tv Discussion on Humanitarian Aid for Afghanistan CSPAN August 28, 2021 6:08am-7:00am EDT
center for strategic and international studies hosted a 50 minute event. >> hello and welcome, my name is jacob and i am the director and fellow of the humanitarian agenda for the center for strategic and international studies in washington. thank you for joining us for this important conversation on safeguarding humanitarian aid in afghanistan. today's conversation takes place in the wake of a difficult day, a difficult few weeks and a very difficult year for the civilian population in afghanistan and the community of people who care about the humanitarian and circumstances and that country. that has obviously been an intense amount of focus and end around the airport in couple and the -- kabul and the process of the evacuations and refugees have people's attention on the news, but we know afghanistan has suffered from over 20 years of conflict, it has had
substantial humanitarian impact for the population, and those impacts have been exacerbated in the past year by the coming 19 pandemic, by drought conditions and by a substantial increase in armed violence since the middle and beginning of the year last year in 2019. we are rate full for your attention today to this issue and for our three panelists. to talk about these issues and think about ways that even in the very complex moment of transition and uncertainty, we can think about and take steps today to protect humanitarian action and make sure we continue to sponsor the needs of the totality of the population, the civilian population of afghanistan. we are grateful to welcome -- joining us from by, the head of production services for the u.s. high commission for refugees
based in bangkok, and a senior manager at and direction for humanitarian practice. take you for being with us today. i would like to start with you, if i may. the organization engages in these peace building activities. i'm wondering, we are thinking about the totality of the humanitarian picture. but i'm hopeful you can share with your experience and the experience of your colleagues what are the challenges today facing the civilian population in afghanistan, and particularly as we know the women and girls and the conflict of the people we are seeing now. >> thank you for having me. i think it is a very -- as an afghan woman, i find several challenges at the professional level especially as an afghan woman, and the top of the list would be the uncertainty. we
have had a huge change in the last week or so, on the 15th of august they went back to work, it was the start of the week and we found out that the taliban were very near. we don't think this is a rumor like the previous times and it is true, and did not notice everything we thought was life in couple -- kabul collapse. however, as to who is governing us, should we base our understanding of the telegram on our previous experiences, or should we take -- the experiences and the freedom they are supposed to be giving up. in keeping that information that they are sharing with us, there is a lot of disconnect between the information they are sharing with us and turning that into practice. that is number one.
the other issue is security. there is security, but i have spoken to a friend of mine in kabul, two friends and one of them said -- it is a graveyard and the other said the outside is, but their hearts are anxious. this is what we are feeling. the number of people being killed in the active combat has reduced, but we don't know if we have security, if we are secure due to [indiscernible] -- past activity, associations, our work background and so on. this is an and certainty. -- uncertainty. there's a lot of confirmed and unconfirmed rumors that people
are going into afghan people's homes outside kabul and inside and there are general elements, but some of them are the taliban looking for people despite the amnesty. there are lots of issues we have to think about, and you also have to deal with the sense of loss that has left hours -- our support networks, offices closed overnight. and not what the taliban thinks our rates should be, but also -- if it should continue. we have issues with our banking system. the cash we had in our pocket on sunday is the cash we have to survive with and we have no idea how a global system is going to
play out. these are some of the concerns a t the top of our minds. >> thank you, you spoke about uncertainty, a sense of loss and insecurity. these are three variables, and particularly that uncertainty and that insecurity, the can have a detrimental impact on the ability of international aid providers to continue to support. i would like to turn to you, and maybe we can expand from august 15 and today. can you share from your perspective, what are the short and long-term humanitarian priorities for your agency and for the humanitarian structure writ large? >> thank you very much. first i would like to think the center
for organizing this timely event as well as inviting us to speak alongside other distant wish panelists and experts whose organizations like ours are working inside afghanistan now. presently, i have the privilege of working in kabul, and also -- had the privilege of working in kabul, and others, so my heart goes out to everyone suffering in the recent past. i would also like to give condolences to all those killed at kabul airport yesterday in a tragic attack, including the u.s. personnel and those who were injured. as our high commissioner said yesterday, the incident is, in addition to everything else, it should make all of us want to be more determined than ever not to leave the afghan people alone. now it's time to do more for afghans at risk and in need and
