Aid should, and does, help civilians

The Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, SCA, welcomes the scrutiny of aid efforts in Afghanistan by journalist Magda Gad and the Swedish tabloid Expressen. It is a relevant and largely balanced account of the very difficult environment in which the Afghan civilian population lives and SCA operates. SCA however finds that a few essential corrections are needed.

In the articles, Gad refers to several unidentified individuals commenting "… the unusually good relationship between the Taliban and the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (SCA). Allegedly, the NGO even pays taxes in Taliban-controlled areas. ….".

This is not true. SCA does not pay taxes to the Taliban.

In the published articles it is repeatedly claimed that "everyone" who works in Taliban controlled areas must pay taxes. One source is a researcher at the Afghanistan Analysts Network, AAN. The statement is generalizing, it is not substantiated, and it is not the experience of SCA. If an employee of SCA was to pass on funds from the organization and its donors to the Taliban, it would be classified as corruption, which SCA never accepts and always fights. Whenever irregularities are suspected, SCA investigates and acts resolutely.

On one occasion in the past decade, local Taliban have attempted to pressure SCA to pay taxes in a specific area. Rather than paying, it led SCA to close operations in the area. This of course affected the civilian population, but SCA was later able to reopen, mainly thanks to the local population themselves persuading the Taliban to withdraw the tax claim.

However, Taliban frequently demands that families or entire villages pay the “Taliban tax”, more or less equaling the tradition of paying a share of the harvest. Further, mostly businessmen and companies are frequently exposed to extortion in combination with violence and threats. The latter are often registered as "NGOs" (non-governmental organizations), which is also the term used by the researcher Said Reza Kazemi, interviewed by Gad.

Referring to SCA having " unusually good relationship [with] the Taliban"; SCA is generally a respected organization in Afghanistan due to the fact that it has worked continuously and consistently in the country since 1982. SCA was there with and for the civilian population during the Soviet occupation, during a bloody civil war and has remained during the period after 2001. Unlike many other organisations, SCA remained and worked for the needs and rights of the civilians even under the Taliban regime during the 1990s. All this has contributed to SCA being a respected organization today. Occasionally also respected by Taliban. It also means that SCA amongst a large part of the rural population is not considered as foreign, in contrast to many other organizations.

Still, the relation between SCA and the Taliban is no better than them regularly threatening and endangering our projects, the people we work for and our staff. On occasion this has forced SCA to close schools, health clinics and other facilities.

Many areas in Afghanistan are controlled by the government during day and by Taliban during night. Regardless who is in power SCA always sides with the civilian population. We have done so for 40 years and we will continue to do so. In most areas of the world where international aid is necessary and conflict is ongoing, organisations such as SCA must remain neutral and focus on targeting the most vulnerable. Therefore SCA cannot completely refrain from operating in areas dominated by Taliban or other armed opposition groups. To withdraw would be fundamentally against SCAs principles and the human rights of the civilian population.

SCA is most aware that Swedish and international aid, as well as military and state aid, unavoidably becomes part of the local economy. We therefore have no choice, we have to deal with the conflict, the crime and corruption. This is also the reason why we do our utmost to ensure that funds are
used as intended. The control systems and whistle blower functions of SCA are well-developed. They may not always and in every case prevent corruption, but they help the organisation to detect, stop and openly report fraud.

In 2018, SCA aid funds made it possible for nearly 2.9 million patients to receive treatment at SCA-run hospitals and clinics. More than 87,000 children were provided education. Aid should empower and help civilians and strengthen their rights – which is what our donor funds do.