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31st March 2022: Considerations for Summit Organisers 

On the 31st of March 2022 the UN, UK, Germany, and Qatar will co-host a pledging summit for Afghanistan. The member organisations of the British & Irish Agencies Afghanistan Group (BAAG) and the European Network of NGOs in Afghanistan (ENNA) in consultation with Afghan civil society, are encouraged by this commitment and hope that the co-hosts will be ambitious in both the planning and in the follow-up to the summit.

As agencies with 50 NGO members combined, and many decades of experience of humanitarian and development work in Afghanistan, we believe that support for Afghanistan has never been more urgently needed. Political instability, economic collapse, drought, climate change and COVID-19 have created unprecedented humanitarian needs for 24 million people inside Afghanistan, and 5.7 million in neighbouring countries, which need an immediate response. A record number of Afghans are experiencing the highest levels ever of acute food insecurity and the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) projects the number of food insecure people to rise to 22.8 million between November 2021 and March 2022.

We therefore call on the participants in the summit to bear in mind the following considerations:

1) Inclusion of Afghans & Civil Society
Representation should be diverse and voices of both rural and urban civil society, women, minority and most vulnerable groups deserve to be prioritised and safely heard by decision makers when plans are made for assistance and development programmes in Afghanistan. The importance of representation is most recently evident in the disheartening development in the refusal of girls’ education and female participation in meetings. The empowerment and acknowledgment of the voices of Afghan women and girls is more important than ever. Existing structures such as Community Development Councils (CDCs) should be preserved and strengthened. Ensuring the comprehensive and participatory engagement with Afghan civil society will be crucial to the summit’s success.

Civil society is a transformative actor in the Afghan landscape, opening up public space, empowering marginalised groups, contributing to grassroots level peacebuilding, improving linkages and connections between urban and rural communities, monitoring progress, generating policy feedback and improving public engagement with key processes of development, governance and peacebuilding. It is essential to continue investing in civil society and enabling Afghan-based civil society autonomy by direct access to donor funds. This requires that national and international NGOs and CSOs can operate without undue restrictions and according to international norms. There should be continual and constructive engagement with the de facto authorities and the donor community, as a means of strengthening accountability to the Afghan people and placing their needs first.

2) Flexible funding for the Triple Nexus: Humanitarian Assistance, Development & Peace
It is essential to prioritise life-saving assistance, to sustain essential services, and to preserve the social investments and community-level systems that are essential if basic human needs are to be met. Afghanistan is suffering from a protracted crisis caused by conflict, climate change and a collapsing economy, and continued humanitarian aid will buy the Afghan people some much needed time. To reduce the needs in the longer term, a triple nexus approach i.e.; programming across humanitarian-development-peace pillars, applied with more flexibility in the funding focusing on inclusion and resilience is necessary. It is particularly important that rigidity of funding should not restrict the operations of national NGOs and CSOs. As the Sustainable Development Goals are interlinked, attaching or limiting funding to specific goals should be avoided.

3) Quality and Quantity
While the main goal of meeting is to raise $4.4bn humanitarian funding for prompt disbursement, the quantity of money pledged to the emergency response should not be the only measure of success. The organisers should set a clear example, providing humanitarian funding that is flexible, multiyear and available to front-line responders, including local NGOs.

The aim of the international community must be to move towards long-term development cooperation in support of the Afghan people. It is essential that humanitarian funds are directed via, or in genuine partnership with, local humanitarian actors with a strong track record in the appropriate and needs-led use of funds. Humanitarian aid must empower Afghan institutions, individuals and organisations as long-term agents of humanitarian relief and development while ensuring the funding process is gender responsive. Funding commitments to stabilise the broader economy are critical, not only because of the devastating impact of economic collapse on the population, but because the humanitarian response is seriously hindered by the financial crisis.

4) Policy Commitments Beyond Funding
The summit should promote the full and effective re-engagement of the World Bank, IMF, and other International Financial Institutions in Afghanistan, including regional development banks. Restarting the activities of financial institutions and comprehensive development financing must allow for salary payments of key workers, prioritising health care and education. Creating parallel delivery structures would further undermine Afghan institutional capacity and establish greater aid dependence. People must have jobs and the economy must be revived.

A functioning central bank is critical. Governments, the UN, the World Bank, and the Taliban need to work together to agree a clear roadmap to restoring the basic functions of the Afghan central bank, with all necessary safeguards, so that it can settle limited transactions with outside private banks and incoming dollar deposits from legitimate private depositors and purchase banknotes to hold commercial auctions for private banks in Afghanistan. With this goal in mind, coordinated commitment is needed to resume full technical support to the central bank as a step towards ensuring it can operate independently, honestly and effectively by the end of 2022 and enable the use of assets for the benefit of the Afghan people.

The release of all frozen assets is critical to support the Afghan economy. The foreign exchange reserves held in the US should be used to help stabilise the Afghan economy and private sector – including for balance of payments, exchange rate, monetary policy management and support for the banking system.

The summit needs to bring donors to agreement on a platform through which the key players in Afghanistan’s economy can meet regularly and agree on clear measures that will safeguard past investments and prevent the collapse of critical Afghan state structures, services, and financial institutions. Interim measures, such as the UN’s Humanitarian Exchange Facility, should be supported and integrated into wider economic and financial planning for the country.

Measures to prevent and combat corruption should be a continuing priority, integrated at all levels, as this has been a key concern for the citizens of Afghanistan for many years.

5) The Regional & Global Role
Lessons should be learned from past and current crises in the region and globally. Every effort should be made to fulfil the UNHCR’s $623m regional funding appeal which will support Afghans residing in neighbouring countries. Western governments should commit to improving access to clear and safe pathways to asylum outside the region.

6) Tracking & Independent Oversight
The pledging conference should be the start rather than the end of a process. Organisers should agree on a framework for tracking and follow-up on pledges, both financial and political, to ensure commitments are met. Tracking of financial pledges should clearly distinguish between allocations already planned, new money and how the funds are disbursed and to whom. Benchmarks for policy commitments are needed for effective implementation and follow up. The civil society oversight of humanitarian aid as well as services is critical to ensure aid effectiveness.