Death of Christian worker leads at least one other group to consider postponing relief work.
ISTANBUL, October 29 (Compass Direct News) – Aid agencies are reviewing the viability of their presence in Afghanistan following the murder of Christian aid worker Gayle Williams, who was killed in Kabul last week in a drive-by shooting.
This latest attack in the heart of Kabul has added to the sense of insecurity already felt by in-country foreign aid workers due to the recent escalation in violence by insurgent groups.
“[There is] gradually encroaching control by the Taliban of the regions outside of the cities and the roads in between, and now it looks like the ability to operate even inside the cities as well,” said Mike Lyth, chairman of Serve Afghanistan, a humanitarian organization that has worked with Afghans since the 1970s. “It’s very difficult – I mean, how do you stop somebody riding in on a motorcycle?”
Dan McNorton, public information officer for the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), told Compass that despite the worsening situation, the United Nations had a 50-year history with Afghanistan and its commitment to the country and its people remained “absolutely solid.”
“There is no indication from the NGOs or humanitarian and other aid organizations that are here that there is any desire or decision for them not to be here, not to carry out the good work that they are here to do,” he said.
In light of recent events, however, Serve Afghanistan’s Lyth believes that aid agencies will have to reconsider their presence in the country.
“Each time something like this happens they have a review,” he said. “We’re certainly going to be reviewing [our position] this next week.”
A recently issued U.N. report stated that there were more than 120 attacks targeting aid workers in the first seven months of this year alone. These attacks saw 92 abducted and 30 killed.
“Yesterday I was talking to one agency that has decided to postpone their work in the country in response to the attacks,” said Karl Torring of the European Network of NGOs in Afghanistan. Other agencies he represents, however, are not so quick to make a decision.
“So people say, ‘Well, we are committed to the Afghans but how many lives is it worth in terms of foreigners and Afghani staff as well’” said Lyth.
Speaking at a news conference following the death of Williams, Humayun Hamidzada, spokesman for President Hamid Karzai, issued a warning to international aid workers in Kabul.
“The international workers based in Kabul, be it with the aid agencies or in the private sector, should get in touch with the relevant police departments, review their security measures and make sure they take necessary precautions while they commute,” he said according to Voice of America.
Taliban insurgents have claimed responsibility for Williams’ death, and in a telephone interview with Reuters they cited the spreading of Christian “propaganda” as the reason for the attack.
Williams, 34, a dual citizen of Britain and South Africa, had recently been relocated to Kabul from Kandahar due to fears over safety after recent attacks against civilians.
A volunteer with Serve Afghanistan for two years, she was walking to her office when she was shot dead by two men riding a motorcycle.
Serve Afghanistan provides education and support for the poor and disabled and, according to Lyth, has a strict policy against proselytizing.
Doubting a purely religious motive, some have questioned the Taliban’s charge against Williams of proselytizing. Sources have suggested that Williams was targeted more as a Western woman than as a Christian, considering the presence of easily identifiable religious groups in the country, such as various Catholic orders, and in light of the scope of previous attacks.
“A month before, they had killed three women from a secular agency and said they were spies,” said Lyth. “They pick whatever reason, to get them off the hook and give them some valid reason for attacking women. There’s been a major spate of attacks on women rather than anybody else.”
In a meeting of the U.N. Security Council earlier this month, UNAMA head and U.N. Special Representative in Afghanistan Kai Eide suggested that the Taliban attacks were designed to attract media attention as they sought to demoralize and hinder reconstruction efforts.
“I think everyone agrees the Taliban are winning the public relations war in Afghanistan,” said Torring.
A recent report by Voice of America pointed out that many of Afghanistan’s reconstruction projects rely heavily on foreign management and training efforts. The attempts of the Taliban to destabilize foreign presence could greatly undermine these projects and have severely detrimental effects on the nation.
U.N. figures state that violent attacks in the country are up from the 2003 monthly average of 44 to a monthly average of 573.
Report from Compass Direct News