Aid organisation rubbishes claims Afghanistan is stealing donor money

A British Muslim aid organisation working in Afghanistan has rubbished claims that the Afghan authorities are stealing international aid.

The claims were made in an article by anti-Taliban journalist Lynne O’Donnell who was expelled from Afghanistan last year.

Her article, based on anonymous sources including a former Afghan intelligence and military officer, alleged that “unknown quantities [of aid] are stolen by the Taliban.”

“Tens of millions of dollars are flown into Kabul every week by the United States and the United Nations for distribution across the country as humanitarian catastrophe grips tighter with winter closing in. Sources inside and outside the country say much of the money never reaches those who need it,” the article reads.

“Instead, they say, unknown quantities are stolen by the Taliban and diverted to their own causes, keeping supporters onside with handouts of cash and food and funding the private operations of senior leaders.”

But Human Aid & Advocacy has issued a statement saying the claims are false based on their experience on the ground.

“There is a broad consensus that corruption has dramatically decreased since the U.S. withdrawal, If anything, guarantees that aid will reach the recipients are at an all-time high in Afghanistan,” said Human Aid & Advocacy.

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“As an independent NGO working on the ground, day in and day out, in Afghanistan, Human Aid & Advocacy has substantial experience delivering lifesaving programmes across the country, whether by way of distributing food; warm clothing; providing shelter; or through empowerment programmes: we have been free to work, following the regulations in place, as in any other country…

“Drawing on in-depth interviews with 20 local expert stakeholders with current knowledge in the fields of agriculture, business, education, engineering and health in Afghanistan, in tandem with external research, we produced our soon to be published report: ‘Afghanistan Forward: Views from the Ground.’

“One interviewee commented on the provision of aid and corruption under the U.S.-backed regime: ‘Most of the aid was given to the neighbourhoods’ representatives and seniors … Approximately 80% of the aid did not reach the people that needed it.’ Another interviewee remarked, when asked about corruption within the new authorities: ‘People are hopeful since the previous government had a lot of corruption, and this is not found in the current one.’”

Human Aid & Advocacy added that “lending unquestioned credibility to a source belonging to agencies previously involved in rampant corruption and torture, and a political enemy of the current government, is baffling.”

“Members of our team in Afghanistan deliver the aid, physically ensuring it reaches those most in need. Suggesting otherwise is not only a great insult to the selfless and hardworking humanitarians on the ground, but foremost, a direct threat to the wellbeing and future of the Afghan people.

“It has been estimated that 49.4% of the population of Afghanistan is living below the poverty line. Baseless allegations, like that sported by O’Donnell build a narrative that can undermine donors’ confidence and ultimately prevent the saving of lives.

“The people of Afghanistan aspire towards a self-sufficient nation, rather than one that is aid-reliant. The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is largely man-made: it is the result of war, corruption, and sanctions. It is also the result of false narratives pushed out, for the past decades. Journalists and publications have a duty to report truthfully and responsibly. It is not just lines, but lives at stake.”

Lynne O’Donnell

Last July authorities in Afghanistan accused the Australian journalist of supporting armed resistance in the nation and falsifying reports of mass violations and sexual slavery by government officials.

The comments by Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Qahar Balkhi came after Lynne O’Donnell accused the authorities of detaining her and forcing her to post a series of tweets stating her articles were false.

Mr Balkhi said: “She was informed that she will be able to stay and operate in Afghanistan if she can produce evidence to substantiate any of the claims in her report. She was assured that in line with journalistic standards, she will not be required to reveal her sources but only details of victims or other circumstantial evidence that would allow the authorities to prosecute violators of Afghanistan’s laws.

“Ms O’Donnell, when summoned by the relevant authorities to furnish proof for these claims, lied about her presence in Afghanistan. She was later discovered hiding in Kabul and taken in for questioning. During the questioning, she was again given an opportunity to furnish proof to substantiate claims in her reports of sexual slavery and mass killings by government authorities.

Lynne O’Donnell. Pic: Twitter

“She stated that she had no proof and offered to rectify the situation by tweeting an apology. Officials told here at the time that it was clear she will recant this tweet upon leaving Afghanistan and claim coercion.

“However, authorities relented following Ms O’Donnel’s insistence on tweeting an apology given it was her private account. After a few hours of questioning, Ms O’Donnell was released.

O’Donnell said in an article for Foreign Policy magazine,that she had travelled to Kabul to see how the country had changed since she left almost a year ago.

She wrote: “I left Afghanistan today after three days of cat-and-mouse with Taliban intelligence agents, who detained, abused, and threatened me and forced me to issue a barely literate retraction of reports they said had broken their laws and offended Afghan culture. If I did not, they said, they’d send me to jail. At one point, they surrounded me and demanded I accompany them to prison. Throughout, a man with a gun was never far away.

“Far from achieving their goal of intimidating and undermining me, they showed me what I went to find — their true face. Their brutality, arrogance, and lack of humanity. Their self-righteousness, intolerance, and misogyny. Their incompetence and their utter lack of ability to rule. Afghanistan has fallen prey to terrorists who have not and cannot make the transition from fighting force to governing body.

“Everywhere I went in the short time I was in Kabul, people told me of their fear, their loss, their disgust, their desperation. Most have no jobs, no money, no hope for their future or the future of their children. What I found was a violent peace. People are arbitrarily detained, disappeared, interrogated, beaten, killed. It could be for any reason or no reason they will ever know. The Taliban are pitting neighbor against neighbor, encouraging people to spy on and report each other. Fear is digging in, and it’s here for the long haul.”

She added that she would not be returning to Afghanistan as it would be “reckless” to do so. But she said she would not stop watching or caring.

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