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Afghanistan’s Humanitarian Crisis

MANHATTAN: Pakistan has underscored the need for addressing Afghanistan’s humanitarian and economic crisis, warning that its consequences would be: massive human suffering, more Afghan refugees, revival of internal conflict, and an intensified threat from terrorist groups, like Da’esh.

“We are at another inflection point in Afghanistan’s recent turbulent history,” Ambassador Munir Akram told the UN Security Council on Thursday as it examined the policies of the Taliban, who took control of that country in August last year.

“We must be clear about our objectives,” the Pakistani envoy said, adding that the primary objective must be to achieve peace and stability in Afghanistan where the devastating earthquake on Wednesday was just one of several emergencies facing the country.

As chairman of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Foreign Ministers, he said Pakistan has circulated to the 15-member council a document outlining a pathway to peace, as envisaged by the 57-member organization at the last two ministerial conferences.

OIC members call for sustained engagement, including in recovery, reconstruction, education, financial and material assistance, Ambassador Akram said, reiterating that Afghanistan’s access to its financial resources will be pivotal to preventing economic collapse and urging the Council to ensure that targeted sanctions do not impede the provision of humanitarian aid or economic resources.

In addition, he said, they reaffirmed that Afghanistan’s territory must not be used as a safe haven for terrorist groups, recalled their previous statement on Afghan girls’ right to education, and reiterated the central role of OIC member States, Islamic scholars and others in exchanging best practices with Afghan authorities on women’s rights.

OIC called on the Security Council to support all such efforts and trusted that both it and UNAMA (UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan) would consider those elements for normalizing the situation in Afghanistan.

The Pakistani envoy also looked forward to working with UNAMA, which must address the impact of bilateral sanctions and help to unfreeze Afghanistan’s assets.

Pakistan, he said, remains especially concerned about the terrorist attacks emanating from Afghanistan that are sponsored and financed by “our adversary,” an obvious reference to India. “We will find effective ways to end such terrorist attacks against Pakistan and to end the disinformation campaign which one member of the Security Council which is a state sponsor of terrorism has launched against my country.”

Ambassador Akram said the expanded United States, China, Russia and Pakistan “troika” can advance peace in Afghanistan, including in addressing terrorism.

Despite frustration over the lack of progress on several issues, he said, the international community’s engagement with the authorities has produced progress. There are no longer thousands of civilian casualties, the political and security situation has remained “relatively stable”, while the threat of reprisal killings and mass exodus of refugees has thus far been avoided.

He expressed hope that “we will make the right choices” to steer Afghanistan towards peace and stability.

At the outset, the Pakistani envoy regretted that the Security Council has not invited the Taliban, who actually control Afghanistan, while it heard three Afghans who only represent themselves. The three Afghans were: Yalda Hakim of BBC, Yalda Royan, Consultant for VOICE Amplified, and Naseer Ahmed Faiq, who heads the former President Ashraf Ghani-appointed Afghanistan Mission to the UN as the world body has not yet recognized the Taliban.

“I believe that while calls are being made upon the Taliban, the fact that the Council is not able to hear them, calls into question the credibility of this Council’s consideration of the situation in Afghanistan,” Ambassador Akram added.

Meanwhile, a number of Council members, during the debate, advocated continued dialogue with the de facto Taliban authorities, saying that course remains the only way to address ongoing challenges in the country.

At the start of meeting, the Council members stood and observed a minute of silence for the victims of the quake before being briefed by Ramiz Alakbarov, Acting Special Representative at the UN’s Mission in Afghanistan, UNAMA, and Martin Griffiths, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator.

Alakbarov, speaking from Kabul via video-link, provided an update on the earthquake, citing latest figures which revealed nearly 800 confirmed deaths and more than 1,400 injured, before turning to the ongoing human rights, economic and humanitarian challenges the country is facing.

He said despite difficulties, “We firmly continue to believe that a strategy of continued engagement and dialogue remains to be the only way forward for the sake of the Afghan people, as well as for the sake of regional and international security.”

Alakbarov reported that the human rights situation in Afghanistan remains precarious.

Despite the adoption of a general amnesty, and repeated assurances by Taliban leaders that it is being respected, UNAMA continues to receive credible allegations of killings, ill-treatment and other violations targeting individuals associated with the former government.

Credible allegations of violations against persons accused of affiliation with the National Resistance Front and the ISIL-KP terrorist organisation have also been reported.

“The de facto authorities have increasingly restricted the exercise of basic human rights, such as freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of opinion and expression, quelling dissent and restricting civic space in the country,” he said.