those who are displaced or refugees. in response to your question about the short and long-term priorities, this is an important question. safeguarding human to terry in action, in the short-term, that is our priority. we must remain as we have done for decades support and stand by the afghan people for as long as it is safe for our stuff to do so. we are already seeing the crisis in afghanistan with nearly half the population in need of humanitarian assistance. also the effects of displacement, drought, covid-19, insecurity and conflict, as well as economic challenges. it is really not the time for us to leave, it -- we need to stand delivered. the priorities within that humanitarian action are now to meet the urgent needs of the displaced communities as well as
continue our community programming across provinces, which has already reached one point 3 million people this year. we are taking an evolving situation when did a time, and consulate planning, monitoring and adapting. -- one data time, const deadly -- constantly planning, monitoring and adapting. for us at the refugee and displacement agency, one of our main aorta is -- main priorities will be to find protection for displaced people, totaling in the 3.5 million altogether now. so they can return to their homes as they wish and -- in a safe and dignified -- restart their lives in a safe and dignified way. we also have to look at the overall security situation.
>> thank you for that overview. you talked about staying and continuing as long as security allows. i want to check the interaction of the coalition of monetary usa and geos, i think i got that right, numerous u.s.-based organizations have announced intention to stand and deliver. can you tell us a little about what those plans are for these organizations and how the u.s.-based ngo's thank the humanitarian landscape and the challenges ahead? >> thank you again for this organize -- organizing this timely discussion. as mcculloch said, the key concern for the community is about how to best protect and support our ngo staff and particularly how do we best support our staff. the
recent environment has been seen has led to a high rate of -- because they and their families have faced security threats. what this means in the context of afghanistan where there are cultural considerations associated, if we don't do what we can now to retain and support female ngo staff, humanitarians will necessarily have the ability to provide lifesaving relief to afghan women and girls. this is a huge priority and a huge need, and it is going to be key for the ngo community to be able to stay and deliver. but right now we really need to be doing everything we can to support female ngo staff. in afghanistan, as many know, the environment varies from province to province and we need to -- access is possible to facilitate need-based assistance wherever.
that includes consistency in allowing female ngo staff to be able to continue to work in a safe and unfettered manner. practically, how do we do that? first and foremost, we need to be able to maintain -- establish and maintain principles, humanitarian assets with the taliban. now, there the authority as well as other chapters, so humanitarian principles guide the approach to impartiality, humanity. does this mean moving forward? in terms of the taliban and other actors, all conflict parties must facilitate -- for both male and female staff. humanitarian organizations must be allowed to engage with all parties and operate in all areas without interference. they also must be
allowed to provide impartial humanitarian activities on the basis of need regardless of gender, ethnicity, or other factors. they also must be allowed to conduct independent needs assessments including looking at established vulnerability criteria including gender issues. there also needs to be accountability for if and potentially when violations of principled access agreements occur. they can't impede humanitarian action, there is a fine line but there needs to be accountability. and lastly states need to ensure that stations, after terrorism measures coincide with international humanitarian and human rights law. on that note as she was alluding to the beginning, financial access and
counterterror measures are huge challenge and concern for the community as well as funding. on financial access, right now it is incredibly challenging to get cash into the country to be able to pay staff, cover operational costs. we really need a pipeline to be able to do that. that is a priority. the ngo community does need additional u.s. legal safeguards to be able to move forward in this new operational environment, engaging with the taliban as the authority to be able to provide lifesaving relief where it is needed the most. and a quick note on funding, the ngo community is providing the bulk of frontline responders right now in afghanistan. the community it needs more humanitarian funding
and there needs to ngo's and it needs to be as flexible as possible to allow ngo's to really be able to pivot on the fly to the ever-changing needs of this environment. and then just lastly on the regional dimension, the regional countries, pakistan, iran, they are traditionally very challenging for both the ngo community to operate the bureaucratic and administrative departments and what have you, they are very challenging. but with these regional companies, the need to make sure there is a conducive environment for the situation of max exodus of refugees, they need to be able to support that and partnership with our iran colleagues. so i will stop there but those are the main issues that the ngo community is concerned about and
