Whilst there is evidence that some civilians and businesspeople pay protection money to Taliban insurgents especially in southern Afghanistan, such an option simply does not exist for aid agencies - even if they need to ensure safe passage for vital humanitarian aid.
For Haji Abdullah, doing business in Kandahar Province, southern Afghanistan, is impossible without bribing insurgent commanders who often approach him for cash, telephone top-up cards, clothes or motorcycles.
“If I don’t comply with their demands they can easily make a lot of trouble for me, or even kill me,” the 52-year-old businessman told IRIN, asking that his real name not be disclosed.
The Taliban have established a "shadow government" in parts of Afghanistan and are seeking to extend their influence and control, according to US defence sources, and the UN has acknowledged that the influence of the insurgents is beginning to affect development activities, too.
“In the south, south-east and east, isolated reports were received regarding government officials being forced to bribe insurgent commanders in order to facilitate the continued operation of schools and allow for the implementation of certain development projects. This highlights the heightened ability of the insurgents to exert their authority and influence over the implementation of development activities,” the UN Secretary-General said in a report to the Security Council in December 2009.
Laurent Sailard, director of ACBAR, a consortium of over 100 Afghan and foreign NGOs, said aid workers must not make payments to insurgents for security, access or safe passage.
“Buying a passage for humanitarian convoys or access is a bad strategy with long-term negative impacts. Demands could increase, and if not satisfied could lead to increasing threats. It is a never-ending process that always leads to the worst,” he said, adding that aid workers had to ensure access and security through acceptance among local communities and impartial dialogue with belligerent parties.
However, people living in areas controlled or influenced by insurgents - even if they back the insurgents - must not be discriminated against in terms of the provision of aid, aid agencies say.
“It should not be a concern for humanitarian actors if a beneficiary community is supportive of the Taliban. The aid must be needs-based and regardless of gender, linguistic, religious, and political or any other consideration,” said ACBAR’s Sailard.
“The ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] delivers humanitarian assistance to all those conflict-affected persons in need of it, irrespective of their affiliation,” said Bijan Frederic Farnoudi, ICRC’s communications officer in Kabul.
Aid to pro-Taliban communities or people living in areas under Taliban control is possible, but in practice few if any aid agencies are involved in this due to widespread insecurity.
The Afghanistan NGO Safety Office (ANSO), which provides security advice to NGOs, has said armed opposition groups have a presence in over 97 percent of the country and have warned that NGO staff face heightened risks in 2010.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions