Afghanistan has been under Taliban control since August 2021 after two decades of war, which has left the country ravaged and devastated. Unfortunately, no country has to date recognised the Taliban, resultantly, ordinary Afghans are suffering.
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 led the country into massive bloodshed and an exodus of Afghan refugees into neighbouring Pakistan and Iran. Soviet occupation lasted for a decade and caused immense suffering.
Alas, the withdrawal of the Soviets did not bring relief to the Afghans as internecine tribal warfare broke out for supremacy. Peace finally returned in late 1990s with the Taliban establishing their rule.
Unfortunately, the harsh implementation of their interpretation of Shariah won them few friends. Only Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and UAE recognised the Taliban regime then while the rest of the world remained aghast at the severe rule of the Taliban, which was specifically severe on freedom for women to receive education or employment.
The Taliban regime was forced to flee, when following the 9/11 debacle, US led NATO forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and wreaked havoc with their combined might. The Taliban were defeated but not decimated. They regrouped, rearmed and carried out guerrilla attacks on NATO forces, causing severe attrition. Subsequently, another protagonist jumped into the fray—the Daesh. After suffering heavy losses in Syria and Iraq, the Daesh found a foothold in Afghanistan but the Taliban did not welcome them and severe clashes took place.
Meanwhile, the US and its allies decided to cut their losses and after two decades of their bloody hold on Afghanistan, which was slowly slipping away, they decided to withdraw.
The Taliban managed to establish their rule but to their horror and dismay, apprehensive of their track record of enforcing draconian laws, the world did not come to the aid of the war wrecked Afghans.
Severe food insecurity, a raging global pandemic and inclement weather has made life unbearable for the ordinary Afghans. To add insult to injury, Washington and Europe have blocked Kabul’s access to more than $9 billion in Afghan central bank assets largely held in the U.S. Federal Reserve after the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan last August. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund also suspended about $1.2 billion in aid earmarked for Afghanistan.
The Taliban have attempted various overtures to the world to be accorded recognition. It even attempted a charm offensive through diplomatic engagements to assuage international concerns about its treatment of women and girls, among other aspects of its rule. Earlier this month, the Taliban ordered a halt to poppy production, and the production, use, and transit of other narcotics.
This is a bold move, which may be appreciated by the world but given the dire state of the Afghan economy, the initiative will likely ruin the small farmers who grow and harvest much of the crop, and see the loss of the income from opiates – estimated to be between $1.8 billion and $2.7 billion according to the United Nations - which also noted that “much larger sums are accrued along illicit drug supply chains outside Afghanistan.”
Meanwhile, the United States and others in the international community have set conditions on the recognition of the Taliban government aimed at encouraging them to respect human rights and adopt a more inclusive model of governance.
U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres has gone so far as to describe recognition as “the only leverage that exists” over the Taliban in this regard and has pushed for a united front among U.N. member states. The prospects for success in using recognition as leverage are unclear, however, with even President Biden expressing doubts about whether the Taliban will change their behavior. Questions also remain about how sustainable withholding recognition may prove to be, given that many states’ ability to secure their interests in Afghanistan are now dependent on the Taliban who effectively run the country.
To add misery to the woes of the Afghans, world attention got diverted because of the war in Ukraine and humanitarian organisations started making fervent appeals to donors to come to the aid of the Ukrainians, leaving hapless Afghans in the lurch.
Last year, Deborah Lyons, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), while making a fervent appeal for international support, stressed that abandoning the Afghan people would be a historic mistake — a mistake that has been made before with tragic consequences. Lyons emphasized that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA)’s takeover has left the Afghan people feeling abandoned, forgotten and punished by circumstances that are not their fault.
Drawing attention towards the impending catastrophe in the country, the UNAMA head had emphasised that it is preventable, as the paralysed economy is largely due to financial sanctions. Lyonshad reiterated that with winter approaching, up to 23 million Afghans will be victims of extreme food insecurity. Additionally, while the risk of famine was once restricted to rural areas, 10 out of 11 of Afghanistan’s most densely populated urban areas are now anticipated to be at emergency levels of food insecurity, she warned.
Lyons cautioned that the continuing deterioration of the economy threatens to heighten the risk of extremism, adding that the paralysis of the banking sector could push more of the financial system into unregulated informal money exchanges which can facilitate terrorism, trafficking and drug smuggling. Additionally, she warned that the neglect of the Afghan population will primarily affect Afghanistan and then infect the region.
Mercifully, Pakistan, China and Russia have extended humanitarian support to the Afghans although they have not proffered diplomatic recognition to the regime yet. Foreign ministers from Afghanistan’s neighbors met in China last month to reaffirm support for the war-torn country and stress how important it is for Taliban rulers to protect rights of all Afghans, including women’s rights to an education.
Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and host China attended the meeting in the central Chinese city of Tunxi. Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov were also among the participants.
A post-meeting statement noted “the importance of taking necessary, continuing steps in Afghanistan on ensuring women’s rights and children’s education, among others … safeguard the fundamental rights of all Afghans, including ethnic groups, women and children.”
It also noted Taliban commitments and pledges made to the global community that Afghan soil would not pose “any threats to the neighboring countries” nor will it give space to terrorist groups.
With death knell being sounded for the people of Afghanistan, perhaps a humane approach may be taken to heed the cries of anguish of the Afghan people so that they may not perish, be forced to migrate or worse still, join proscribed terror organizations owing to the unfolding humanitarian crisis in their war-ravished homeland.
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