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Thursday, February 15, 2024

Looking at the humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan

The deteriorating situation in Afghanistan has put Afghans in danger, with women and girls bearing the brunt of the violence. More than 18 million people are in need of humanitarian aid. In this regard, Dr. Nadeem Jan, a recipient of Tagma e Imtiaz talks about how the US has made the humanitarian situation worse by freezing the aids and assets for Afghanistan and applauds Pakistan's efforts in helping Afghanistan in times of tribulations.

Starting since May 2021 when the US government showed serious intent to withdraw and the Taliban filling the void tactfully everywhere, the caught in between civilians started migrating to the then peaceful parts and hence Kabul saw a heavy influx of internally displaced people. This was all the more exacerbated when finally Kabul was overtaken with an unexpected speed, beating all data-driven calculations and forecasts.

Then the world saw a grotesque situation of desperation, uncertainty and panicky, young, old and children all rushed to the airport amidst false news of “planes waiting to deport all who wish to go”. The days saw youth chasing planes, hanging on to the wings and being churned out in the air by the wheels, not only perishing their lives but a fallacy erected in twenty years. There are lessons in this for all who can deliberate.

Read more: Pakistan’s C-130 to take humanitarian aid for Afghanistan

 Humanitarian crises in Afghanistan: another added challenge

The stampede continued, uncertainties grew and panicky ruled merely to add to the miseries of poor Afghans. Faced with political, governance challenges and marred by drought, conflict, internal displacement and fear.

Humanitarian organizations report more than 500 000 people and 80 000 children displaced in the past 3 months alone; decreased access to health care; interruption to essential health services increased health needs directly generated by the conflict,  must not be forgotten.

Before the Taliban takeover, more than 30 percent of acute people were food insecure; now over 40 percent and further on the rise if not checked.

Adding to the miseries are the Biden Administration decision to freeze $9 billion of Afghanistan reserves, the IMF suspending $460 million, the World Bank halting $5.3 billion, the EU suspending $1.17 billion in aid and the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) terminating $12.9 billion worth of commitments.

On August 31, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned that “A humanitarian Catastrophe” in Afghanistan and urged donor governments to “dig deep” to fund an emergency flash appeal.

“Donor governments are understandably uneasy about providing assistance and funding to Afghanistan under the Taliban,” said Patricia Grossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

The tragic events send a clear signal that a well-organized, comprehensive humanitarian response should kick off urgently.

Read more: FM Qureshi meets Spanish FM, discuss bilateral ties & Afghanistan

There could be four critical elements that people at the helm of the international community, should consider to avert a humanitarian catastrophe.

Why Afghanistan’s neighbor should step forward first?

First, a political cum humanitarian entente with Taliban and neighboring countries—especially Pakistan, Tajikistan, Iran and Uzbekistan—will be required to allow humanitarian aid and aid organizations to operate. The Taliban have stated that they welcome assistance, and foreign organizations may continue to operate so long as they respect Islamic practices.

In addition, United States should enact a humanitarian waiver to Executive Order 13224, of 2002that authorizes the U.S. government to designate and block assets of suspected terrorist individuals and entities. It could be beneficial for the Biden administration to ease up on certain restrictions. This assurance will likely encourage humanitarian organizations to continue their on-the-ground operations.

Second, food, fuel, medicines, shelter, and other basic requirements need to be staged for delivery before the winter sets in. The logistics of assembling and managing a large-scale relief operation is a time- and labor-intensive effort. It would require cooperation among neighboring countries, Afghan authorities, and relief organizations.

Read more: $600 million to avert Afghanistan humanitarian crisis: UN

Third, under the auspices of the United Nations, there ought to to be adequate financing commitment and disbursement to maintain the humanitarian aid “spigot.”

Critical to financing a relief operation is finding a way to salvage the Afghan banking sector, which underpins legal economic activities, as well as potential relief operations. Furthermore, ensuring the regular flow of imports will be paramount given Afghanistan’s dependence on outside resources.

Fourth, Support for Covid-19 vaccination and testing efforts should continue and increase. Currently, only 2.4 percent of the Afghan population has been fully vaccinated for Covid-19, whileWHO has been reported that testing dropped by 77 percent. To that end, the United Nations, alongside neighboring countries, should lead a vaccination program to mitigate infection levels and the spread of Covid-19.

Pakistan is in a unique position to persuade the international community to provide the necessary humanitarian aid to meet the scale of the disaster facing the Afghan people.

Pakistan’s efforts must be applauded

So far Pakistan has played a commendable role in facilitating emergency evacuation, transit visas and accommodation for stranded passengers, provision of food, non-food and medicines supply and continued advocacy by civil and military leadership for averting a humanitarian crisis.

Read more: Freezing Afghan assets worsening humanitarian crisis: Deborah Lyons

Pakistan is better placed to establish “corridors of humanitarian assistance” in coordination with other like-minded actors. This could be utilized for the continuation of education, health care, food, shelter and social development activities for Afghanis.

Going further a mechanism for monitoring compliance with the Taliban’s repeated pledges to prevent the use of Afghan territory by any terrorist entity needs to be close. An option might be a United Nations peacekeeping mission, with forces drawn from Muslim majority states. Another one could be an unarmed multilateral observation group modeled on the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine.

No country can solve these issues on its own and require regional, global connectivity, continued diplomatic efforts and decisions above one’s comfort bubble.

Politicizing humanitarian access and assistance could jeopardize life-saving programs which in turn would put Afghanistan and the region in a vicious cycle of perpetual agonies, which no one can afford.

Meeting humanitarian needs is a strategic and moral imperative and history would judge us by our intent and actions when it was most needed.


Dr. Nadeem Jan is the recipient of Tamgha I Imtiaz. He is a health & development expert, who has an illustrious career with UN, USAID, World Bank, Gates Foundation, and Governments of Pakistan, Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Afghanistan, and the Philippines. He can be reached at Nadeemjan77@hotmail.com. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.