Afghanistan, such a predictable defeat

Afghanistan has been back in the news since U.S. President Joe Biden declared a permanent withdrawal of troops by September 11. This was expected. What has surprised most commentators, who have been following this from afar but with great confidence, is the Taliban offensive, which has rapidly taken control of many districts and border crossings.

When you look at a map, you see that the areas that have escaped are around the city of Herat, the central region of Hazaradjat, the Panshir valley and of course the capital Kabul, with other pockets here and there. In the media, there are many clichés, biases and lack of knowledge of Afghan realities, but fortunately there is also useful information.

Talibans at the gates of Kabul in September 1996, © Robert Nickelsberg

One is tempted to say, after 20 years of American, NATO, UN and war presence, “all for this” with the Taliban now back in power in Kabul. Where are the collective mistakes that have dominated for 20 years?

In the immediate future, what will happen this summer? While the military solution currently seems to outweigh political negotiation, past experience teaches us that a frontal war in Kabul would be devastating for the inhabitants and infrastructure and would cause many casualties on both sides as well as displacement of populations. What will the Taliban do? Will there be talks to avoid the worst and on what political terms? In any case, it is likely that the Taliban will seek to settle this before winter.

As a result, the humanitarian situation will certainly deteriorate in this country of 40 million people, half of whom are affected by food insecurity. Indeed, 80% of the population lives or survives on small-scale farming, which is severely affected by the current drought, resulting in one out of every two 5-year-olds suffering from malnutrition! To ensure that relief efforts are not interrupted, humanitarian organizations are asking the warring parties not to hinder access to aid for vulnerable populations and not to threaten the neutrality and impartiality of these organizations.


Nagorno-Karabakh in danger !

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Aliyev in Azerbaijan, 2020, ©Presidential Press and Information Office of Azerbaijan

The media talk much less about Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan, yet not a day has gone by for months without border skirmishes. One of the most important incidents occurred on 12 May when hundreds of Azerbaijani soldiers entered Armenian territory in the Guegharkounik and Siounik regions. Since then, almost every day there have been incidents and injuries.

The President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, maintains a permanent threat to push his advantage after his military victory in the 44-day war that ended on November 9 after the defeat of Armenia, which caused a real trauma in its population. What is in question is the fate of Nagorno-Karabakh, also called Artsakh, which is landlocked and populated by more than 100,000 Armenians.

Tensions rose again on July 22 when President Aliyev declared on Azerbaijani television that there was no Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh and no special administrative status for this territory, which he calls the Azeri Eastern Zanguezur. These statements are worrisome in that they could be followed by dangerous military initiatives. Diplomatic activity is equally intense and involves above all Russia, which plays a major role with 2,400 peacekeepers stationed in Nagorno-Karabakh and which has military bases in Armenia within the framework of a defence agreement. France is also very present with the United States following the situation closely as well as the European Union.

On Thursday 29 July, after the death of 3 Armenian soldiers near the village of Sotk, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pachinian said he would ask for the deployment of “Russian border guards” along the border with Azerbaijan and the deployment of an observer mission of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (Russia and five other former Soviet republics, including Armenia).

Humanitarian organizations and foundations are active both in Armenia and in Nagorno-Karabakh or Artsakh to meet the needs of displaced persons, invalids in the fields of health, education, culture, demining and reconstruction in particular.

The month of August with Humanitarian Challenges.

In this edition, I offer you three articles selected for their great interest among those we have already published. There is an article by Pierre Brunet, writer and humanitarian, “Is humanitarianism still on a mission?” which I recommend to you and which distinguishes between humanitarianism and business in terms of purpose and management. Alicia Piveteau, a young journalist, has published a very interesting article, “The Sahel is a demographic bomb”, which alerts us to the urgent issues to be anticipated regarding the daily increase of a young population in need of education and employment. Finally, Gilles Dorronsoro, an academic and researcher specializing in Afghanistan, paints a picture of the situation in an eye-opening interview on “A so predictable defeat”.

Finally, to conclude.

If these articles interest you and bring you useful information and reflection, I suggest that you share them with your friends, colleagues and relations by sending them the link below each article with a small icon representing a letter.

You can also share these articles on social networks. This will encourage us to continue and improve Humanitarian Challenges for its readers and I thank you in advance warmly.

The next edition will be published on Tuesday, August 31.

To go further, you can listen to the RFI program on Afghanistan.

Alain Boinet.

Alain Boinet with the latest editions of Défis Humanitaires.

Humanitarian chronicles: Dakar Forum, Jean-Yves Le Drian and humanitarian aid, the future of Mali

Where is Mali going? 

It is difficult to say. However, experience teaches us that any major political and/or military breakdown has consequences for the population and consequently for humanitarian aid and its actors, who are often on the front line in the field!

Beneficiaries in Kidal, Mali ©Solidarités International

The institutional future seems very uncertain because it is difficult to see how the Transition could keep to the timetable of reforms and elections announced in just nine months. Elections will only make sense in time if the necessary reforms are carried out.

On the other hand, there is a little music that we hear from the financial institutions that support the country and its government. They doubt the effectiveness of the aid and as Josep Borrell, the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, says, the time for blank cheques is over. International aid must benefit the Malian population everywhere in the country, right down to the furthest village from Bamako!

Although the future is uncertain, we can share a common conviction: whatever the events, humanitarian aid is more than ever essential for populations in danger in a general context that continues to deteriorate. And it is not forbidden to hope either.

