Aid agencies in Ghor suspend operations over Taliban ‘extortion’

Aid agencies that have suspended operations in central Ghor province have said they will not resume operations until the Taliban stop ordering them to hand over 30 percent of food or cash aid that is meant for the people.

A source from one organization said a Taliban delegation visits the agencies and orders them to hand over money or food, claiming it will go towards reconstructing the Ghor-Herat highway.

The source, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “A [Taliban] committee visits the organizations to collect money; so that they hand over 30 percent of money or food, which is supposed to be distributed to the people in humanitarian aid;” and say it’s for the reconstruction of the road.”

According to the source, because of this, aid agencies in the province are not prepared to resume operations.

Another source, who also works for a relief organization in the province, said that the aid agencies are not able to provide the Taliban with funds for the construction of roads because “the organizations are working for the people of Afghanistan based on plans.”

The source added that people in Ghor need food and fuel to warm their homes so they can survive this winter.

A source from the World Food Organization (WFP), who also requested anonymity, told an Amu TV reporter that this is not the first time the Taliban has imposed such orders and demanded a share of the humanitarian aid from agencies. According to him, the Taliban repeatedly confiscate aid that has been handed out to the people and use the money to rebuild roads.

“Unfortunately, the Taliban have in many districts of Ghor taken back food and non-food aid that was distributed to the people, using the excuse of building a road; therefore, the officials of the organizations have decided to halt their operations” until the Taliban stops seizing aid, he said.

An investigation by Amu TV’s found that the Taliban regularly confiscates aid in a number of districts in the province, particularly in Du Layna and Pasaband districts; and parts of Firozkoh city.

Displaced people struggling in cold winter

The suspension of humanitarian assistance and increasing poverty in Ghor has created enormous challenges for residents, especially internally displaced persons (IDPs), who said some have lost relatives due to the extreme weather.

A number of vulnerable families in Ghor province have told Amu TV that they are dealing with an extremely difficult situation due to poverty, unemployment, cold weather, and the suspension of humanitarian assistance in the province.

Ibrahim, an IDP from Badghis province, said: “I came here because of poverty, there is neither work nor income. It’s been three years that my wife, myself, and our three children have relied on the help of organizations to survive. After the Taliban stopped the aid [being distributed] by the agencies … come and see, we have nothing to eat and [nothing to] heat our home.”

These families have called on the Taliban to allow aid organizations to deliver aid and to stop demanding a share.

Disputes among the Taliban

The Taliban’s local officials, meanwhile, have rejected these claims, and stated they have not used aid to fund the reconstruction of roads. According to them, aid organizations have made excuses about not distributing relief for more than a month.

Abdulwahid Hamas, the spokesman of the Taliban-designated governor for Ghor province, said: “No one has and will not use the materials of the organizations, the agencies are making excuses, and it has been more than a month since they stopped their aid. The institutions are not looking for transparency and providing help to the poor and the real deserving people.”

Meanwhile, another Taliban official in Ghor’s department of information and culture said that they have only asked for money from the employees of the organizations, not the agencies.

Mohammad Hamas, the head of information and culture of Ghor, said: “employees who work for organizations in Ghor have been requested to dedicate [a percentage] from their salaries, not from rights of needy and vulnerable people.”