The international community is slowly waking up to the grave humanitarian crisis and looming economic collapse in Afghanistan. In an unprecedented joint op-ed, eleven prominent US former ambassadors and generals have urged the US to vigorously join efforts to help the Afghan people as they believe it to be America’s ‘reputational interest and moral responsibility’. They have called on the Biden Administration to, inter-alia, bring forward, in consultation with its allies, tangible proposals to stabilize Afghan economy.
The Guardian, in a recent editorial, has put it very poignantly that by invading Afghanistan, Britain and the US began a fight they could not finish. By leaving in a panic, they precipitated another disaster. If they are to prevent a third catastrophe, they must hurry to the aid of the starving Afghan people – immediately, generously and without further prevarication.
There were early warnings by Pakistan, the United Nations and relief organisations about the danger of a humanitarian catastrophe. On December 3, the UNHCR issued a very somber alert that ‘hunger in the country has reached truly unprecedented levels. Nearly 28 million people, 66% of the population, are facing extreme levels of hunger, which will be exacerbated by the harsh winter conditions. The World Health Organization has warned that more than 1 million Afghan children under the age of five will die of starvation this winter. Another 2.2 million will suffer acute malnutrition unless urgent action is taken. Earlier at the High-level Ministerial Meeting on the Humanitarian Situation in Afghanistan, the UNSG warned that the people of Afghanistan were facing the collapse of an entire country – all at once with spiralling poverty rate and basic public services close to collapse.
Foreign assistance, which amounted to 75% of all public spending, has been halted. The freezing of $9.5bn of Afghan assets by the US Treasury and IMF, coupled with the second drought in less than four years, has pushed Afghanistan further to the brink of a disaster.
The emergency aid being provided by some countries, including Pakistan and UN agencies is insufficient to mitigate the enormous humanitarian emergency and to stabilize the Afghan economy and prevent the essential services from collapse.
The gravity of the situation must override the reluctance of western countries to legitimize the Taliban government on the purported grounds of rights of women and absence of inclusive government. What is at stake here is the most fundamental right of the most vulnerable segments of society – their right to life.Time and again, the man-made disasters have proved the futility of arbitrary sanctions and policy of what becomes collective punishment. Ultimate victims of such coercive measures are the citizens for whose welfare and rights these measures are ostensibly imposed. A critical mass of opposition to the policy of revenge and retaliation by the West, which essentially targets Afghan people, is yet to coagulate. If the current situation is allowed to prolong, the US and its Western allies will be responsible for the loss of more innocent Afghan lives in yet another illegal and immoral attempt at regime change -so would be the rest of the international community as passive bystanders. Pakistan has consistently called for lifting of the unjustified freeze on Afghanistan’s assets. On December 11, the US Treasury Department allowed Afghans living abroad to transfer money to relatives in Afghanistan with the caveat that the money should only be for personal purposes and not for trade. This is a small step in the right direction.
The importance of the OIC decision to hold an extra-ordinary session of the Council of Foreign Ministers on Afghanistan on 19th December cannot be overemphasized. Pakistan,with most at stake in case Afghanistan implodes, is hosting the meeting. The OIC member States have yet to playany substantial role in alleviating the miseries of the Afghan people. Islamabad conference offers OIC the platform to take lead in forging a broader consensus on urgent and medium-term measures that are required to pull the people of Afghanistan from the precipice. The fact that P-5, UN agencies, IFIs have been invited, makes the Islamabad Session all the more significant.
The Extraordinary CFM is not a donor’s conference. It is, nonetheless, a chance for countries to measure up to their responsibility to commit urgent and uninterrupted humanitarian assistance to starving Afghans. The conference must find innovative ways to sidestep the political agenda and focus on formulating longer term international assistance strategy to revitalize Afghan economy. It will be an opportunity to chart out a course of actionthat not only prevents loss of more Afghan lives but also sets a direction to generate self-reliance in Afghan economy.The UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative Deborah Lyons has aptly said:”to abandon the Afghan people now would be a historic mistake – a mistake that has been made before with tragic consequences,”. Islamabad Extraordinary Session must send this message loud and clear.