Thursday, October 23, 2014

Afghans caught up in conflict face uncertain future

Nazir Khan, a 40-year-old Afghan refugee, recently began working as a watchman at a private house in Lahore, capital of Pakistan’s Punjab province. “I am lucky I found work; now I can support my family at least,” he told IRIN.

Khan, who has lived in Pakistan for 25 years, fled Buner district in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) when fighting broke out there between Taliban militants and Pakistan army forces in early May.

According to a situation report on 29 May by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), just over 2.5 million people have been displaced since 2 May.

There is uncertainty over how many Afghan refugees may be included among those.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), as of January 2007 Pakistan hosted about 1 million Afghan refugees in camps assisted by UNHCR. However, a 2005 Pakistan government census suggests a further 1.5 million Afghans were living outside camps.

Since 2005, the Pakistan government has stepped up pressure on these people to return to their country.

Nader Farhad, UNHCR spokesman in Kabul, said rates of return to Afghanistan had been slower this year than in previous years, with only 20,000 returning so far.

As fierce fighting broke out in areas of NWFP earlier in May, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, expressed deep concern over the well-being of some 20,000 registered Afghan refugees living in the conflict-affected districts of Buner, Lower Dir and Upper Dir.

“We have reports that many have fled together with the local population. Some have chosen to return to Afghanistan with UNHCR assistance and others have chosen to relocate to existing refugee sites in Pakistan,” Guterres said.

Farhad said that 114,000 Afghans had been living in conflict-affected areas of NWFP and had been forced to relocate to other parts of Pakistan or live with friends and relatives.

Afghan refugees harassed

According to watchman Khan, the Afghans he knows have shunned displacement camps and opted to move in with relatives, often in cities such as Peshawar or Lahore. “I had no idea what the situation would be like at camps. There are so many reports of harassment of Afghans that we were scared of any dealings with officials in case we faced persecution,” he said.

The arrest of Afghans in Pakistan, often after terrorist attacks, has been regularly reported in the local media and drawn calls from the Afghan government on Pakistan to avoid “mistreating” Afghan nationals.

For the Afghans forced to move from places they have called ‘home’ for decades, the new conflict is giving rise to growing anxiety over their future.

“I have lived in Buner since I was 20. I worked as a carpenter there,” said Khan. “I am now considering returning to Afghanistan, but people say the economic situation there is very bad. But then things are tough here too.”

Ahmed Gul, a cousin of Khan, moved in with relatives in Peshawar after leaving the Bajaur tribal area late last year following conflict there. “The future for Afghans is uncertain. Since 2005, when camps were closed in most parts of NWFP for security reasons, we have been treated like criminals. I just don’t know what to do or where to go. The fighting has made our lives very difficult.”

LAHORE,  (IRIN)

The United Nations Development Programme’s Draft Country Programme for Afghanistan

The United Nations Development Programme’s Draft Country Programme for Afghanistan (DP/DCP/AFG/2) was launched and debated today, May 29, 2009 during the Executive Board meeting of UNDP/UNFPA.

The Programme is designed to map out UNDP’s activities in Afghanistan for the period 2010-2013. It is created in consultation with a wide variety of stakeholders, including the Government of Afghanistan, donor countries, civil society and NGOs. Once adopted, it acts as the framework around which UNDP will plan its projects and activities in Afghanistan.

The draft country programme can be found online here:(Click to Download) . After the introduction of the Programme by UNDP, Ambassador Tanin outlined Afghanistan’s thoughts on the Programme. He was followed by speakers from many major donor countries who supported his comments. Details of the Country Programme will be worked out in the coming months.

Taliban’s Foreign Support Vexes U.S.

By YOCHI J. DREAZEN-

U.S. officials recently concluded that the Afghan Taliban may receive as much money from foreign donors as it does from opium sales, potentially hindering the Obama administration’s strategy to rehabilitate Afghanistan by stopping the country’s drug trade.

Gen. David Petraeus, who oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, said in a recent interview that the Taliban has three main sources of funding: drug revenue; payments from legitimate businesses that are secretly owned by the armed group or that pay it kickbacks; and donations from foreign charitable foundations and individuals.

“You have funds generated locally, funds that come in from the outside, and funds that come from the illegal narcotics business,” he said. “It’s a hotly debated topic as to which is the most significant and it may be that they are all roughly around the same level.”

Gen. Petraeus estimated that the Taliban raise a total of “hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars” each year from the three sources, and said the U.S. doesn’t have precise figures.

The Taliban have depended in part on foreign support for decades. In an interview last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said some Afghan militants could draw on “external funding channels” created in the 1980s for wealthy Muslims — with U.S. support — to funnel money to Islamic fighters battling the Soviet military. “It wouldn’t surprise me if those channels have remained open,” he said.

Two senior U.S. officials said the Central Intelligence Agency has identified individuals and charities suspected of providing the bulk of the Taliban funding, but declined to name them, citing continuing operations to disrupt the money flows.

Senior U.S. officials said the Taliban received significant donations from Pakistan — where sympathy for the group is widespread in the country’s Pashtun community — and Gulf nations such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Pakistani Ambassador Hussein Haqqani said his government had frozen hundreds of bank accounts tied to the Taliban and other extremist groups and said the effort is a “work in progress.”

“The extremist networks continue to find new financing schemes and methods to evade law enforcement,” he said.

A senior Saudi official here said his government regularly arrested citizens suspected of funneling money to armed groups such as the Taliban but questioned the extent of the practice. The official said Saudi charities are barred from sending money outside the country.

“If the Americans have actionable intelligence on Saudis who are supporting the Taliban, they should provide us the intelligence, and we will act on it,” he said.

Officials from the Kuwaiti Embassy declined to comment.

The Taliban’s ability to continually replenish its coffers concerns U.S. policy makers such as Mr. Gates, who conjectured in the interview that American public support for the war will dissipate before the end of the year unless the administration achieves a “perceptible shift in momentum” there.

American officials said most of the money was sent to the Taliban through the informal hawala money-transfer system — a network of money brokers with little outside oversight. A 2006 World Bank report about Afghanistan said the hawala system “carries out the majority of the country’s cash payments and transfers.”

The resurgent Taliban have been mounting attacks in recent months, inflicting heavy casualties on U.S., North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Afghan soldiers. On Thursday, U.S.-led forces raided a suspected foreign-fighter camp in eastern Afghanistan, setting off a gun fight that killed 34 militants, according to an Afghan official.
-Siobhan Gorman contributed to this article.

Source: The Wall Street Journal