IMS in Afghanistan – what now?

The current situation in Afghanistan raises numerous questions that all of us who have invested in the development of the country over the last 20 years are now pondering.

Despite the current dramatic and worrying circumstances, this is not the time to give up hope for a better future for the Afghan people. There have been numerous positive developments over the last two decades that will not be erased in the wake of the Taliban’s takeover — media plurality and professionalism among them.

With the Taliban in power, some argue that all support for Afghanistan must cease, that you cannot work in a country led by the Taliban as it will be a de facto recognition of their legitimacy. Others believe that global society now needs to focus solely on humanitarian aid instead of development efforts because millions of people need urgent help, which, obviously, is an accurate assessment. I understand the logic behind both statements, but I find it necessary to point out that we are not faced with a binary choice. In fact, we need to prioritise both humanitarian work and maintain development efforts in Afghanistan. If we really want to help the Afghan people and maintain some of the progress that has been made, these two areas should go hand in hand.

Within the field of IMS’ work, the developments in Afghanistan have been striking. From a country largely without independent media coverage, hundreds of independent media have been established in the country over the past 20 years; thousands of women as well as men have worked as journalists; and unprecedented public access to information has been granted. The Taliban taking power is a significant setback, but it would be a fallacy to conclude that all is lost.

I know from experience that it is possible to support and maintain the production of credible, independent and vital media content in extremely difficult situations – both in the short term, as a crucial part of a humanitarian effort where timely information can save lives, and in the long term. IMS is already doing this in countries such as Syria, Somalia, Yemen and Myanmar, where millions of people access the content produced by IMS’ media partners every day under the most difficult circumstances. It is precisely in a crisis such as what we are currently seeing in Afghanistan that people need credible information the most. That is why I can firmly say that the work of IMS in Afghanistan is by no means over. We will continue to support Afghan journalists and work for people’s right to information.