The people of Afghanistan need urgent attention. The humanitarian calamity afflicting Afghanistan is perhaps the worst pervading the world today. The UN system, which has decades of experience in analyzing and managing humanitarian emergencies, has sounded the alarm.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres has called for a “lifeline” to millions of vulnerable Afghans “who face perhaps their most perilous hour,” after decades of war and insecurity. Despite the grim prospects, this calamity is preventable.
Thanks to the generosity of many donors, the United Nations system, international organizations, and humanitarian agencies have helped mobilize and deliver critical food, medicines, and other life-saving supplies.
Despite modest resources and financial constraints, Pakistan is providing humanitarian support worth over $30 million, while facilitating the transit trade and cross-border movement of Afghans in need.
And yet much more humanitarian and other assistance is needed.
The UN estimates that over half a million Afghans are internally displaced. Nearly 22.8 million Afghans face acute food insecurity. According to the World Food Program, “This winter, millions of Afghans will have to choose between starvation or migration.” Media reports indicate that Afghans, in their thousands, are trying to leave. It is a race against time!
The cumulative effects of a protracted conflict, prolonged drought in rural areas, disruption in economic activity in urban areas, and the compounding socio-economic impacts of Covid-19 have resulted in serious hardships for the people of Afghanistan.
Humanitarian supplies in Afghanistan face logistical challenges due to harsh winter conditions and remoteness. A fragile governance structure, severe liquidity shortage, and financial sanctions present a clear and present danger of an economic meltdown in Afghanistan. The resultant human suffering, while likely, can and should be avoided.
Sanctions and frozen assets have crippled the banking system of Afghanistan, impeding the transfer of funds for humanitarian purposes and hampering the payment of salaries of workers in critical sectors such as public services, education, and health.
A review and reevaluation of sanctions are essential to save lives, enable basic services and maintain a modicum of public governance. Delays may result in unintended risks of the financial system falling into unregulated money exchanges. Such a scenario may undermine our shared objectives of countering terrorism and trafficking.
Now is not the time to abandon the people of Afghanistan. Giving in to the temptation to “move on” from Afghanistan would be catastrophic. It would lead to exactly what the international community wants to avoid: an exodus, further instability and conflict, and the specter of terrorism hovering over the country.
The international community has legitimate anxiety over the state of human rights and the nature of power-sharing in Afghanistan. These concerns should be addressed in all their dimensions: civil, political, social, economic, and cultural.
Helping Afghans inside the country is also a cost-effective and durable solution that requires us to not just think of a few but all.
Ordinary Afghans are not responsible for the failures of their former rulers, nor should they be penalized for the recent turn of events in the country.
Amidst this crisis lies an opportunity to chart a path for Afghanistan that promotes peace, security, development, and human rights in mutually reinforcing ways.
Such a pathway requires prudent sequencing and prioritization of actions. The pace of political and diplomatic engagement needs to be enhanced, in tandem with humanitarian and economic assistance.
That is why Pakistan is hosting an Extraordinary Session of the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers in Islamabad on December 19, 2021, to show solidarity with the people of Afghanistan, and help establish an effective channel for the coordinated provision of humanitarian assistance to the country.
As the second-largest intergovernmental organization after the United Nations, the OIC is well-equipped to lead the way in helping the Afghan people. Pakistan hopes that the OIC member states and the international community will extend all possible support to the Afghans in their hour of dire need.
We face a proverbial stitch-in-time-saves-nine situation in Afghanistan. We cannot afford to wait. The world must act, and act now.