Afghanistan

Afghanistan: Commitment to development is key to return of internally displaced people

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Four years after the fall of the Taleban, an estimated 153,000 people remain displaced in Afghanistan, with the largest concentration in the south of the country near Kandahar. While drought accounts for the displacement of the largest group of internally displaced people (IDPs), mainly Kuchi nomads, thousands of Pashtuns are waiting for the political and economic situation to stabilise in the north and west. Whereas the same assistance is being provided to all IDP groups during displacement, return strategies differ for each group.
Food insecurity persists in large parts of Afghanistan, particularly in rural areas where the absorption capacity for returnees continues to be stretched. In an incessantly tense security environment, particularly in the south and east, with increasing attacks by insurgents on representatives of the international community and national entities, the Afghan government is making an effort to assert its sovereignty; this is reflected in the setting up of numerous assistance and development programmes. The integration of IDP assistance and return programmes into long-term development projects has been mostly carried out and implementation now depends largely on funding.

Real improvement for the Afghan population, however, still needs to manifest itself. Many of the estimated 460,000 IDPs who have returned since the end of 2001 find reintegration difficult or impossible, mostly due to unresolved property disputes and the difficulties of earning a stable income. Renewed displacement due to economic hardship is not taken into account in official IDP figures.

While promoting returns of Afghan refugees from Iran and Pakistan, governments and international organisations should keep in mind the fragile absorption capacity within Afghanistan. One clear sign of commitment to the long-term peace and stability of the country would be adequate funding of assistance, capacity-building and development programmes. The recent increase in violence shows clearly that the international community must follow up on its promises to reconstruct the war-torn country if it wants to avoid renewed displacement.

Background

Two groups of ethnic Pashtuns have been particularly affected by internal displacement in Afghanistan since 2001: the Kuchi, a nomadic group from the Regis-tan desert and other areas, and Pashtuns displaced from the north-west. The latter, widely associated with the previous Tali-ban regime, fled harassment and human rights violations in the northern regions after the overthrow of the Taleban by a US-led coalition in late 2001. The Kuchi are pastoralists who were forced to abandon their way of life when they lost their livestock in a year-long drought. They constitute the largest single group of displaced people in Afghanistan.

Following the defeat of the Taleban, an interim government headed by President Hamid Karzai was established; presidential elections in October 2004 confirmed him in his position. As a next step in the democratisation process, parliamentary elections were held in September 2005. While these elections are a significant step towards stabilising the country, important problems of security and legitimacy persist.

The US-led coalition has failed to date to provide a secure environment in its main areas of operation in the east and south. Those areas are to a large extent controlled by powerful commanders and warlords fighting for the control of territories and resources. In addition, continued attacks by so-called anti-government elements -- mainly groups reportedly linked to the Taleban -- have created a climate of lawlessness and insecurity throughout those parts of the country. While this has limited return and reintegration of IDPs and refugees, no significant new displacement was recorded in 2005.

While President Karzai demonstrated renewed national self-assurance directly after the September 2005 parliamentary elections, the government remains largely dependent on the financial and military backing of Western countries (Reuters, 20 September 2005). During 2005, attacks by anti-government elements have continued to increase. Many were claimed by Taleban fighters who also vowed continued violence after the election (Reuters, 21 September 2005). Some observers believe that the Taleban are trying to create a situation similar to that in Iraq and to push out the international military coalition (SAMN, 9 November 2005). Many also recognise that the growing dissatisfaction of the Afghan population with the continued insecurity and the slow advance of the reconstruction process could lead to renewed radi-calisation of forces within the country and turn into aggression against the international presence, in particular troops and aid organisations (FAST update, July 2005; AP, 21 February 2005)

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