what we really need to stay and deliver humanitarian assistance. >> thanks, i just want to stay and unpack one of the issues he raged -- you raised, the the humanitarian response has to navigate and afghanistan defective leadership that includes people who are foreign terrorist organizations, as we talked a big sanctions and other restrictive measures, are you able to unpack that for our audience, some of the stuff that would be needed to be taken by the duchess steps -- steps that will be needed to be taken by the u.s. at others? >> sure. the taliban in afghanistan are not an fto, they are especially devon -- designated global -- so the ngo community and u.n., everyone who has worked in afghanistan over the last few decades has
significant experience working with the taliban. the ngo community also has significant experience working in other highly volatile areas around the world with dutch syria, so maleah, elsewhere. -- syria, somalia, elsewhere. we have been able to reach populations in need wherever they are located. the ngo community structurally has the ability to stay and deliver services right now, but as you referenced, they do require additional legal safeguards in this new operating environment to be able to comfortably continue without fear of legal action. just a note on what the designation means, and then i will go into what we need. this designation means u.s. persons and u.s.
government grantees are prohibited directly or indirectly from engaging in any transaction or dealing improperly. in order to proceed with lifesaving activities, there needs to be a community to do that work. and engage in the taliban in that way. what we need from the united states government now is a license. it is not the general license, and any general license would need to be broad enough to include transactions involving the taliban that would be necessary to support ordinary military and activities to include transfer of funds, sharing licenses, so this general license should be accompanied by guidance as well as clarify which entities are considered to be part of the taliban and to help address
interpretation issues on the field level to provide assistance. this guidance is also advised to be for public and financial institutions. outlining they are protected through these safeguards and they are authorized to do business with humanitarian actors. right now we are starting to see effects and we need that communication and support between the u.s. government and financial institutions, reminding the ar protected if one of us comes through because that will be very helpful in terms of dealing with the cash problem and the ability to pay. again, this really is the only way at this community will be able to move forward in the near future. and likewise with the multilateral
arena, looking at the security council and what have you, any restrictive measure that might in the future come out needs similar humanitarian safeguards to allow the humanitarian community to be able to stay and continue to deliver without fear of legal repercussions. >> thank you. there's a lot in there, i think the key point is that private insurances -- assurances or suggestions are not sufficient in a context like afghanistan, we need the united states government to provide the official guarantees and i think one of the lessons the humanitarian community learned from the yemen example you referenced is that in some context there are licenses that may be useful when meeting some of the needs, but to avoid, in this context, to designate the
taliban -- that will create additional complications, that will jeopardize the humanitarian response in an already uncertain environment, thanks for unpacking that for us. zuhra, i went to come back to you, we talk about engagement with the taliban. [indiscernible] -- including the international community and the taliban, to avoid -- speak to that further, and explaining how this engagement should work from the eyes of people on the ground in kabul. >> yes, dutch great harm to most -- great harm to most people, and while i appreciate the intimate of heart-lung disengagement, cultural
disengagement from the taliban, and i can see that it comes from a real place of concern. but one respect this is unfortunate to is engaged with the taliban, and we believe this should be at multiple levels. we believe, for example, but like -- like many other countries in the world, there are negotiations happening. they're constantly bartering and finding common ground at the district level, at the prevention level, international. and we believe that we need to create a strategy to engage and we cannot decide to engage at the political level only and expected to trickle down. at a
political level of course there are very different ends to negotiate with the taliban, there's the office in afghanistan, then intermediary, how we can negotiate on certain issues. but many issues should be shaded through inside mediators, so women, men who have authority to international names or religious -- humanitarian workers and so on, people who already have some leeway into the community. this is really important and for example there is conflict around the use of contraceptives and sexual health, some conflict around vaccinations. these cannot be in plummeted or looked at. you very much believe that organizations -- keep building
at a political level, this is a good time for us to have our engagements with these humanitarians, we bring in our expertise and at this moment, we don't believe that either of us can work separately. we believe the loss of humanitarian aid which gets to the right people at the right time in the right way with these organizations that you mentioned, it is underground people receiving aid, distributing aid, working on the community level, are not aware of these mediations and efforts to make the conflict not escalate to come out are likely to -- do not cause harm. this is the kind of relief we have.
