West plans to tie Afghan teacher aid to girls’ education pledge

The west is planning to incentivise the Taliban to abide by their promise to allow girls to be educated by providing funding for teachers’ salaries only in provinces in which the pledge is met.

The Taliban claimed this week the group would allow girls of secondary school age to be educated from March, the start of the next school term. Sceptical diplomats said they would need more than verbal assurances, with physical and budgetary evidence of preparations being required.

If no credible nationwide pledge was made or implemented, western diplomats said a plan to fund teachers’ salaries would go ahead only in those provinces where girls were allowed to attend school. Some provinces have been less repressive about the rights of women.

The salary funds would come from the World Bank-administered Afghan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), the single largest source of aid to Afghanistan before the Taliban took over in August. Worth £1.5bn, the fund has been frozen since then.

Next month, the World Bank executive board is likely to discuss how more cash can be released from the fund, not just to help with humanitarian work but, for the first time since August, with the payment of key workers in health and education.

As reports of dire humanitarian need mounted in December, £280m was released but it was mainly sent to the World Food Program and Unicef, and was not spent on salaries.

Accused of letting Afghanistan fall apart, diplomats say there is a growing consensus that the west needs to go beyond conventional humanitarian aid and to fund teachers’ salaries, but only if girls are not being excluded from education.

London and other capitals have been pushing for a larger tranche of ARTF funding to be released, but are waiting on a World Bank board paper, which will map out how cash could be released for salaries in education, health and agricultural production without reaching the Taliban. The west refuses to recognise the group, and the US has imposed sanctions on many of their leaders.

The key proposal is for UN agencies, such as Unicef, or the International Red Cross to produce lists of frontline health and education workers so payments can be sent to their bank accounts directly. One source stressed the plan was for the medium term, adding that the Taliban were “slowly realising that this is the only way this will work”.

The cash for key workers is only one aspect of how the humanitarian crisis is worsened by sanctions.

Di giovedì, the Norwegian Refugee Council became the latest aid agency to say it is nearly impossible to channel money into Afghanistan due to the state of the banks and fears among western financial institutions that transactions will fall foul of US Treasury sanctions.

Before Christmas the UN security council passed a resolution aiming to protect bank transactions for humanitarian purposes from the sanctions regime. Since then the US Treasury has issued six general licences to allow such payments to go ahead, and is in discussion with Citibank, the main bank that handled Afghan transactions, to reassure its officials it will not be sanctioned if it returns to the market. The UK is also bringing the UN’s humanitarian exemption into UK sanctions law, and is providing £280m to Afghanistan this year.

US officials are talking to the Afghan Central Bank to discuss how it can be made more independent and credible. Western officials say it is a misunderstanding to regard theACB’S £8bn in frozen reserves as a potential source of humanitarian funding since it is seed capital for the bank, and if handed back to the Taliban would amount to diplomatic recognition of the group.

Martedì, the Asia Development Bank board released £405m, mainly for the Afghan agricultural sector.

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