Eleven former US ambassadors, generals — all associated with the failed US bid to overpower Afghan nationalism have warned the Biden administration of the imminent collapse of the Afghan state if immediate humanitarian assistance is not provided to that country. The US, they argue has a moral obligation to preserve social gains made during the last twenty years by providing immediate assistance to the Afghan people.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has warned that “Afghanistan teeters on the brink of universal poverty” and estimates that 97 per cent of population is in the danger of falling below the poverty line by mid 2022.
With only 5 per cent of Afghan households having sufficient food to eat each day the World Food Programme has warned that 3.2 million children are at risk of acute malnutrition. The Program believes that Afghanistan is poised to become world’s largest humanitarian crises.
According to UNHCR, in addition to the 2.9 million people internally displaced already, 665,000 people have been added within Afghanistan between January and September 2021. The actual figures of the impending disaster are much more.
The Americans provided 40 per cent of the GDP and 75 per cent of public spending to sustain the previous regime in Afghanistan. Following the flight of that regime, in addition to withholding all new funds, the US has also frozen about $9.5 billion of Afghan dollar reserves held in the US. With all source of funding cut, banking system frozen the IMF estimates that the Afghan economy will shrink by about 30 per cent. No state can survive the sudden loss of 40 per cent of GDP without grave effects on its population. The challenge is daunting.
The extent of the economic shock is a consequence of the US and its partners first creating an extremely aid dependent economy in Afghanistan and then cutting aid off abruptly when their nemesis beat them militarily.
With flow of funds cut after the Taliban takeover and little revenue generation, there is nothing left for performing essential functions of the state. To make matters worse earlier sanctions on the Taliban, which were supposed to have been lifted under the Doha Accords, are now applied on the Afghan state.
In the face of this mounting humanitarian crises there are voices calling for immediate aid delivery for the beleaguered population. There is a general belief that window is closing for millions of Afghans as humanitarian emergency in Afghanistan intensifies. The time for decision and action is therefore, now.
Taliban unlikely to succumb
Unfortunately, for the US and its allies there is a strong sense that humanitarian aid should be tied to the Western dictated societal changes in Afghanistan, which the Taliban are unlikely to succumb to.
And typical of imperialist trait, the West is debating whether saving lives of men, women and children in Afghanistan will or will not help consolidate the Taliban and if providing humanitarian support will result in sanctions violations. Nothing more could expose the apathy towards human life. International financial institutions like World Bank have been discretely warned of sanctions violations without clearance for the specified areas of relief work.
Any scheme to allow funds transfer that could only be used for humanitarian support will be controversial for the West. It is a challenge for the financial institutions who are themselves fearful of running afoul of sanctions. What is needed is the courage to act, wrote the group of former ambassadors and generals.
Dictating conditions for releasing funds, that belong to Afghanistan cannot be justified. Taliban has brought a degree of stability. They have let everyone who wanted to go, leave.
The US and its partners should realise the ignominy of the failure of twenty-year war to change Afghanistan cannot be washed away. But such an attitude in peacetime will bring further ridicule. They will only earn the goodwill and gratitude of the common Afghan by not turning their back on them.
To mitigate the impending catastrophe, the US should immediately unfreeze Afghan assets in the American banks and release them to stabilise the Afghan economy.
Remove sanctions that are targeted to choke the economy and revive support for all social sector programs like health care, education, food, security and rural livelihoods.
The international financial institutions should also immediately engage with the Afghan government to restart aid held up in the social sector programmes.
Faced with this mounting crisis, Saudi Arabia —- the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) Summit Chair — took an important decision on 29 November to convene an Extraordinary Session of the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers. As the state most directly affected and bearing much of the burden, Pakistan offered to host the meeting which is being held today (Dec. 19, 2021).
The OIC is of the view that as a collective voice of Islamic states, it must play its role in galvanising the international community to address the humanitarian needs of a member state.
While the OIC attempts to tackle this humanitarian disaster the impending catastrophe is a call to the conscience of the Western powers whose apathy is denying the ‘Right to life’ to the innocent Afghans.
Sajjad Ashraf served as an adjunct professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore from 2009 to 2017. He was a member of the Pakistan Foreign Service from 1973 to 2008 and served ambassador to several countries.