As Afghanistan slides further into a devastating economic and humanitarian crisis, the United Nations is the one global actor that can help the country pull through. The international community must deliver aid where it is most needed, and support national reconciliation and peace processes for as long as necessary.
In August, the world watched in shock as the Western-backed Afghan government rapidly collapsed and the country spiralled into chaos, culminating in the Taliban’s takeover of the capital, Kabul, and return to power after nearly 20 years.
Since then, Afghanistan has faded from global view. But almost nine million Afghans are now at risk of famine, and a further 14 million are facing acute hunger, owing to a drought and an economic collapse triggered by the sudden suspension of foreign aid. The World Health Organization warns that one million Afghan children are at risk of dying this winter.
In December, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution exempting humanitarian aid from sanctions against the Taliban. But that is just one piece of the puzzle in addressing the humanitarian and economic crisis in Afghanistan. The global community is facing an urgent challenge to prevent mass starvation and avoid a complete collapse of basic services.
The Council on State Fragility, of which I am a member alongside prominent global leaders, is calling on the international community not to abandon the people of Afghanistan, and to act now to head off imminent famine. Specifically, we urge world leaders to focus on three key imperatives.
First, as Afghanistan slides further into a devastating economic and humanitarian crisis, the UN – the one global actor that can help the country pull through – can still support Afghans, even as its member states continue to debate whether to recognize the Taliban government. UN Secretary-General António Guterres, acting with the full backing of the Security Council, should strengthen the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, and send a special envoy to be based in Kabul with UN agencies’ staff. Furthermore, Guterres should task the UNAMA with maintaining clear and consistent communication channels with the Taliban leadership and ensuring an integrated approach to humanitarian, development, and peace efforts.
The UN and its agencies are not new to such challenges. Similarly strong and coordinated UN responses have had a clear impact in other difficult contexts, including in North Korea, Yemen, and Sudan. In Afghanistan, UN agencies have excellent local staff: well-trained, experienced, and devoted men and women, many of whom successfully delivered aid programs under the Taliban’s previous regime in the 1990s. They have done the same in Taliban-controlled areas in the recent past.
Second, inclusivity is essential to a stable, lasting peace. An inclusive political settlement in Afghanistan remains as necessary today as it was before the Taliban retook control of the country. Rather than writing off the Afghan peace process as dead in the water, the international community should view it as a multi-year, adaptive, and ongoing process of bringing all sides together to build bridges and reach a common understanding regarding the country’s future.
The winner-takes-all politics that has long plagued Afghanistan must be avoided at all costs, because exclusion will only fuel endless cycles of conflict. National consensus-building mechanisms, chief among them a well-prepared and well-led Loya Jirga – a traditional gathering of ethnic, tribal, and religious leaders – can help to foster agreement among the country’s communities and lead to the patient construction of the new dispensation Afghanistan needs.
Lastly, Afghanistan’s immediate neighbors and near-neighbors – primarily Iran, Pakistan, China, and India, as well as key regional actors such as Qatar and Turkey – have a critical role to play in stabilizing the country. The international community should urge these countries to contribute to peace efforts in Afghanistan, and support existing constructive engagement by regional players, such as Qatar, that have established a track record as trusted interlocutors between the Taliban and the outside world.
The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is severe, and millions of lives are at stake this winter. The international community, with strong UN leadership, can and should step up to support Afghans at this challenging time. The world must deliver aid where it is most needed, and support national reconciliation and peace processes for as long as necessary.
After Biden’s move, Pakistan calls for complete release of Afghan central bank assets
Foreign ministry says time is of the essence, utilization of Afghan funds should be sovereign decision of Afghanistan
Islamabad has called for the complete release of frozen Afghan central bank assets, saying that utilisation of these funds should be the “sovereign decision of Afghanistan”, a statement that comes after US President Joe Biden seized $7 billion in assets belonging to the previous Afghan government, aiming to split the funds between victims of the 9/11 attacks and desperately-needed aid for the post-war country.
In a statement on Saturday, Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the country’s principled position on the frozen Afghan foreign bank reserves remains that these are owned by the Afghan nation and these should be released.
“The utilization of Afghan funds should be the sovereign decision of Afghanistan,” it said in a statement.
The reaction comes after Biden announced to hold half of the $7 billion foreign assets of Afghanistan for the victims of the 9/11 attacks and release the remaining amount for the humanitarian assistance of Afghanistan.
“Pakistan has seen the US decision to unfreeze the Afghan assets held by the US banks to release $3.5 billion for humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan and $3.5 billion for compensation to families of 9/11 victims,” said Foreign Office Spokesperson Asim Iftikhar.
“Over the past several months, Pakistan has been consistently emphasising the need for the international community to quickly act to address the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan and to help revive the Afghan economy, as the two are inextricably linked.
