Will aid for Afghanistan strengthen the Taliban?

The United Nations has hosted a donor conference for Afghanistan at a time when the country’s new rulers are desperately looking for international recognition of their Islamist regime.

The Monday meeting, which was held in Geneva, raised more than $1 billion (€850 million) to keep afloat aid programs in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan, ravaged by decades-long wars, had already been facing a humanitarian crisis long before the Taliban took over the country on August 15. But the Islamist capture of the state has worsened the situation, with the international community remaining unsure of how to help Afghans without legitimizing the militant group.

Many countries that were willing to provide aid have increasingly expressed hesitation due to concerns about how funds will be spent with the Taliban in power.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who participated in the international donor conference, said it was up to the international community to “take responsibility” for the people in Afghanistan, but that aid agencies need “proper access” and aid workers had to be able to carry out their work “without fear of intimidation, tyranny or restrictions by the Taliban.”

Watch video 03:52 ‘We are on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe’

‘No risk of legitimizing the regime’

Ahmadi Saidi, a former Afghan diplomat, told DW he was sure the pledged funding won’t end up with the Taliban.

“It is humanitarian aid, which will be used mostly by the UN and nongovernmental organizations,” he said.

“The money will not be used by the Taliban; therefore, there is no risk of legitimizing the regime,” he added.

Suraya Dalil, the director of the WHO’s primary health care program, also believes the aid money will not be handed over to the Taliban. “It will be managed by the UN and aid organizations and will be spent to provide food and medicine to internally displaced Afghans,” she told DW.

Dalil said that most participants at the Geneva conference slammed the Taliban’s attitude toward women.

“Providing humanitarian aid to Afghanistan does not mean that the international community is recognizing the Taliban,” she believes.

It is, however, unclear how aid agencies and their workers will operate in the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. Despite assurances that international funding won’t go to the Taliban, the Islamists can still monitor and exert influence over aid agencies and humanitarian workers.

Afghanistan: Altered life under the Taliban It’s a man’s world Photos and videos emerging from Afghanistan show bustling activity returning to the streets of cities — as at this restaurant in Herat, where customers are being welcomed back. But there is one conspicuous difference from before: At the tables are men and men alone, often wearing the traditional knee-long tunic. Women have become a rarity in the cityscape.

Afghanistan: Altered life under the Taliban Keep them separated A curtain divides these students at a private university in Kabul. Gender separation is now the official policy here — and that is likely to spread. “Co-education contradicts the principles of Islam as well as national values, customs and traditions,” said Abdul Baghi Hakkani, the incoming minister for higher education, in Kabul.

Afghanistan: Altered life under the Taliban Lost freedoms Like for these women, on their way to a mosque in Herat — after 20 years of allied forces holding the Taliban at bay, freedoms won by women have been quickly erased. Even sports will be off-limits for female players, said Ahmadullah Wasik, deputy head of the Taliban’s Cultural Commission.

Afghanistan: Altered life under the Taliban Omnipresent checkpoints Street scenes are also dominated by Taliban checkpoints. As heavily armed men intimidate the populace, people seek to blend in. Western-style clothing is becoming ever rarer — and the sight of heavily armed soldiers, more common.

Afghanistan: Altered life under the Taliban Waiting for work Male day laborers sit at the roadside in Kabul, awaiting a job offer. Afghanistan, already in a precarious economic situation before the Taliban takeover, is now teetering on economic collapse, with unemployment ballooning. The United Nations has said that “universal poverty” threatens to overtake the country within a year. That would be a poverty rate of around 98%, compared to 72% currently.

Afghanistan: Altered life under the Taliban Not going down without a fight Afghan women, despite being brutally suppressed, continue to demand their right to education, work and equal rights. But peaceful protests are being met with escalating violence, the UN human rights office warns. The radical Islamists have used batons, whips and live ammunition against protesters, with at least four killings and many more beatings.

Afghanistan: Altered life under the Taliban The ‘pro’ side These women, on the other hand, say they are happy with the new order. Escorted by official security, they march the streets claiming full satisfaction with the attitudes and behavior of the Taliban. Such women say those fleeing the country do not represent them and believe that the Islamist rules ensure their safety.

Afghanistan: Altered life under the Taliban Aligning course The pro-Taliban demonstration included invitations for journalists, in contrast to anti-Taliban protests. At the latter, journalists report having been intimidated or even abused. It’s a clear sign of the changed times — particularly for women. Author: Claudia Dehn, Sonya Angelica Diehn

Recognition through aid?

Countries like Pakistan and China are urging the international community to accept the “new reality” in Afghanistan and support the new rulers.

“The world must recognize that new reality and engage with it. Weigh your options [and decide] what is the best way forward,” Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said at a press conference in Islamabad on Friday, along with his Spanish counterpart Jose Manuel Albares.

“In my view, the best way forward is international engagement as opposed to international isolation,” he added.

The Chinese government recently promised the new Afghan government emergency humanitarian aid and vaccines worth 200 million yuan (€26 million, $30 million).

“Afghanistan belongs to the Afghan people, and its future should be in the hands of its own people,” Foreign Minister Wang Yi was quoted as saying in Tianjin. “The Afghan people now have an important opportunity at national stability and development.”

Abdul Satar Sadat, a Kabul-based security expert, says that countries like Iran, China and Turkey have kept their diplomatic presence in Kabul, which is tantamount to “a silent recognition of the Taliban government.”

Apart from maintaining diplomatic ties with the Taliban’s Afghanistan, these countries are also using financial aid to legitimize and strengthen the regime.

Former Afghan diplomat Ahmadi Saidi believes that working with the Taliban government will be “challenging” for any country because many Taliban ministers and high-ranking officials are still on the UN blacklist.

Watch video 04:12 Caritas Afghanistan director: Aid agencies ‘simply cannot work’ due to cash issues

Worsening humanitarian crisis

Despite the politics around aid, it remains a fact that Afghanistan is facing a massive humanitarian crisis, and the international community cannot turn a blind eye to the plight of the Afghan people.

“International funding for Afghanistan has dried out in the past few weeks. Most of the private banks are not fully operational and people cannot withdraw money,” Khan Jan Alokozai, a member of Afghanistan’s chamber of commerce, told DW.

Alokozai says poverty is rising in the country. The UN recently reported that Afghanistan is on the brink of “universal poverty,” and could face poverty rates of 97% to 98% within a year, compared to 72% currently.

Sayed Masood, a lecturer at the University of Kabul, says the current situation in Afghanistan is not only a result of the Taliban takeover. “It was already bad. The much-needed aid will be helpful, but it will not solve Afghanistan’s financial problems,” he told DW.

“It is important that the funding goes to the right people. It should not be wasted as happened in the past.”