Aid worker deaths challenge NGO assistance model

Ambush-hit NGO stops Afghan workLast Wednesday's killing of three foreign aid workers and their driver in Afghanistan marked a new low point for non government organisations.

The International Rescue Committee suspended its activity in the country after 20 years of assistance, following the murder of British-Canadian Dr Jacqueline Kirk, Canadian Shirley Case, Trinidadian-American Nicole Dial, and Afghan driver Mohammad Aimal.

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack, describing the aid workers as foreign spies. Spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told the Associated Press that the group 'were not working for the interests of Afghanistan'.

By definition, NGOs who conduct aid work overseas do not involve themselves in politics. They focus on the needs of the people, as determined by their own independent and experienced assessment teams. They prefer to use their own resources to distribute aid and mount development projects.

They are often better equipped than anybody else to engage in political commentary, but they keep their political views to themselves and limit their public communication to description of what they see.

The problem is that their actions invariably make governments and political oppositions look either good or bad. Different sides of politics are motivated to obstruct their operations, or perhaps offer overwhelming support that compromises their political independence.

The Taliban believes NGOs are propping up a government that is too weak to provide a range of social services including health care, education and development. By targeting NGOs, the Taliban hopes to gain advantage from the inability of the government to stand on its own.

Waliullah Rahmani of the Kabul Centre for Strategic Studies told the Christian Science Monitor that NGOs play an important role in strengthening the Afghan state and improving its public image.

'Without such agencies, the government becomes very weak, unable to provide basic services for its people — a situation that the Taliban will exploit readily.'

The Taliban is only too prepared to fill the vacuum created by departing NGOs. People need help and will accept it from whichever political or non-political group is able to offer it.

Afghanistan is just one country in which NGOs are finding it increasingly difficult to operate. Sudan and Burma are two others. The NGO model of providing aid and development is one that has stood the test of time. It is important that NGOs lose neither heart nor the support of their constituencies in developed countries.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street

Topic tags: michael mullins, non government organisations, afghan ambush, aid workers killed, taliban



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