020 compared to the $12 billion for 2021-2024.

Past Corruption is Obstructing Development

The U.S. government’s independent oversight authority on Afghan reconstruction, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), reported on October 20, 2021, that $19 billion of the total $63 billion that the U.S. has spent on Afghanistan’s reconstruction since 2002 was lost to waste, fraud and abuse.

With corruption forming such a stain on Afghanistan’s reputation and leaving remnants of distrust amongst potential donors, it is apparent why obtaining the necessary aid for growth and development has been such a hindrance for the war-torn country. That is why it is vital to ensure that future investments being made toward reconstruction are not lost and exploited.

Prospects for Peace

The Afghan government and the Taliban have endured a three-month impasse regarding peace talks that were finally brought to a close on November 2, 2020. The Afghan government and the Taliban are now expected to implement an agenda on how they can be partners in developmental changes and advancing realistic and sustainable peace plans.

As the world carefully watches the peace talks unfold, there is hope for a new start. Afghanistan is ready to transform into what it has envisioned for decades, and with realistic compromises set in place, there is an assurance that donors and the international community will feel less wary about foreign aid efforts in Afghanistan.

– Alyssa McGrail
Photo: Flickr

Female Peacekeepers
Nearly 16 years ago, in response to the disproportionate amount of violence against women in countries enduring post-war conflicts, the U.N. adopted resolution 1325. The resolution targets the issue that when countries that have achieved reform, the post-war conflicts frequently bring more violence, specifically more violence toward women.

The U.N. Security Council resolution 1325 calls for the inclusion of women in all efforts maintaining and promoting peace and security. Even though the likelihood of achieving peace increases when female peacekeepers are included in the discussion, women living in countries that are at war often remain ignored.

Research has confirmed that women are a significant influence in promoting peace. Also, humanitarian efforts are more effective with women’s participation. The inclusion of female peacekeepers yields stronger protection efforts for U.N. peacekeepers, contributes to the implementation of peace talks, and accelerates economic recovery.

Experience has shown the inclusion of women in U.N. peacekeeping missions elicits more trust in communities and result in peace operations that are more customarily fit to a communities’ protection needs. Peace negotiations recommended by women are more likely to be accepted and retained.

However, women in countries where terrorism and extremism are prevalent face disparity, and the fragile state contexts affect their rights. Women often are forced into marriage, forced to engage in sexually based crimes prohibited to get an education or get a job or even engage in public life.

Despite the strides made by the U.N. to integrate women into the peace-building agenda to combat these problems, there has not been much progress since the resolution was first adopted by countries in 2000. There have been reports of incidents wherein U.N. peacekeepers preserved sexual violence and stood by as women were raped. The inclusion of women in peacekeeping operations could diminish the chances of this occurring.

In order to better serve women, the individuals most affected by post-war conflicts, there must be women within the peacekeeping force. Having female peacekeepers who can understand the difficulties and threats women face will better enable the effort to ensure safety. Thus, enforcing a concrete number of women to be included in peace operations is a way to hold U.N. peacekeeping operations accountable.

Although war impacts all, women can address this issue and improve conditions for women more so than men, yet women continue to be excluded from peace talks. 55 countries have adopted national strategies to implement the resolution, and an additional 10 have pledged to do so.

It is still up in the air whether these countries’ political wills for the inclusion of women in peace talks be translated into political action. In order for U.N. peacekeepers to actually fulfill their political wills, it would be accommodating for them to provide a target number of female peacekeepers to include in their peacekeeping operations.

Kayla Mehl

Photo: Flickr

On August 11, John Kerry released a statement expressing his disappointment regarding the lack of progress the peace talks in South Sudan are making. Even though the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and the Government of South Sudan promised to take 60 days to form a transitional government. The Inter-Governmental Authority on Development was the mediator of the agreement; however, neither side has approached the peace talks with the level of seriousness they deserve.

The Peace Talks in June were stalled between president Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar. BBC reports that 1.5 million people have been displaced since the fighting began and more than seven million people are currently at risk for both disease and hunger. Moreover, the country is very close to forcing people to live in a debilitating famine because the constant fighting between the two parties prevents farmers from taking care of their crops and animals so that they can make a living and provide food for their communities.

Kerry explained that stalling the peace talks only increases the number of deaths and in his statement, explained that “these killings further undermine the enormous humanitarian response needed to support the 3.9 million South Sudanese who are in desperate need of life-saving food assistance and who continue to live in fear of violence.”

