The situation in Afghanistan has grown ever more complex over the past 40 years. Amidst droughts and insecurity, the country has endured conflict and 30 years of civil war. Today, Afghanistan is in the throes of a humanitarian and economic crisis.
Survival and safety have been the primary concerns of families, under conditions that few can imagine. In spite of extremely challenging circumstances, the Jamat remains resilient.
The vast majority of the Jamat has remained in the country, illustrating confidence in the Jamati institutions’ efforts and guidance, as well as a sense of hope. The Jamati institutions, established over the last two decades, are working hard to monitor the conditions of the Jamat, to implement programmes, and to assist AKDN agencies that provide services.
Following the sudden collapse of the government in mid-August 2021, there was a fear of escalating violence and deteriorating conditions in society. How has the situation evolved?
Civil society collapsed, financial institutions were paralysed with little cash to offer depositors, and there was no semblance of a functioning government. There was fear of reprisals and concerns about the status of women and their education. Foreign aid had been a lifeline for the country for 40 years. After being completely frozen, aid is now slowly trickling in. Law and order had to be restored, businesses came to a standstill, and stability was needed.
The transition had its challenges. There was confusion and disarray in the beginning and we quickly mobilised our teams to connect with the Jamat around the country to assess their condition. AKDN, with its longstanding presence in the country, has continued to operate on the basis of neutrality, working peacefully for the benefit of all Afghans. This has helped the Jamat significantly, alongside sister communities, as programmes benefit all segments of the population, irrespective of religion or political affiliation.
We are in regular dialogue with government leaders in Kabul and in other regions on the needs of the most vulnerable populations and how we can continue to assist them. Together with leadership from the National Council and Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Envoy, Vazir Akbar Pesnani, as well as Jamati representatives and others, we have visited every part of the country to understand the Jamat’s circumstances first-hand.
An extensive national Quality of Life survey was conducted in the last five years and information is updated periodically. We are, therefore, aware of the Jamat’s status across the country. This has helped us mobilise resources, implement programs, and provide assistance quickly in areas of need.
The World Food Programme estimates there are 22 million people needing food aid in the country. Droughts have continued in the north, affecting food supplies for the past two years. What is the food security situation of the Jamat?
During the past few months, there have been food shortages in the country, and the National Council, together with the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat, along with its partners such as the World Food Programme, has provided much needed food aid to the Jamat and its neighbours, including in remote villages such as Shewa in Badakhshan.
No one in the Jamat is going hungry. The Council initiated a food aid programme in partnership with the United Nations World Food Programme, the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat, and the Aga Khan Foundation, to provide 2,000 metric tons of food between 2020 and the end of 2021. The Council sent more than 12,000 food packages and cooking supplies to the most needy villages and families, and this support will continue in drought-affected areas until the harvest season.
Assistance is continuing. We are receiving regular reports from the regions about the condition of each family, so we are monitoring the Jamat’s situation continuously. A better harvest is expected this year, and some of the frozen Afghan government assets may be freed to provide food aid in months to come.
What is the employment and financial situation of the Jamat? Are women largely prohibited from working?
The Jamat, like other communities, has been impacted, though the situation of the Jamat has not deteriorated to extreme levels.
Unemployment in the country has tripled. Many have lost their jobs, including teachers and those working in the federal, municipal, and provincial governments. Women have been particularly affected and many are out of work. The majority of Afghan students were previously taught by women, and they have been greatly affected. There is a shortage of qualified teachers and the situation is critical. However, UNICEF is providing a few months’ salaries to teachers to help them survive.
Prior to August 2021, the unemployment rate in the Jamat was 36 per cent. Today, it stands at 81 per cent, so you can imagine the consequences on families. As most members of the Jamat have a second home in smaller towns or villages, many have returned there as they can survive more easily than in the large cities. The Council provided transportation for over 4,000 people to return to their ancestral lands. This may continue for a while, until there is financial stability, but we are continuing to educate and train people to earn income from other sources. Together with the government and AKDN, we need to make employment opportunities a priority in the coming months.
How are medical facilities coping? Does the Jamat have access to adequate healthcare?
Hospitals are running out of fuel for generators and medicines are in short supply. However, most of the Jamat has access to at least basic health care. Those in the mountainous and more remote villages still have to travel for several hours, if not a full day, to reach a clinic or hospital. The French Medical Institute for Children in Kabul, established in 2006 through a partnership between the Government of France, the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, AKDN, and the French NGO La Chaîne de L’Espoir, offers support to Jamati members needing treatment. The Jamat has good access to hospitals operated by Aga Khan Health Services, such as Faizabad hospital (AKHS Provincial hospital), and the Aga Khan Hospital in Bamiyan.
Initially due to the pandemic, students were unable to go to school. In particular, those in Grades 11 and 12 lost half a year of schooling, which may impact their ability to enter university. Girls are no longer permitted to attend secondary school. How has the current situation impacted access to education for students within the Jamat?
The National Council has developed several programmes to provide classes to help students prepare for university entrance exams and for others to learn new skills, including English and vocational training.
The future of our children is a significant focus. The Aga Khan Education Services provided resources to teach students in our Jamatkhanas and Bait-ul Ilms. Over 9,000 students are enrolled in the Women’s Empowerment Programme and Digital Learning initiative, of which 65% are women. Over 1,000 students are enrolled in English classes, and 110 teachers are in the Early Childhood Development (ECD) training programme at the Aga Khan Learning Centre in Kabul.
The objective is to build professional level capacity in ECD to enable access to science and mathematics courses, and increase access to all levels of the English language. Recently, AKES established an Early Learning Centre in Kabul catering to children aged three to six years. We have also received tertiary level scholarships.
Status of women
Many of the gains made over the past two decades have dissipated, especially in employment. Universities have gender-segregated classes now and many women were dismissed from their positions in schools and in the government. What is the overall status of women in the Jamat?
Women have been affected the most because of the unemployment situation. This will take time to resolve and the Council has taken measures to provide them with other skills. But in the cities, they are free to attend Jamatkhanas in the mornings and evenings, even without a male attendant, and to shop freely in the bazaars. The burka is not enforced and a scarf will generally suffice as a head covering. More remote areas, however, are more conservative, and they are more restricted.
The Jamat, under the guidance and protection of Mawlana Hazar Imam and with the support of Imamat institutions continues to prepare for the future. AKDN staff and Ismaili Council leadership and Jamati volunteers are committed to monitoring conditions and to providing all assistance possible at this fragile period in the country’s history.