Dakar Forum

Kick-off meeting in preparation for the 9th World Water Forum, spring 2019 ©WorldWaterForum

The 9th World Water Forum will take place in Dakar in March 2022. The stakes are high. For Senegal, it must be a breakthrough forum dedicated to concrete solutions that meet the needs of the population!  Will it really be one?

What is surprising is that if the Forum is global, it is the first to be held in sub-Saharan Africa, the continent where the lack of drinking water and sanitation is the most serious, with the most serious consequences in terms of infant mortality due to water-borne diseases, pollution, depletion of the resource, water stress and the hindrance of development. This is why it is a humanitarian emergency.

And we can no longer pretend that we are going to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals voted by 193 countries at the UN in 2015, and in particular Goal 6 on universal access to drinking water, by 2030. We know that the trajectory is not the right one and, what’s more, the Covid-19 crisis does not help matters and risks bringing development in Africa to a halt if the aid, estimated at 300 billion dollars by the IMF, is not mobilised and implemented.

Dakar is the starting point for the UN Water Conference, which will take place in March 2023 in New York. 

Fortunately, the advantage of the Dakar Forum is that the following year an inter-state conference on water will be held at the United Nations in New York in March 2023. This conference, extremely rare in the international agenda, will be the moment when real decisions should be taken. It is up to the Dakar Forum to inspire and stimulate this Conference of States so that it is equal to the global stakes involved with water and so that it finally has a permanent instrument for steering and monitoring the objectives (SDGs).

United Nations General Assembly, September 2020

Among the dangers that threaten the Dakar Forum in this role of strategic prescriber, I see a few to be avoided. Given the number of participants and themes, there is a double contradictory risk to be avoided.

The first would be to dilute the messages and analyses in an avalanche of proposals, and the second would be to be too general and not specific enough on the many issues on the agenda. For this reason, we have a central theme for this Forum, that of water security for peace and development, broken down into 4 areas: water security and sanitation, water for rural development, cooperation and tools and means.

It is therefore up to us to prioritise and concentrate a limited number of main political messages in order to address them to the Summit of Heads of State present and to the United Nations, while at the same time developing a set of specific concrete projects corresponding to the 25 working groups preparing the Forum.

And above all, in addition to the Heads of State, ministers and government agencies, local authorities, companies, international institutions and NGOs, we have the greatest need of representatives of the populations and local actors to be in the reality of concrete solutions.

We will participate in the Dakar Forum in this spirit and with these objectives with Solidarités International, the French Water Partnership and all our partners, particularly in Africa.

Jean Yves Le Drian and the humanitarian sector. 

At the 5th National Humanitarian Conference on 17 December 2020 in Paris, following lengthy preparation with the Elysée, the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs and its Crisis and Support Centre and humanitarian NGOs in France, the President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron, made several important humanitarian commitments.

Six months later, at a meeting of the Humanitarian Coordination Group (HCG) on 25 June, the Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, informed humanitarian NGOs of the progress of his commitments. These are of interest to humanitarians beyond French territory, as some of these decisions will have implications within the European Union and the United Nations and eventually, as we hope, at international level.

According to Jean-Yves Le Drian, international solidarity is more necessary and more threatened than ever. And to use his phrase, international life is being brutalised.

Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian at the podium of the 4th CNH on 22 May 2018.

It is in this context that he confirmed that France would indeed reach its objective of 0.55% of its GNI in 2022 devoted to official development assistance, with a trajectory enshrined in the law of reaching 0.7% thereafter. Similarly, the humanitarian aid budget will reach 500 million euros next year.

Faced with the growing difficulties of bank transfers for NGOs due to anti-terrorist laws, the Minister announced easier bank access “where necessary” and mentioned a forthcoming experiment within the diplomatic network. But, according to humanitarian NGOs, the “OBC mechanism” set up in this regard was very recent and will take time. And the “provision mechanism” instituted by the Quai d’Orsay, while it demonstrates a real desire to find solutions, remains limited at this stage.

For the first time, the letter from the Prime Minister, Jean Castex, for humanitarian aid.

But what was most unexpected was the announcement of the letter sent by the Prime Minister, Jean Castex, to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of the Economy and Finance. This letter specifies that for France there will be: “No screening, including for the remittance of funds for humanitarian organisations as well as for state operators”.

Criteria are currently being defined to delimit the humanitarian space under consideration and they will give rise to a “doctrine”. But here again, the French Development Agency (FDA) does not want to compromise on the screening of beneficiaries and the favourable decision of the Senate in the framework of the development programming law (LOP-DSIM) has since been challenged by the National Assembly. The consequence for populations in crisis zones is that we will not be able to implement aid programmes with FDA in the framework of the humanitarian-development nexus, no less!

Another important letter is the circular from the Minister of Justice to prosecutors against the criminalisation of humanitarian aid in crisis zones and the specificity and respect of International Humanitarian Law (IHL). Thus, to fight against impunity for attacks on humanitarian aid workers, legal proceedings would be systematically opened with a view to obtaining the highest criminal qualification.

Jean-Yves Le Drian informed us that he would raise these issues at the UN Security Council on 16 July. An identical approach will be taken in view of the French presidency of the European Union from January 2022.

To conclude, at least provisionally, we can say that if there is a clear will from the Minister and the Crisis and Support Centre, nothing is really done yet. Humanitarians and Coordination Sud still need to work together to bring about these essential measures for the implementation of humanitarian aid to access populations at risk without further hindrance. We will talk about this again next month in the next edition of Humanitarian Challenges.

Alain Boinet