Afghanistan (June 1996)
by Humanitarian Practice Network June 1996

In September 1995, the Taliban captured Herat, Afghanistan’s second city, thereby significantly altering the balance of power within the country. They subsequently threatened to attack the capital if President Rabbani did not stand down. The threat of major conflict in Kabul led to the withdrawal of many NGO and UN staff.

Rabbani accused Pakistan of helping the Taliban, and strong anti-Pakistan sentiment was evident in the capital. A large crowd of demonstrators attacked the Pakistan embassy in Kabul, the day after the fall of Herat, killing one of its staff members and inflicting heavy damage on the building.

In October, the Taliban occupied hills overlooking the south of the capital, leading to refugee flows from the southern suburbs to the centre of the city. Since the capture of these hills there have been regular rocket attacks in the capital, with numerous casualties. The SRSG conducted a round of talks with all sides in an attempt to avoid a full-scale battle for the capital.

As a result of the fighting close to the city, and the virtual blockade of Kabul, prices of basic commodities have risen significantly, increasing the vulnerability of many of the city’s population. ICRC has been involved in flying in food supplies for up to 160,000 individuals, while WFP managed to bring in a convoy of 18 trucks in February. Tens of thousands of people have, nonetheless, fled the capital. Flooding in at least seven provinces since the second half of April is hampering relief efforts, although the full impact of the damage cannot yet be accurately estimated.

Iran has been continuing in its efforts to accelerate the return of refugees to Afghanistan, although the fighting in Herat province disrupted the repatriation process.

A UN appeal for $124 million was launched on 9 October 1995, of which only $27 million had been received by 7 February 1996. Funding for relief activities remains difficult to secure – only 65% of the previous year’s target of $106 million was raised.

Discussions have been taking place between various groups within the country, in an attempt to create alliances. The most significant development in this regard has been the recent emergence of a new alliance between Rabbani and Hekmatyar’s Hisb-e-Islami, only weeks after the latter had appeared to be joining forces with other opposition groups.

Talks between Iran and Pakistan have also been held to try to reduce the tension arising from the belief in Teheran that the Taliban were being supported by the US and Pakistan to counter Iranian influence in the region. Iran does not appear to have been satisfied by Pakistan’s assurances that it was not involved in the conflict, and it is reported that they are now openly supporting Rabbani.