The Head of Special Envoys for South Sudan, Peace Mediation, Seymour Mesfin told the Standard Digital News that he believed that the current talks were making progress and stated that “there is reduced intensity of hostility and release of detainees by the government.”

Even when the talks resumed, however, the violence in the area was still proving to be very unstable and seems to suggest otherwise. In the town of Bunj, in Maban County, Upper Nile State, a humanitarian worker was killed in the midst of a confrontation between deserting soldiers and soldiers from a local militia.

Jordyn Horowitz

Sources: BBC News, Standard Digital, U.S. Department of State
Photo: BBC News

Although the Oslo Accord was designed to facilitate the peace negotiations in the Middle East between Israel and Palestine under the supervision of the UN, some are starting to believe that the whole process will ultimately result in failure due to two decades of no deals being reached.

In an Al Jazeera article, Mairav Zonszein said that despite U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s goal to help both sides reach an agreement, Israel appears to be controlling the region anyway.

“Prospects for negotiating a two-state solution to conclude the Oslo peace process, launched in 1993, appear more remote than they were 21 years ago,” said Zonszein. “The difference, perhaps, may be in the balance of pressure operating on both sides then compared with now.”

According to Zonszein, Israel considers itself a sovereign nation and dominates the lives of all Palestinians who live under its occupation. In fact, Israel is so powerful that even Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of Palestine, is required to seek permission to leave the West Bank.

While the Palestinians (and the international community, including the U.S.) demand that the boundaries drafted in 1967 should be considered by Israel to grant statehood to Palestine, Israel continues to expand settlements beyond those boundaries.

“The original premise of the Oslo Accord was that a decades-old conflict could be resolved through bilateral negotiations in a framework based on relevant UN resolutions, out of the understanding that is must be a win-win situation for both sides,” Zonszein argued.

However, the only winner in the region turned out to be Israel. After realizing that the talks between Israel and Palestine are going nowhere, Kerry proposed a new idea to resolve yet another of the many problems the two sides have with each other.

“In a last-ditch effort to stop Israel reneging on a promise to release a final batch of Palestinian prisoners, the U.S. briefly threw in possibly the biggest bargaining chip in its hand: the release of Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard,” said Jonathan Cook in a Counterpunch article.

Cook argues that both Israel and the U.S. have been involved in negotiations that did nothing but distract the true developments within the region.

Cook also references Richard Falk, professor emeritus in international law at Princeton University, who claims that the Israeli policies were created to ethnically cleanse the Palestinians from their own homeland.

This is the reason the Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel as an official Jewish state in the first place.

Thus, “if negotiations collapse, it should be clear that, while both sides were supposed to be talking, one side – Israel – was vigorously and unilaterally acting to further its goals,” Cook said.

At this point, only time will tell whether or not the Israelis and Palestinians will one day reach a deal that has already been delayed by two decades.

– Juan Campos

Sources: Al Jazeera, CounterPunch
Photo: Al Jazeera

A UN spokesperson has confirmed that Iran was not invited to the first round of the Syrian peace talks due to take place in Switzerland.  As it stands, invitations to participate in peace talks are usually extended by the initiating countries. In this case, Russia and the United States have remained at odds about Iran’s role in the talks.

Syria has been facing an increasingly bleak humanitarian crisis as the civil war between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and rebel forces. Since the violent outbreak in 2011, more than 100,000 Syrian civilians have been killed while millions more have sought refuge in neighboring countries to escape the escalating violence and increasing poverty. With no end of the civil war in sight, neighboring countries have expressed their concerns about taking refugees without more aid from other countries or action taken to end the violence.

The ultimate goal the United States hopes to reach in the peace talks involves transitioning president Bashar al-Assad out of power. The plan doesn’t say that al-Assad must leave, something which must come as a relief since al-Assad stated that while he will send a representative to the talks, he will not voluntarily leave office.

As it is, though the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is actually in favor of inviting Iran to the first round, the United States chose to offer Iran a role in the less official ‘second round’ talks. Iran immediately rejected this offer saying that, “suggesting such an arrangement would not respect the country’s honor,” which makes sense since Iran is Syria’s neighbor and ally. However, according to US Secretary of State, John Kerry, Iran opposes the proposed plan of a transitional Syrian government.

All in all, UN officials are hopeful that issues involving Iran’s participation can be resolved in a preliminary meeting between the initiating countries. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are scheduled to meet on January 13.

Colleen Eckvahl

Sources: Al Jazeera, Washington Post
Photo: Noisy Room