The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is a distant priority now

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Another painful and gloomy winter is arriving, and things seem to be moving toward more hopelessness and despair in Afghanistan.

The Taliban regime seems unable, and financially incapacitated, to tackle the dire humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Afghanistan Richard Bennett presented his report to the UN General Assembly on October 26, corroborating the dreadful fears of humanitarian organizations about the horrible food and humanitarian crisis there. اضافة اعلان

Ever since the US marines hastily vacated Kabul in August last year, the country has been continuously sinking into a quagmire of socio-economic chaos and economic instability. In the aftermath of September 11, the US invaded Afghanistan, in October 2001, with the ostensible objective of driving the Taliban out of power after they refused to hand over members of Al-Qaeda terrorist group who were identified as responsible for the New York attacks. After spending trillions of dollars on the Afghanistan “war and reconstruction” efforts for two decades, the US miserably failed to achieve an inclusive and enduring political settlement to the conflict.

The spectacular failure of the US forces gradually pushed successive US governments to eventually relinquish the Afghanistan misadventure. But the Biden administration had no clear idea of how to end the war in Afghanistan. The deep chasm in the thinking of military and political leaders in Washington, whose objectives were limited to achieving a “zero-sum victory” and driving the Taliban out of power, was the main reason for the highly disorganized and panicky withdrawal from Kabul.

One of the world’s worst humanitarian crises has completely swamped Afghanistan. According to the World Food Organization, more than 24.4 million people need urgent humanitarian assistance and half the population of an estimated 38.9 million faces acute food insecurity. Furthermore, 89 percent of the population faces insufficient food consumption despite the fact that most households spend over 90 percent of their income on food.

A similar situation is painted by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which estimates that 4.7 million Afghans are suffering from acute malnutrition in 2022, a 21 percent increase over 2021.

Most Afghan households have lost some or all of their livelihoods in this last year. Two key factors are directly responsible for this situation: exceedingly stringent restrictions on the country’s banking sector and international humanitarian and development funds; and the US government’s decision to freeze more than $9.5 billion in assets belonging to Afghanistan’s Central Bank.

Following the Biden administration’s decision to freeze the Afghan government’s reserves held in US bank accounts, the EU and Britain suspended their development aid programs. IMF followed suit and suspended the distribution of emergency currency reserves, and the World Bank halted funding for dozens of projects.

The hunger is increasingly evident in every street and corner of Afghanistan. Long queues outside the bread shops and riots over food items in different parts of the country are now daily routine.
Indubitably, decades of incessant conflict, widespread corruption and political instability had already catapulted the country into poverty and deprivation. The revival of the Taliban regime, and the withdrawal of international funding and freezing of central bank assets as a result pushed the country to the verge of complete collapse. The resultant liquidity crisis and economic downfall saw tens of millions of Afghans plunge into hunger and poverty. The ongoing drought, the coronavirus pandemic and natural disasters further devastated the country, amid a global food crisis and high prices for key commodities.

In addition to strangulating Afghanistan’s assets, the US also stopped most of its financial assistance to the development projects there.  With a clear intention to block the Taliban’s access to foreign assets, the US government imposed extremely tight restrictions on transactions with Afghanistan’s Central Bank. This has severely hampered the payment of essential projects and salaries of millions of government officials, including teachers, health workers and other general workers, further exacerbating the crisis.

The debilitated financial status of the ruling Taliban makes them in no position to feed the Afghan people. The hunger is increasingly evident in every street and corner of Afghanistan. Long queues outside bread shops and riots over food items in different parts of the country are now daily routine.

Unemployment has also reached unprecedented numbers. A minimum amount of $8 billion is needed to bail Afghanistan out of the existing crisis. A simple solution is for the US to release $9.5 billion and channel funds through relevant UN agencies, such as World Food Program UNHCR, to provide much needed assistance at ground level.

Funds should also be supplied to ensure that healthcare workers, teachers and public servants are paid, and thus are able to feed their families and contribute to the economy. Additionally, the international community should find ways to revise sanctions, to facilitate private businesses and commercial transactions to slowly allow the economy to build. But the US and its Western partners are still struggling to strike a balance between the desire to use financial aid as leverage over the Taliban and the need to avert a looming humanitarian disaster.

The winter has almost arrived in Afghanistan and time is running out to salvage the helpless and hopeless Afghans. The international community is more occupied with the Ukraine war, and the crisis in Afghanistan seems to be a distant priority now.

Imran Khalid is a freelance columnist on international affairs based in Karachi, Pakistan. He has been contributing regularly pieces to publications like South China Morning Post, Korea Times, New Straits Times, Jakarta Post, New Age, Manila Times, Oman Observer, Arabian Post, Bangkok Post, Geopolitics and Geopolitical Monitor.

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