Furthermore, restrictions particularly target women and girls, such as the ban on secondary schooling for girls, and the decree ordering women to wear face coverings.

“The costs to the economy of these policies is immense,” he said. “The psychosocial costs of being denied education, for example, are incalculable, and women are collectively being written out of society in a way that is unique in the world.”

The economic crisis is perhaps the single most important issue in Afghanistan, and a potential driver of conflict and misery. It is estimated the economy contracted by up to 40 per cent since August.

Unemployment could reach 40 per cent this year, up from 13 per cent in 2021, while the official poverty rate could climb as high as 97 per cent.

“If the economy is not able to recover and grow meaningfully and sustainably, then the Afghan people will face repeated humanitarian crises; potentially spurring mass migration and making conditions ripe for radicalization and renewed armed conflict,” he warned.

Afghanistan also remains highly vulnerable to future climate and geopolitical shocks. Drought, floods, disease outbreaks affecting both people and livestock, as well as natural disasters like the earthquake, are further deepening vulnerabilities.

Alakbarov stressed the need to prioritize rural areas, with focus on agricultural and food systems to prevent hunger. This will also help to reduce child labour, improve health outcomes, and create the environment that will enable social development and change.

“It will also pave the way for substitution agriculture to replace the poppy cultivation, allowing us to capitalize on the de facto authority’s recent ban on poppy and narcotic cultivation,” he said.

“While doing so we need to continue to provide adequate attention to clearance of widely unexploded ordnance of war. This bottom-up approach to economic recovery is shared by the de facto authorities and would help the most vulnerable.”

On the political front, Mr Alakbarov reported that the Taliban continues to hold power almost exclusively, and the emergence and persistence of an armed opposition is largely due to political exclusion.

Meanwhile, the overall security environment in Afghanistan is becoming increasingly unpredictable.

Armed opposition attacks against the de facto authorities doubled in May, compared to the previous month. Although the number of ISIL-KP terrorist attacks has generally decreased, their geographic scope has widened from six to 11 provinces.

“We cannot exclude the possibility of increased instability if peoples’ rights are denied and if they do not see themselves in their government,” he said.

In the coming month, the UN will seek to promote political consultation and inclusion, and engagement with the de facto authorities will continue.

“Even as the international community and the Taliban remain far apart” on the question of human rights, specifically for women – and political rights, “there are some areas where we can do better to improve the lives of Afghans, as well as advance on issues of common concern such as counter-narcotics and mine action.”

Addressing humanitarian response, Alakbarov highlighted how aid partners have reached some 20 million Afghans between January and April this year alone, including nearly 250,000 returnees and some 95,000 people affected by floods and weather-related events.

However, the humanitarian crisis persists, and sustained support will be needed through next year.

More than 190 aid organizations are operating in Afghanistan, where nearly half the population, 19 million people, are facing food insecurity.

This includes more than six million people at emergency level – the highest number of any country in the world at risk of famine-like conditions, said Mr Griffiths, the UN’s relief chief.

Last December, the Security Council adopted a resolution clearing the path for aid to reach Afghans, while preventing funds from falling into the hands of the Taliban, which has been critical to ensuring operations can continue.

Although humanitarians are reaching record numbers, there is still “a long hill to climb”, said Griffiths, listing several impediments to aid delivery.

The formal banking system continues to block money transfers due to “excessive de-risking”, thus affecting payments and causing supply chain breakdowns.

“Despite efforts to create a temporary solution for the failure of the banking system, through a so-called Humanitarian Exchange Facility, we have seen limited progress because of resistance, I have to say, by the de facto authorities,” Griffiths said, adding “this is an issue that is not going to fix itself.”

Additionally, national and local authorities are increasingly seeking to play a role in the selection of beneficiaries, he said. They are also channelling assistance to people on their own priority lists, thus, contravening promises made to UN officials.

Humanitarians are also seeing more demands by the Taliban authorities for data and information regarding budgets and staffing contracts, Griffiths said. | YouTube Channel

M M Alam

M. M. Alam is a Pakistan-based working journalist since 1981. Karachi University faculty gold medalist Alam began his career four decades ago by writing for Dawn, Pakistan’s highest circulating English daily. He has worked for region’s leading publications, global aviation periodicals including Rotors (of USA) and vetted New York Times as permanent employee of daily Express Tribune. Alam regularly covers international aviation and defense-related events including Salon Du Bourget (France), Farnborough (United Kingdom), Dubai (UAE). Alam has reported thousands of events and interviewed hundreds of people in Pakistan, UAE, EU, UK and USA. Being Francophone Alam also coordinates with a number of French publications.