right now, we don't know who has left. we don't know what we have available, who could be doing this. that is why we have departures by projects -- that come from identifying where trends live and consolidating on a localized dust and continuing on every level. thank you. >> thank you, i want to come back to you, aurvasi. as zuhra mentioned, there is extensive work going on around the country and there is going to be some moment to identify what has been lost, what is being picked up.
one issue we have raised at the beginning was the humanitarian need prior to this. there was a humanitarian response plan that called for over one $3 billion for assistance -- $1.3 billion for assistance for afghanistan with less than 40% ending. from your perspective sitting within the u.s. -- the u.n. system, are there conversations happening now or will they take place soon about what a coordinated response to the new afghanistan can look like, and what do you think that can look like? what should we be thinking about in this moment of uncertainty, but having a clear picture of both the existing need an existing capacity as of a two weeks -- a few weeks ago?
>> thank you, the situation in afghanistan, the interagency response plan, the operational framework -- and a critical fund. thank you for highlighting the urgent need. the plans laid to $1.3 billion from within 80 people in need which regrettably today is less than 40% funded. and without adequate funding, they will find it difficult to continue with the protection, sanity -- sanitation, to the afghan people. many of you know they preparedness and response plan for neighboring countries has been led by the organization, this is a requirement from july 27, 2021 and has 11 part so far. it's
objective is primarily to support countries to prepare and -- refugees need to play, and host countries, pakistan, uzbekistan, it will be critical to properly fund it to support the afghan population, whether they be in the country or displaced outside. at this point, early on i will say we continue to count on strong u.s. support for our refugee response. >> can i just ask you to speak a little bit -- you mentioned protection. for people within the humanitarian community, i think that concept is very well understood, but can you talk a little about what you mean when you talk about civilian protection in this context and what steps your organization can
take another partners can take into the future? >> absolutely. let me first say, -- and i will briefly touch on the ways these efforts can be supported. first, unimpeded humanitarian access throughout the country will enable us to provide essential assistance and protection to the afghan people, particularly unhcr to those who have been displaced. second, the protection of women and children more generally will be critically important. the taliban is providing some assurances they will be protected and we hope these words will translate into concrete action in the coming period. third, access to asylum in neighboring countries will be critical for the civilians, particularly since afghans need
security. we are calling on neighboring countries to allow refuge for afghans who may need it. we call on the international community and all those with influence in these -- to support us in the pursuit of these areas among others that may inevitably -- arrive. >> thank you. katie, i want to come back to you and the picture of the neighboring countries, she raised it now. the sensitivity about iran. can you speak about what that engagement will look like from the perspective of u.s.-based ngo's and how we can think about effectively supporting both financially and politically refugee populations of those countries? >> sure. first of all, let's
take pakistan for example. the regulatory environment should not be conducive for the ngo community, to register, receive their prescience they need to be able to go on and provide services and what have you, and there are solid reasons for why that has been so challenging. but using that as an example, what would be helpful right now on the operating environment is for governments such as the u.s. and others to be engaging through humanitarian diplomacy now with these regional countries in an enabling environment for the ngo immunity and civil society. looking at the regulatory framework and making sure they are conducive -- or for moving people, and others. that requires people
looking at any restrictive measures that impact the community's ability to work in these regional contexts. pakistan and elsewhere is a very restrictive environment as it in, and so multilaterally that needs to be examined. and again that safeguards points that i was making earlier as well as bilateral restrictive measures such as those imposed by the united states government on iran for example. where can the safeguards be built in to the ngo community to operate? likewise and i'm sure my colleagues from unhcr have some good remarks on this, but it is also not necessarily a friendly region for displaced people, for refugees, particularly afghan refugees. so also there needs to
