Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Revived Taliban Restrict Afghan Aid Effort

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Revived Taliban Restrict Afghan Aid Effort

Article excerpt

The three armored vehicles roll into the village of Niki Kaz on the outskirts of Kandahar. As the Canadian soldiers pass out candy and notepads to a crowd of gathering villagers, a village elder wearing a gray turban warns them about local militants.

Two weeks earlier, "there were Talibs coming through in a convoy with two land cruisers and four motorbikes.We are trying to prevent them placing bombs," says Pir Mohammed.

The patrol, part of the Canadian Provincial Reconstruction Team based in nearby Kandahar City, stays less than 20 minutes before moving on to the next village. That leaves locals under the protection of Afghan police, who Pir Mohammed says are too scared to leave their offices.

In the wake of Operation Medusa last summer, in which hundreds of insurgents were killed in fighting around Kandahar, military officials hoped that development workers would move into to fill the vacuum. That never happened. Almost a year later, most of Afghanistan's four southern provinces are out-of-bounds to aid workers who cannot engage with local communities while clad in body armor and traveling in Humvees.

"It is a strange time. There is Western interest in putting money in here, but little idea of how to move forward or who might do it," says Rangina Hamidi, a Kandahar-based aid worker with the Baltimore- based Afghans for Civil Society.

NATO commanders have acknowledged that there is no military solution to the conflict in southern Afghanistan and have said that improved governance and reconstruction are crucial.

The US and British governments have stepped up aid to the restive south, and the Afghan Ministry of Rural Reconstruction and Development (MRRD) has expanded its offices in Kandahar.

But finding Afghan aid agencies who are willing to work on projects in outlying southern districts has become a thorny problem - especially in areas where international troops visit districts to inspect aid work, such as the canal-clearing project in Niki Kaz.

"When they [NATO soldiers] monitor the projects themselves, they come with tanks, with weapons, and this affects our staff badly," says Abdul Salaam Siddiqi, the deputy director of the Voluntary Association for the Rehabilitation of Afghanistan (VARA).

Mr. Siddiqi says his agency has rolled back its activities steadily over the past two years and now operates only in provincial capitals in the south.

Delivering aid in outlying districts has become impossible, and eight staff members have been killed since 2002.

"We face many problems. The Taliban have arrested our engineers there and captured our vehicles," he explains.

When the Taliban ran the country, VARA operated all over Afghanistan.Now, with the lines about who is in control of villages becoming increasingly blurred, it has become more restricted. …

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