Afghanistan: N.G.O.'s Question New Government Directive on Armed Escorts

N.G.O.'s fear armed escorts will make them legitimate targets for antigovernment elements. (Photo: Masoud Popalzai / IRIN)

Afghanistan's Ministry of Interior has ordered Afghan security forces not to allow foreign aid workers to travel outside Kabul without an armed escort, a government official told IRIN.

The directive has been issued as an extra security measure for international nongovernmental organization (N.G.O.) staff involved in relief and development activities after a number of foreign aid workers were abducted by Taliban insurgents.

On July 19, 23 South Koreans who had come to Afghanistan for humanitarian assistance were kidnapped in the volatile Ghazni province.

On July 17, two German and three Afghan aid workers were abducted in Wardak province, near Kabul.

So far, insurgents have killed two Koreans and threatened to kill all the abductees if the Afghan government does not release eight Taliban prisoners held in its jails.

The Taliban have defied international calls for the safe release of the kidnapped people.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was among the first world leaders to call upon the kidnappers to immediately release abducted aid workers. Pope Benedict XVI, the head of the Catholic Church, and many others have expressed similar demands.

New Measures 'Disproportionate'

The Afghan security authorities have repeatedly requested all foreign aid workers to seek their advice before traveling beyond Kabul city.

"We would not be facing the current crisis if the Koreans had informed us about their travel plans in advance," said Zemarai Bashari, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry. "We could have provided them with an armed escort for their protection," he added.

The government of Afghanistan has expressed its readiness to provide armed police escorts for international staff who would like to drive out of the capital, officials said.

However, representatives of local and international N.G.O.'s have called the government's extra security measures "disproportionate" and "counterproductive."

"Armed escorts will undoubtedly make N.G.O.'s a legitimate target for antigovernment elements," said Hashim Mayar, deputy director of A.C.B.A.R.—a coordination umbrella for N.G.O.'s in Afghanistan.

Mayar also said that in light of criticisms of widespread corruption and inefficiency within the Interior Ministry, many N.G.O.'s fear disclosing an advanced itinerary to the Afghan police, fearing it would increase possible risks.

Matt Waldman, an adviser to the British charity Oxfam, said, "Whilst we understand the reasons for this move, we believe it is disproportionate and could have adverse consequences for development works, particularly in rural areas."

The government's latest security measures do not apply to United Nations agencies working in Afghanistan, according to a United Nations spokesman.

Diminishing Humanitarian Space

Humanitarian and development actors have come under increasing attacks in the last two years in Afghanistan.

In July, several incidents of kidnapping, attacks, and threats against Afghans and foreign nationals working for relief and development organizations were reported.

In the latest incidents on July 31, a man working for the Danish aid and development organization DACAAR died after receiving serious wounds in Badghis province, western Afghanistan.

Many N.G.O.'s note a gradually deteriorating situation for humanitarian and neutral activities.

In June, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation in Kabul told IRIN that humanitarian space was shrinking in post-Taliban Afghanistan due to a vivid radicalization of views among warring parties.

There are also other aid workers with a slightly different opinion.

"Because N.G.O.'s have increasingly taken part in development activities, human rights, and democratization activities—all repugnant to Taliban and Al Qaeda doctrine—they have been perceived by insurgents as collaborators with the government of Hamid Karzai and his Western supporters," remarked Mayar of A.C.B.A.R.

Korean Aid Workers Told to Leave

While multilateral efforts are ongoing to release kidnapped civilians from the Taliban's captivity, dozens of South Koreans working for several N.G.O.'s in Afghanistan have been told to immediately leave the host country, a Korean diplomat told IRIN in Kabul on Aug. 2.

South Korea has spent about $60 million on reconstruction and development projects in Afghanistan since 2002 and pledged a further $20 million in February 2006, said the Korean diplomat who did not want to be named.

"It is sad to see people who came to help the people of Afghanistan are leaving the country because of security constraints," said Aleem Siddique, a spokesman for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.

However, the spokesman said the evacuation of Korean aid workers would not affect the work of other N.G.O.'s and international organizations working in Afghanistan. © IRIN

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

From Integrated Regional Information Networks.