be diplomatic efforts and community engagement and support to really welcome folks who are fleeing for their lives from a well-founded fear of violence and persecution. so in order for them to realize their rights under international law, but also requires regional countries to keep borders open, to allow people who again are fearing a well-founded fear of persecution to be able to access the safety and the refuge they are legally entitled to receive. >> we held some meetings and the number of returns from iran and pakistan was increasing it i think there needs to be recognition on the part of the international community that in addition to the financial and logistical issues of -- at play, the impacts of covid and the
downtrodden economies plays a part and contributing to this idea of humanitarians recognizing the totality of -- both for the affected populations in the host government and the host communities in which these refugees are displaced. i want to come back to you, zuh ra, and ask a question. you talked about engaging with the taliban, you also talked about at the outset a little bit between -- [indiscernible] is there a consensus between colleagues and the ngo community, are there steps you think that can get leadership to work with the taliban leadership? what should we be
looking for as external observers as indicators of actions matching rhetoric on the part of [indiscernible] >> it's a tough question to answer. i am personally waiting to see what the taliban do so i can decide to go back or not, so i am not sure if i see that their action based on what they have said, which is they would allow women to work i can see in , the last 10 days they would send women to work and then they have basically said they can work only in certain circumstances. soy think what -- so i think what -- i talked to a lot of people who lived and worked under the taliban's rule,
both national and international colleagues. they told me they can see some changes and they are -- they link the taint -- change in the taliban onto two things. one, the taliban have been exposed to more societies and communities, particularly the taliban were only very -- they were seen as very small, there are still small spaces but they had not seen the variety of interpretations of islam. there are various types of women's dresses and activities, so they [indiscernible]
so they can see the taliban are considering that, our considering freedoms for men and women in particular. but also i suggest -- in the way we put forward to them. i believe in unity in our approach. some of us should be on the sidelines unless the taliban guaranteed 100% equality between men and women in this particular activity, i am going to withdraw my support. that is good and valid, but they should also recognize other responses, there could be
agencies that believe it would be better for them to engage with the taliban under certain restrictive rules so they can deliver. the key is, the agency's new to match their decision and how they engage with the taliban and match it with how they support their vulnerable staff and their female staff for example. if an agency believes that they will engage with the taliban and accept certain restrictions on their activity, they need to think about those restrictions. how can they create an environment for women and employment? how can they enable women to work from home? i'm talking from a personal place here and i don't want it to get to a point where we are delivering something at the cusp of
restrictions for women and feeling unsure about it. that should never be the case. so the agencies, whatever decision they take, the full engagement with the taliban and pressurizing them to show action -- this is very important. i think the taliban are shocked with sudden changes. it's a good thing because when they are shocked -- but even now is the time to engage. they could take more action than afghans themselves because we are in the middle of the crisis, especially those of us based in afghanistan. so this
is where you can push the envelope around girls education. i've not seen a lot of international engagement around access to education, women's access to health care and a lot of issues around -- that more women are concerned about. this is really important. we should not wait. we should wait to see how they act, we should not wait to show any reaction. this is my opinion. i wish i could share my more worried colleagues in their belief that the taliban has changed, and the taliban need to know that people are watching to see how they have changed or not. and around economics, humanitarian action. this is the
safest thing to test them on. they have never said that afghanistan is fine with humanitarian action. let's test them on this. and then we can see how they are going to react, how much they have changed and how much are they going to engage. >> thank you very much. aurvasi i'll come back to you and we may have questions from viewers, but we have an audience here in washington. what are the key elements of support that you at unhcr would need from the international community in order to stay and support afghanistan? what are you thinking about as