“Finding ways to unfreeze the Afghan foreign reserves urgently would help address the humanitarian and economic needs of the Afghan people.”
Biden’s step has also drawn an angry response from the Taliban, which branded the seizure a “theft” and a sign of US “moral decay”, AFP reported.
Biden’s unusual action saw the conflicting, highly sensitive issues of a humanitarian tragedy in Afghanistan, the Taliban fight for recognition, and the push for justice from families impacted by the September 11, 2001 attacks collide, with billions of dollars at stake.
The first stage was simple: Biden formally blocked the assets in an executive order signed Friday.
The money — which a US official said largely stems from foreign assistance once sent to help the now defunct Western-backed Afghan government — had been stuck in the New York Federal Reserve ever since last year’s Taliban victory.
The insurgency, which fought US-led forces for 20 years and now controls the whole country, has not been recognised by Washington, mostly over its human rights record.
However, with appalling poverty gripping Afghanistan, Washington is seeking ways to assist, while side-stepping the Taliban.
The White House said Biden will seek to funnel $3.5 billion of the frozen funds into a humanitarian aid trust “for the benefit of the Afghan people and for Afghanistan’s future.”
The trust fund will manage the aid in a way that bypasses Taliban authorities, a senior US official told reporters, countering likely criticism in Washington that Biden’s administration is inadvertently boosting its former enemy.
Aside from the new plan, “the United States remains the single largest donor of humanitarian aid in Afghanistan,” the senior official said.
More than $516 million has been donated since mid-August last year, the official said. The money is distributed among non-governmental organizations.
The Taliban fumed over Washington’s move.
“The theft and seizure of money held/frozen by the United States of the Afghan people represents the lowest level of human and moral decay of a country and a nation,” Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem had said on Twitter.
Failure and victory are common throughout history, “but the greatest and most shameful defeat is when moral defeat combines with military defeat,” Naeem added.
9/11 victims seek compensation
The fate of the other $3.5 billion is also complex.
Families of people killed or injured in the 9/11 attacks on New York, the Pentagon and a fourth hijacked airliner that crashed in Pennsylvania have long struggled to find ways to extract compensation from Al-Qaeda and others responsible.
In US lawsuits, groups of victims won default judgements against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, but were unable to collect any money. They will now have the opportunity to sue for access to the frozen Afghan assets.
Those “assets would remain in the United States and are subject to ongoing litigation by US victims of terrorism. Plaintiffs will have a full opportunity to have their claims heard in court,” the White House said.
A senior official called the situation “unprecedented.”
There are “$7 billion of assets in the United States that are owned by a country where there is no government that we recognize. I think we’re acting responsibly to ensure that a portion of that money be used to benefit the people of the country,” he said.
And the US plaintiffs related to 9/11 will “have their day in court.”
Some relatives of 9/11 attack victims, however, expressed disappointment with Biden’s move, saying Afghanistan should retain access to the money.
“Their country has been devastated. As a 9/11 family member I believe all available funds should go to Afghan relief,” Sandra Bodley, whose 20-year-old niece Deora died on hijacked Flight 93 which crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, told AFP.
Bodley, 78, said going to war in Afghanistan and Iraq was not the correct response.
“Twenty years later I think the world can see that these two wars didn’t make the world safer. They just caused more havoc, chaos and sorrow” in the region, she said.
PM calls upon International Community to provide immediate relief to Afghans
Prime Minister Imran Khan Saturday once again called upon the international community to provide immediate humanitarian relief to the millions of Afghans who were facing an imminent danger of starvation.
In a tweet, the prime minister also reminded that providing immediate relief to impoverished Afghanistan was also obligatory under the unanimously adopted UN Principle of Responsibility to Protect (R2P).
Brown, in his article, had warned that more than 23 million people were at risk of starvation if aid did not materialize.
The former UK prime minister said: “We are witnessing a shameful but also self-defeating failure to prevent famine”, adding that the UK should urgently take a lead in resuming the delivery of aid dramatically halted after Taliban announced their government.
The UN agencies had launched a call for $4.5bn in aid for 2022, its biggest-ever international appeal. The US responded with a donation of $308m, to be channeled through independent humanitarian organizations.
Brown said that was not enough. “The 35-country, American-led coalition that ruled Afghanistan for 20 years under the banner of helping the Afghan people has still put up only a quarter of the money that would allow UN humanitarians to stop children dying this winter.”
Brown further wrote that he had written to Truss and to the European Commission’s president, Ursula von der Leyen, to ask them to host an international donor conference “in January or at the latest in February” to break the impasse.
“The devastation the world was warned about months ago is no longer a distant prospect,” Brown said, adding, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator Martin Griffiths, Brown wrote, “forecasts that if we do not act, 97% of Afghans will soon be living below the poverty line”.
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