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Taliban’s Disruption of Aid Programs Push Hazaras To the Brink

Residents in Afghanistan’s central Daikundi province accuse the Taliban authorities of misappropriating foreign aid assistance from Hazara-populated areas to the ones they prefer.

Ali Daryab, an activist in Daikundi, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, said that the Taliban have diverted aid to Pashtun areas in the neighboring provinces, such as Ghazni and Uruzgan.

Jan Mohammad, also an alias, a resident of the provincial capital Nilli, said that the Taliban’s governor, Aminullah Obaid has distributed ration cards to Pashtuns, mostly Taliban fighters, who move into Nilli from other areas only to receive assistance, including cash handout, and then return to their original homes.

Another aid worker we call Khan Ali to protect his identity accused Mohammad-ullah Iqbal, the Taliban’s head of the economic department in the province, of interfering in surveys that identify deserving recipients for aid programs. He complained that “Hazaras are not properly identified to get aid and often people loyal to the [Taliban] group are included in the list.”

KabulNow also obtained a letter, undated, signed by the Taliban’s head of agriculture in Daikundi that shows 30 tons of wheat were sold to a private company and instructed to be moved to Ghazni.

Sent to KabulNow [cropped].

Jan Mohammad, the resident we spoke to claimed that the aid was supposed to be distributed in Daikundi, but it was “deliberately diverted to Ghazni to be distributed among those loyal to the Taliban’s governor.” Taliban officials in Daikundi did not respond to KabulNow’s question for further clarification.

Bismellah Alizada, a doctoral researcher at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies who follows the crisis in Afghanistan, believes that the Taliban’s intervention in aid is where the group’s ideological and political motifs intersect.

“Ideologically, the group views Shia Hazaras as less pure Muslims and hence less deserving of any services. Politically, they view Hazaras who not only made any contributions to their jihad but also were close allies with the former local government and foreigners who fought against that jihad,” He told KabulNow.

Daikundi, home to nearly half a million of historically persecuted Hazaras including by the Taliban, is among the poorest and most neglected provinces, falling behind in infrastructure and economic development.

Although the Taliban’s interference in the disbursement of humanitarian aid has raised concerns around Afghanistan, Hazara areas have particularly been impacted, mainly because of the Pashtun-Sunni Taliban’s discriminatory views of the group, which is largely a Shia community. 

In his testimony to the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, SIGAR chief John F. Sopko said that the Taliban is using various methods to divert U.S. aid dollars. One of the ways Sopko said is that the group is diverting funds away from groups it does not support, including the Hazara community.

According to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), Taliban interference with aid operations has increased by 32% between January and May this year as compared to the same period in 2022. It says the Taliban’s attempts at aid diversion and bureaucratic roadblocks disrupted the United Nations aid provision, including in Daikundi.

Since March this year, more than 15 foreign aid agencies—mostly offering food, cash, healthcare, and educational programs— have halted their humanitarian programs in Nilli and adjacent districts in response to the Taliban’s intimidation and coercion. The situation has created substantial barriers for remaining aid groups, prompting some to shift their locations to other provinces.

“Taliban have demanded extortion money from some foreign aid agencies and threatened aid workers,” Mr. Ali said.

Mr. Alizada thinks that the Taliban are driven by the “lust” to monopolize and control resources, including humanitarian aid, saying resources go as “rewards” to those who are members of the group or their allies.

The Taliban have also suspended aid agencies that fail to comply with its policies. The International Organization for Immigration (IOM) is one of them which stopped one of its healthcare programs in Daikundi after two of its employees were beaten by the group’s governor in his office, Mr. Mohammad, who knew one of the employees, said. The IOM office in Afghanistan said, in response to KabulNow’s questions, that it does not want to comment on the matter. 

On July 8, amidst the suspension of aid agencies, local Hazara Representatives in Daikundi wrote a formal letter to the Taliban’s provincial authorities, complaining about poverty and expanding malnutrition and pleading with the group to let the people access aid.

“The international aid groups are crucial to operate here to provide live-saving assistance,” the letter, obtained by KabulNow, reads, warning that a humanitarian catastrophe could unfold in the province if measures are not taken.

Sent to KabulNow [cropped].

The U.N. estimates that a staggering 29 million people—two-thirds of the population—require urgent humanitarian assistance to survive this year. Over 17 million people face acute hunger in 2023, including 6 million people at emergency levels of food insecurity, one step away from famine.

The harsh living conditions have been exacerbated by recent years of drought resulting in low seasonal harvest and irrigation, pushing farmers in Daikundi to the brink. This adds to Hazaras’ predicament under the Taliban, after their forced displacement from their native lands and confiscation of their properties in certain areas of the province.

The limitations in aid delivery come as thousands of families in the province worry about the winter approaching. Heavy snowfall and lack of transportation infrastructure in the winter cut the province off from the rest of the country, making it extremely difficult to deliver aid to the needy.

The implications are particularly dire for women and girls who have already faced the brunt of the Taliban’s repressive edicts against education and work. These bans have also hindered educational outcomes and led to mental health challenges for women and girls who are now uncertain of their futures and deprived of support systems. In the past three months, at least nine cases of suicide were reported in Daikundi, the latest being an 18-year-old girl.

Jawad Ali, another resident of Daikundi, says the community is helpless in the face of the Taliban turning a blind eye to their suffering.

“We cannot take our complaints to the Taliban authorities because they don’t listen to Hazaras,” he said. “There is no transparency, no accountability, and no one to monitor the situation. Unfortunately, we are left on our own.”

Experts like Mr. Alizada believe the Taliban are not inherently concerned about peoples’ well-being or their expectations of service delivery.

“The regime defines itself in the position to implement sharia through as much policing and control as possible, leaving everything else entirely out of question,” he said.