ODI Report: Talking to The Other Side

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Date: 
December 13, 2012

Drawing on dozens of interviews with Taliban members, a December 2012 report from the UK-based Overseas Development Institute offers a glimpse of the perspectives of the Afghani Taliban on the humanitarian and development efforts in their country over the past decade.  The Taliban’s complaints about foreign aid are not limited to its perceived associations with Western interests, but also say that it has been largely ineffective in meeting the needs of the Afghani people.   Talking to the Other Side finds that while some Taliban members are willing to support openness towards aid organizations, Afghanistan will continue to be one of the world’s most complicated and dangerous places for aid workers.

Since the early 2000s, aid agencies’ approaches to negotiating humanitarian access, assistance and protection with the Taliban have been largely inconsistent. At the leadership level, the Taliban has an official policy on aid agency access, regardless of whether they are the United Nations or Afghani or international non-governmental organizations (NGOs). However, there is significant discretion and flexibility accorded to local leaders, which means that the rules vary depending on who is in charge.  This, combined with perceptions that certain aid groups are neither impartial nor independent from military objectives, helps contribute to “a high degree of hostility towards aid actors.”  Accusations of spying for foreign governments were common among local Taliban members, according to the report, and some felt that because NGOs cooperate with parties to the conflict “they were legitimate targets” of attack.

There were also numerous complaints about development projects which were ineffective and short-term. One Taliban commander said despite the large amount of foreign money pouring into Kandahar he has “not seen any project during the last decade that has brought any positive change to our lives.”  The report added, “poor-quality projects reinforced suspicions that aid agencies had ulterior motives.”

Despite the ad hoc process over the last decade, there are elements of the Taliban leadership that appear to offer an opening for expanded talks. “While the political leadership of the Taliban may favour engagement with aid agencies challenges remain in the uneven control of Taliban fighters by the leadership and the overwhelming hostility expressed by Taliban toward aid organisations which have become strongly associated with the international military,” said Antonio Giustozzi, co-author of the report.