Afghanistan facing humanitarian catastrophe
IT is high time that one forgets about the politics of the Afghan crisis, and concentrates upon the humanitarian catastrophe that is unfolding in Afghanistan.
It has been over three months since the Taliban have taken over the reins of the government, but the situation is far from stable in Afghanistan.
War may have ended, but with the advent of winter, the people of Afghanistan are facing serious levels of hunger.
According to UN reports, 60% of Afghanistan’s 38 million people are likely to be affected by impending food crisis.
The situation will worsen, if emergency aid to Afghanistan is delayed any longer. Some meagre international aid has started to trickle into the vast country but is certainly not enough to deal with the enormous food crisis in the country, especially when huge swathes of the country remain inaccessible in winters. The lack of basic health facilities has also added to acute problems of health and starvation.
The continued lack of formal recognition of the Taliban regime, even after three months of their take over, by the world community has increased their isolation.
It is the failure of the Taliban regime to be more inclusive, and in providing equal opportunities and rights to the women of Afghanistan which has led the world community to be gingerly in granting the Taliban full diplomatic recognition.
It has been declared by many countries including America, that humanitarian aid to Afghanistan would not be linked with formal recognition, but continued financial sanctions on Afghanistan have thwarted the efforts of humanitarian aid to reach the Afghan people expeditiously.
Washington’s decision to freeze Afghanistan’s $9 billion reserves, parked in the American banks, has brought Afghanistan close to economic collapse.
Economic sanctions imposed by the US on Afghanistan after the takeover of the Taliban, have adversely affected the Afghan regime’s ability to access funds allocated by IMF and the World Bank.
The multinational agencies seem to have blocked their funds because of ambiguity surrounding the Taliban regime.
There seems to be political connotations to this near catastrophic humanitarian situation in Afghanistan also. The current situation in Afghanistan is not a bolt from the blue.
No contingency planning about such a situation was done either by the Ashraf Ghani government nor by the Americans, when they were signing the Doha peace accord with the Taliban. The basic pre-requisite of the deal agreed between the Afghan Taliban and the Americans were:1, Afghan soil would not be used by any other militant group for terrorist activities and;2, that Afghanistan Taliban would not target American troops
. Only as secondary conditions were to pre-requisite of Intra-Afghan Talks and the establishment of a transitory interim government in Afghanistan decided. The Ashraf Ghani government, it seems, was kept in the dark about the whole situation.
That is why, perhaps, the Ghani government could not make any contingency planning about any possible future scenario that Afghanistan could face. The Americans by the time were only interested in getting their troops out of Afghanistan.
Due to the stoppage of the IMF as well as World Bank financial aid, the entire banking system of Afghanistan is at a risk of collapse. According to UN reports the economy of Afghanistan has already shrunk by 40%.
The virtual non-existence of the banking system makes it very difficult for aid agencies to get financial aid to the people. The main problem seems to be to get sufficient cash into the country.
Although the EU, US and other countries have pledged over a billion dollars for humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, these funds cannot be utilized due to financial restrictions. The UN has called upon the world community to intervene, to prevent the banking system of Afghanistan from complete failure.
Besides Pakistan, China and Russia, have also called upon America to unfreeze the Afghan Central Bank reserves, present in the US banks.
For the US, domestic pressure and the fear that the release of the funds could further strengthen the Taliban regime, seems to be the main reason for reluctance in releasing these funds.
The collapse of the formal banking system can, however, have very deleterious consequences for the war-ravaged country.
The UN special envoy for Afghanistan in his latest report warned that: “The paralysis of the banking sector will push more of the financial system into unaccountable and unregulated informal money exchanges.” This process seems to have already started.
This report further said that such a situation could only help: “Facilitate terrorism, trafficking and further drug smuggling”.
Financial collapse may further increase uncertainty and instability in Afghanistan, which may go in favour of terrorist groups like the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda, etc. The IS has as a matter of fact, already increased their terrorist activities both in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
An unstable Afghanistan also poses a serious threat to the World Order. The possible collapse of the Taliban regime could lead to a fresh civil war in Afghanistan, into which regional powers could also get involved, thus turning Afghanistan into a terrorist heaven once again.
The fear of such dire consequences in Afghanistan, has prompted regional powers like Russia and China in addition to Central Asian countries, to ask for active and supportive engagement with the Taliban in Kabul.
America has also softened its approach towards Afghanistan. The state Department declared that it is working closely with the US and other countries to: “Find ways to offer liquidity to infuse” as long as international support does not flow to Taliban.
The US seems to be hopeful that a situation could be evolved without removing the financial sanctions on Afghanistan.
It is however to be seen if such efforts would be enough to mitigate Afghanistan catastrophic financial problems.
Latest UN reports are very disturbing which assert that due to starvation and financial collapse, more than half a million Afghans could be displaced till the end of the current year.
In face of the above mentioned catastrophic problems which Afghanistan faces today, a strong positive response from the world community is required.
Humanitarian aid for the people of Afghanistan must be kept separate from politics of all kinds.
On the other hand, the Afghan Taliban regime must also show flexibility and grant basic human rights and opportunities to all its citizens including women.
The Taliban regime must deal with all terrorist groups present on its soil with an iron hand, so that the international community does not find any pretext to avoid positive engagement with Afghanistan.
—The writer, based in Islamabad, is a former Health Minister of KP.