Aid Diversion in Afghanistan: Is it time for a candid conversation?

Diversion of aid in Afghanistan is in the news again, this time with allegations by the United States Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), John Sopko, that the Islamic Emirate or its officials are diverting humanitarian aid. Language in a draft US appropriations bill would prohibit any US assistance going “directly or indirectly” to the Taleban, something which Sopko has warned could have “serious” consequences for aid organisations. The Emirate has denied the allegations. Guest author Ashley Jackson* has been looking into the Taleban’s actual influence over aid, hearing from aid workers on the ground about their experiences and delving into the role of both donors and the Emirate in its delivery. She asks if aid diversion is any worse – or better – than the historical ‘norm’ in Afghanistan and suggests that, whatever its level, there is a need for a candid dialogue that would lead to practical and ethical steps to ensure aid reaches those most in need.
You can preview the report online and download it by clicking the link below.

The European Union defines aid diversion as:

[A]id taken, stolen or damaged by any governmental or local authority, armed group or any other similar actor. Such act is to be considered diverted aid even if the aid is re-distributed to other people in need other than the intended beneficiary group.

This report explores the dynamics that drive aid diversion, arguing that it cannot be understood in isolation from the political, economic and historical factors and patterns. It distinguishes between aid diversion, which is not always malicious or self-serving, and broader corruption, defined as the abuse of power for personal gain. It also notes that indirect benefits to a government that may arise when aid frees up resources for other tasks (for example, aid supporting basic services could allow more spending on the military), or by supporting the macro-economy) is also not aid diversion. However, it  is part of the debate on the amount and nature of aid given to Afghanistan under the Islamic Emirate. These three categories – diversion, corruption and indirect benefit – are often confused or conflated in the current debate over aid to Afghanistan.

Aid diversion is a serious issue that could result in a further reduction of aid to Afghans. Therefore, this report aims to provide some context for assessing donors’ concerns because, while accusations of widespread diversion of aid are increasingly common, detailed evidence is harder to come by.

The report investigates aid diversion in Afghanistan, specifically examining:

  • How aid diversion is defined, and how it is distinct from both corruption and the indirect benefits that aid brings to any government, including the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA);
  • The historical context of aid diversion in Afghanistan, beginning with the eras of the anti-Soviet jihad and subsequent civil war of the 1980s and early 1990s, through the first Islamic Emirate and the Islamic Republic, including the Taleban’s manipulation of aid during the insurgency;
  • The dynamics of the aid industry since Taleban returned to power in August 2021, including the scope and patterns of aid diversion under the IEA; and
  • The responses of aid workers and donors to IEA attempts to control or divert aid.

Finally, it concludes by exploring what might be done differently to mitigate any harm to Afghans in need of assistance.

Edited by Kate Clark and Roxanna Shapour

* Ashley Jackson is co-director of the Centre on Armed Groups and author of ‘Negotiating Survival: Civilian-Insurgent Relations under the Taliban’, Hurst & Co, 2021.

You can preview the report online and download it by clicking the link below.


Aid Diversion in Afghanistan: Is it time for a candid conversation?