InterAction Member Activity Report - Afghanistan

Originally published


A Guide to Humanitarian and Development Efforts of InterAction Member Agencies in Afghanistan
Background Summary

After twenty years of war, including a decade of Soviet occupation and ensuing civil strife, Afghanistan is in shambles. The protracted and widespread conflict plus a string of natural disasters have left the country deeply mired in a prolonged humanitarian crisis. For the past two decades, Afghans have remained the single largest population of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the world. Afghanistan has consistently ranked at the very bottom of key measures of welfare and development.

Afghanistan has a turbulent history that dates back to Alexander the Great and subsequent invasions by the Scythians, White Huns, and Turks. The Arab invasion of 642 introduced Islam to the region. For the next 11 centuries, Afghanistan went back and forth between Persian, Turkic and Mongol rule. In 1747 Ahmad Shah Durrani, a Pashtun, was elected King and began a process of consolidation that led to the formation of what is today known as Afghanistan. In the 19th century, Afghanistan was the scene of a clash between the expanding British and Russian empires that culminated in two Anglo-Afghan wars. The British relinquished control following the Third Anglo-Afghan war in 1919. There was a period of reform and modernization, followed by renewed turbulence in 1929. After the assassination of King Nadir Shah in 1933, Mohammed Zahir Shah ascended to the throne and reigned over a period of relative calm until 1973. In that year, Zahir was exiled in a successful military coup led by his former PM, Sardar Mohammad Daoud. A severe drought coupled with an economic downturn and charges of royal corruption set the conditions for the overthrow.

Although the adoption of a liberal constitution during Zahir's "experiment in democracy" in the mid 1960s had failed to produce lasting reforms, it created room for the growth of political parties, including the communist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) and other extreme movements on both the right and left. Like his predecessor, Daoud was unsuccessful in quelling political instability, and in 1978 the PDPA launched a bloody coup that resulted in his overthrow and murder. A growing insurgency against the new government, coupled with mounting tension between the client regime in Kabul and its sponsors in Moscow, prompted the former Soviet Union to invade in 1979. These events sparked an exodus of refugees into the neighboring countries of Pakistan and Iran, which at its peak received a combined total of six million Afghans. Opposition to the communist regime was strong, and the resistance movement, backed by the U.S. and with support from exiled Afghans, launched an armed campaign against Soviet occupation that turned Afghanistan into a major Cold War battleground. The Muslim resistance fighters, known as Mujahideen, exacted a high price from occupying forces throughout the 1980s and eventually forced the Soviet Union to withdraw. Although the 1988 Geneva Accords led to the full withdrawal of Soviet troops by 1989, civil war continued and the communist regime was left in power until April 1992, when it was overthrown by the Mujahideen. Although Afghan refugees welcomed the Mujahideen victory and a significant number of them returned home that year, stability remained elusive and Afghanistan once again descended into anarchy.

In 1994, the Taliban, an extremist Islamic movement, emerged as a new force with the capture of Kandahar. Reacting to insufficient Pashtun representation in the Kabul government and the prevalence of warlordism and chaos around the country, the Taliban sought to restore order by removing warlords from power and imposing strict Islamic rule. In September 1996, the Taliban seized control of Kabul while continuing to fight a bitter war against opposition forces, including those led by Abdul Rashid Dostum and Ahmad Shah Masood in northeastern Afghanistan. The regime enforced severe religious policies, and particularly restricted women's and girls' access to health care, employment and education. The Taliban also provided a safe haven for Saudi-born extremist Usama bin Laden, whom the U.S. held responsible for the bombing of its embassies in Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam in 1998.

The situation was compounded following the September 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. and the ensuing international military action. The U.S. believed Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda terrorist organization were behind the attacks and sought international support for a military campaign against him and his Taliban supporters. Many Afghans sought refuge in neighboring countries after coalition air strikes began in October 2001. International staff of aid agencies were expelled, complicating the delivery of humanitarian assistance. After eight weeks of war, the regime was toppled by coalition forces and allied Afghan factions, surrendering its final stronghold, Kandahar, on December 7. A new government, headed by Pashtun leader Hamid Karzai, was inaugurated in Kabul on December 22, 2001. The Afghan Interim Authority will serve for six months until the establishment of a broad-based transitional government to lead Afghanistan until democratic elections can be held.

The prolonged humanitarian crisis precipitated by chronic conflict was exacerbated in recent years by a string of natural disasters, including earthquakes, floods, and the worst drought to hit Afghanistan in more than three decades. The drought dried up key rivers and has dramatically diminished cereal yield. Food insecurity and water shortages have had a significant impact on health, especially for women and children. With growing poverty and hunger, reliance on opium poppy as a source of income increased. Afghanistan remains the world's largest producer of illicit opium. Years of conflict have also turned Afghanistan into one of the world's most heavily mined countries, and mines continue to pose a great danger to civilians.

As Afghanistan begins to emerge from decades of war, isolation and economic stagnation, the country faces a monumental challenge. Civil strife, disasters and the repressive rule of the Taliban regime have left the country impoverished and without a functioning government, adequate infrastructure or essential social services. Nearly one million people remain internally displaced. With winter over and military action winding down, aid agencies are preparing for the return of up to 800,000 refugees and the resettlement of 400,000 internally displaced people this summer. Although the security situation has improved somewhat in Kabul with the deployment of an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) since January, widespread insecurity and the lack of effective protection continue to present major challenges for aid workers throughout Afghanistan. As the Interim Authority struggles to restore order to a country that has not known peace in over a generation, it will require a massive commitment from the international community for relief, reconstruction, and development assistance. The organizations listed in this report are a part of that effort.

Report Summary

This report offers international agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the media and the public an overview of the humanitarian and development assistance being provided to the people of Afghanistan by InterAction member agencies.

Twenty-nine member organizations reported their current or planned relief and development operations in Afghanistan and in neighboring countries with Afghan refugees. The programs address a broad range of sectors, including: air transportation; agriculture and food security; disaster and emergency relief; education and training; gender and women issues; health care and medical training; human rights; peace and conflict resolution; infrastructure rehabilitation; landmine clearance; refugee and IDP protection and assistance; rural development; and water and sanitation.

These activities take place in a number of locations, including Kabul, Kandahar, Jalalabad, Mazar-e Sharif, Herat, Kunduz, Takhar, Badakhshan, Bamiyan, Logar, Paktia, and Nangahar in Afghanistan and in Islamabad, Quetta, Peshawar, and Chaman in Pakistan.

The agencies in this report have presented various objectives for their programs in and around Afghanistan. Many deal with addressing the immediate needs of the refugee/IDP population through the distribution of food and non-food supplies, provision of health care services, etc. Some agencies focus on particularly vulnerable populations, such as women and children. Other common themes among program objectives include education, agriculture and infrastructure rehabilitation.

Many of the agencies in this report work with the support of, or in coordination with, local and international partners. Some of the organizations mentioned are: UNHCR, WFP, UNICEF, WHO, ICRC, and relevant ministries within the Afghan Interim Authority.

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