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The Aga Khan’s Enduring Struggle in Afghanistan 2022-02-23

Wednesday, 2022, February 23
IB Times
Minister of Foreign Affairs of  Afghanistan, Mohammad Haneef Atmar, met with Prince Rahim in Geneva  2020-11-26
IBT Contributor

It has been six months since U.S. forces pulled out of Afghanistan and the national government collapsed, and the country is in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, 30% of the nation’s 39 million people are currently at risk of severe malnutrition.

The United Nations is seeking to address the emergency by calling for $5 billion in funding for Afghanistan in 2022, which features a U.N. Development Program request for $667 million to set up a “people’s economy” fund to help ordinary Afghans. On the national level, the US has agreed to finance further humanitarian efforts to the tune of $308 million. While these might seem like small sums in view of what NATO nations have spent on Afghanistan annually over the last two decades, it is a start - but only that.

Levels of assistance from aid groups won’t be enough to help the 18 million Afghans requiring aid or protection. The charitable and NGO sector has largely evacuated the country, in many cases leaving former local colleagues behind. Roughly 100 ex-British Council staff are still in Afghanistan, and have so far been denied the right to come to Britain, the BBC recently reported. Dozens of Afghans who worked for the British Council as teachers in Afghanistan’s Helmand province are still in hiding and reportedly remain terrified of reprisals.

One of the few organisations that has never left, the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), has toiled across the war-torn country for the better part of three decades. Committed to improving living conditions and opportunities for the poor, its network of agencies has provided life-saving healthcare to people of all backgrounds and faiths. AKDN has educated hundreds of thousands of the country’s children, built vital infrastructure for rural communities, prepared them for the risks of natural disasters and even invested in telecommunications to connect people across the country and beyond.

Sadly, no amount of development could prepare the population for the tragedy that would befall the country last summer. But AKDN was not about to give up on thirty years of work. Its officials and staff have remained committed to the people of Afghanistan in the months that followed the catastrophic withdrawal. Its approach has been to observe strict political neutrality. AKDN’s officials regularly meet national and local leaders, international organisations, diplomats and civil society leaders.

The decision to persist came from His Highness the Aga Khan, AKDN’s founder and Chairman and the Imam, or spiritual leader, of the world’s Shia Ismaili Muslim community. Members of his family help maintain oversight of operations, while strategy is being shaped with the close involvement of Prince Rahim Aga Khan, the Aga Khan’s oldest son. Following his recent divorce from American model Kenda Spears, the Prince maintains a home in Geneva with his two sons, Irfan, 6, and Sinan aged 5.

It was in Geneva that Prince Rahim had his last encounter with the Afghan leadership before the country’s collapse, when in November 2020 the Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Haneef Atmar met with him to express his gratitude and appreciation for the valuable cooperation of AKDN to Afghanistan in various fields during the last 19 years. In addition to focusing on climate and sustainability – AKDN is a founding partner of the prestigious ‘Earthshot’ Prize, along with HRH Prince William – Prince Rahim is helping to set the priorities for AKDN, which includes urging the international community to continue to support the Afghan people and assist the nation with long-term development.

International partners have responded generously to the Aga Khan Foundation’s emergency humanitarian appeal, launched in September last year, which outlined a proposed 6-month rapid response to deal with immediate humanitarian needs along with elements of a 20-month early economic recovery programme that addresses the economic crisis.

The programme will complement other humanitarian assistance actions and activities, including those by UN agencies. Initially, it will target vulnerable households before extending to reach 500,000 households across multiple geographies.

Securing international support is harder than meets the eye however. Hesitancy is understandable given the situation on the ground. The track record of large-scale financial aid to Afghanistan over the last two decades has been poor. But the right response to these past failures is not to simply fall back onto cynicism and give up on the Afghan people. Rather, donor countries and organisations — led by the United States — should take steps to make sure the money reaches its intended target population, helping to support the poorest and most needy, including through the most effective NGOs and trusted civil society organisations.

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