Can the world save Afghanistan from massive famine, bypassing the Taliban?


The fall of the Afghan government to the Taliban presented the world with difficult choices. In recent weeks, the international community has sounded the alarm over the rapidly escalating humanitarian emergency in the country, calling for an influx of aid to reach millions of Afghans before winter.

Meanwhile, the new Taliban regime has systematically deprived the Afghan people of their rights and severely restricted their basic human rights, especially those of women and girls to education.

In the short term, the failure of the Taliban and the international community to adequately respond to the country’s urgent humanitarian needs is likely to lead to famine.

Already, the UN estimates that nearly half of the country’s population – about 23 million people – will face acute famine in the coming months. And 3.2 million children under five are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition by the end of the year.

However, the long-term needs of the country cannot be so easily dissociated from these more acute concerns.

The international community must find a way to deal with the humanitarian emergency without emboldening the Taliban or neglecting their appalling human rights record. The threats of ethnic cleansing and gender apartheid are real – and will be equally damaging for the future of the civilian population of Afghanistan.

Rise of the humanitarian emergency

Afghanistan faced a major humanitarian crisis before the Taliban took control in August. Almost half of the population lived below the national poverty line last year. This was due to a combination of years of insurgent violence, severe drought in parts of the country and disruption caused by the pandemic.

The crisis accelerated with the fall of the government to the Taliban. Afghanistan’s foreign assets – amounting to nearly US $ 9.5 billion (AU $ 12.8 billion) – were immediately frozen in the United States. This led to an almost complete collapse of the country’s financial and public sectors.

According to the International Monetary Fund, the country’s economy is expected to contract by 30% this year, pushing people further into poverty. The UN estimates that 97% of Afghans could slide into poverty by mid-2022.

Concerns over allowing the Taliban to distribute aid

The Taliban demanded recognition from the international community and the thawing of Afghan financial reserves held in the United States.

The European Union has also halted funding for the country’s development, while the IMF has suspended access to more than US $ 400 million (AU $ 540 million) in funds and the World Bank has frozen its disbursements of 800 million US dollars (AU $ 1.08 billion) is helping this year.

Even with Afghanistan on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe, there are great concerns about whether emergency aid could be distributed transparently and impartially without strengthening the repressive and exclusionary Taliban regime.

Humanitarian aid sent to Afghanistan by international aid agencies. Photo: Twitter.

Contrary to its previous promises to form an “inclusive” government, the Taliban’s all-male interim cabinet is dominated by radical and radical factions. The leader of the Haqqani militant network, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is the new interior minister, while his uncle, Khalil Haqqani, is the minister for Afghan refugees.

As such, the IMF warns that all funds earmarked for Afghanistan could be used to finance terrorism and money laundering.

The Taliban’s blatant disregard for human rights also calls into question its ability to distribute aid fairly.

The group’s goals of gender segregation, for example, effectively pushed women out of the workforce. With the exception of some key roles in primary education and health care, most women have been forced out of public sector jobs, depriving countless families of their income. Millions of Afghan girls have also been banned from attending schools and universities.

These policies affect the most marginalized segments of society, who are also the most likely to be in most need of humanitarian assistance.

Tough restrictions imposed by the Taliban on female aid workers have also limited the reach of aid to women in much of the country.

In addition, the Taliban engage in massive land grabs by forcibly evicting members of the Hazara minority from their homes and farms. Human Rights Watch says others associated with the former government were also targeted as a form of “collective punishment.”

Many observers have warned that these incidents of mass dispossession, along with the horrific attacks on the minority group by the local Islamic State affiliate, could constitute genocide.

There are also numerous reports of summary executions and torture of groups and individuals who supported the previous government across Afghanistan. In Panjshir province, where the Taliban faced fierce resistance, for example, the group is accused of killing and torturing civilians.

What can we do to help?

In the short term, it is vital that international donors respond to the humanitarian crisis by providing immediate life-saving assistance before the long, cold winter. But the world must do so without giving the Taliban the recognition and legitimacy they want, or allowing the group to directly control the funds.

The G20 countries are currently exploring ways to achieve this. It would take an agreement with the Taliban to allow aid to flow without going through the group’s direct authority, although it is not yet clear how that would work.

As Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said last month: “It is very difficult to see how we can help the Afghan people. […] without some sort of Taliban government involvement.

While Taliban cooperation is needed to provide emergency aid, donor countries and institutions must understand the limits of aid as a lever to encourage moderation.

UNICEF negotiated a deal with the Taliban in which the UN agency pays teachers’ salaries directly, without the funds going through institutions controlled by the Taliban. If successful, this can potentially offer a model to replicate for other sectors, such as health and agriculture.

For the delivery of humanitarian aid, donors and NGOs can also use many existing community networks. The European Union has pledged € 1 billion (AU $ 1.5 billion) in immediate aid to Afghanistan, about half of which will be channeled through international organizations working in the country.

Western countries have made it clear that any influx of money will not lead to recognition of the Taliban government.

While diplomatic recognition of states under international law is not always conditional on respect for human rights, the Taliban should not be allowed to use the humanitarian emergency as a bargaining chip to gain international recognition.

In the absence of a real Taliban commitment to address growing international concerns, the world must engage with the group for purely pragmatic and humanitarian reasons, without expanding formal recognition.

Safiullah Taye, Researcher and Academic, Deakin University. Niamatullah Ibrahimi is a lecturer in international relations, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here.

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