you recalibrated and rethinking your work? >> i think the key issue is international solidarity and sharing among many fronts, including making sure in an environment that delivers humanitarian assistance, in the scope of where we are today, so we would very much want to be having unimpeded access to the beneficiaries, we would need access to territory if refugees and people decide to go to the neighboring countries, we have protection advocacy issues, access to asylum issues, procedures as well. and to put the very full principle of asking the government to look at
the situation of the afghans today and respect -- the return advisory announcement and really have people not return, afghans, who may be failed asylum seeker's, to return today in this current context that is also difficult for those who remained. those who have been away for a long time, we are finding it possible to manage the volatile situation. these are the kind of support networks that we need at unhcr as a humanitarian agency to be able to deliver in afghanistan today. >> thanks. katie, we have a question from the audience about the operational challenges. there are a lot of things to understand the news but are there other things, i have been
reading but supply chains being disrupted and other things of that nature, so one, are there operational known headline making challenges that ngo partners are experiencing, and then the same question to au rvasi, what are the one or two key messages that would be necessary to allow them to continue to provide services? >> the other operational known headline issues on access, i think i touch upon it, it is really the financial bit. what i am hearing right now from all of our members that are working in afghanistan is they may be able to get cash in -- need to be able to get cash and to be able to pay for their programs in any
legal protections to do that. i don't know how have money or not have money -- how headline-y or not that is, but htat is th -- that is the main problem that needs it. >> it is headline-y enough because the closures have captured the news. the over ching -- overarching economic issues will have effects on humanitarian operations and the inability to access financial services on a macro scale and for individual afghans will undermine the ability for those who can, for those who are able to carry out economic activity and are self sufficient, the inability to access those -- their own money let alone the financial system, is clearly going to have a severe economic
impact and create exarcebating conditions for the humanitarians especially. are there any kind of key things you would like to share from your perspective, dubai-based, kabul-based for the audience and the international community? >> i would answer the question you asked earlier, in terms of the challenges, operational challenges, the two i want to highlight, one of them is the pakistan deadlock, probably 200,000 educated, mostly employed young men and women. i know there are some who did
amazing jobs underground but women and their rights have complete gone. this is going to create problems. so there's going to be a personal challenge that we need to address, perhaps again this is not a big issue to bring up but operationally, especially where you do need people. in the second thing is focusing on what the taliban are going to do in terms of gender issues, women's rights and so on, but you need to also remember that afghanistan was already dealing with a lot of issues around gender-based violence and so on, and all of these protections, legal protection, has disappeared. there are no longer applicable, the police and the judiciary and so on. this
creates a horrific cap and as we -- gap and as we move forward with protections we want to think about stepping up our prevention work. this is something i would like to leave everybody with, because they have now gone up in the attention with libya and lots of different communities, we have had problems that we were trying to resolve that predate the last 10 days and this is one of the new challenges. thank you. >> an incredibly important point and it speaks to today's conversation and continue to work with you, the rest of you, peace building and development and community, so on behalf of the event, thank you very much for joining us today. this is
the conversation -- the conversation will be posted in its entirety on our website immediately after our conclusion, and we lose -- look forward for all of our viewers and partners today to continue to highlight the urgent humanitarian needs in afghanistan and elsewhere and in particular for women, girls and other vulnerable populations. so thank you again for joining us, for your work and we wish you a good day. >> today on the anniversary of the 1963 march on washington, boeing rights advocates will hold a march in washington dc to call for a passage of federal voting legislation. among the speakers, martin luther king, and rev. al sharpton. live coverage begins on c-span. you can also watch on
c-span.org. c-span is your large view of government. funded by television companies and more. we give you a seat to democracy. announcer: coming up on washington journal, we talk about immigration policy and the biden administration's attempt to end former president trump's remain in mexico policy with geoffrey hoffman from the university of houston law center. and in our spotlight on magazines, we will feature worl