Humanitarian assistance of Afghanistan's hapless people: India should push for coordinated international response

India’s position as a non-permanent member of the UNSC and member of BRICS gives it an edge to emerge as a responsible ally and push for coordinated international response not just for humanitarian assistance but also to set precedence for dealing with the Taliban, writes Nandni Mahajan for South Asian Monitor

Nandni Mahajan Sep 23, 2021
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Humanitarian assistance of Afghanistan's hapless people

In August 2021, The United Nations reiterated its commitment to remain in Afghanistan and provide humanitarian aid to millions of Afghans. Since the Taliban takeover, thousands of foreign citizens and Afghan refugees have left the country. However, aid workers from over 150 domestic and international organizations continue to stay put.

In a country of 39 million people, nearly 20 million Afghans - half of whom are children - need humanitarian assistance. According to UNICEF, one in three children is feared to be malnourished. International bodies are raising concerns over the lack of emergency resources and funds that can potentially lead to famines and grave medical crises.

Organizations have warned of a complete economic and social collapse if funds to deliver aid are not arranged in time. They are running out of emergency aid supplies and the number of Afghans relying on aid is increasing. Last week, The United Nations managed to secure over USD 1.2 billion in emergency aid but that barely cuts the bill.

Afghanistan’s economy is shaped by aid dependence. According to the World Bank, aid accounted for 42.9 percent of Afghanistan's GDP in 2020, a figure that stood at 100 percent in 2009. The Taliban also understands that Afghans are in desperate need of humanitarian aid.

As reported by France24, the regime’s acting foreign minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi has urged the US and the international community to continue providing aid. Moreover, the regime has reassured aid organizations that they can continue their work and promised Taliban support and protection.

Afghanistan's economic woes 

It should be no surprise that the Taliban hasn’t kept its promises. Reports have indicated that the Taliban has taken over the complex of at least one organization, and looted resources from others. They have demanded information on the staff and funding, and also imposed restrictions on recruitments.

The collapsing financial system is creating another crisis. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have indefinitely suspended programs and funding streams to the Afghan government. The US froze USD 9.4 billion worth of Afghan Central Bank’s foreign assets while the EU has halted a development project worth USD 1.4 billion.

These financial sanctions are not good news for humanitarian groups as they are left without money for aid and salaries and fear sanctions are likely to be prolonged.

To add to the economic woes, the Afghan currency spiked from a stable 80 Afghani per USD to nearly 100 Afghani. There is limited currency circulation, thus contributing to high inflation, making essentials unaffordable for Afghans.

Humanitarian organizations, foreign governments, Afghan refugees, defectors and journalists have been raising alarm bells about the gross violation of human rights and the future of Afghan women and girls under the Taliban regime.

Taliban not an ethical ally 

Organizations can choose to work alongside the Taliban to expand their reach, but the Taliban’s report card doesn’t present the picture of an ethical ally. A fundamental characteristic of humanitarian organizations is political and ideological neutrality, but with the regime’s extremist positions, questions about humanitarian principles will be raised. It is no surprise that international organizations are not looking to embrace the Taliban.

Humanitarian agencies like the UN have been negotiating with the Taliban since the 1990s, long before the Western missions in the country. In an emergency session with the UN Security Council, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed for the SC to exercise collective restraint to prevent further hostilities and human rights abuses.

It will certainly be nearly impossible for humanitarians to provide aid to all those in need in Afghanistan until the security situation stabilizes. One might look at an UN-led multinational peacekeeping mission that is not led by the West, owing to the Taliban’s desire to remove all foreign powers.

The last two decades have shown that even the strongest militaries and talented negotiators failed to protect Afghans and counter the Taliban. In a high-threat environment, the UN is also unlikely to deploy peacekeeping forces.

A challenge, however, is that Afghanistan has no peace to implement. Kabul’s political context isn’t ideal for a UN peacekeeping mission because of unimaginable violence and the lack of an alternative model to the Taliban. With Afghanistan’s top leaders fleeing the country, there is no alternative government model left to support. Lightly-armed UN peacekeepers will be vulnerable to violence and so would a highly armed one.

So what’s next for humanitarian organizations?

International community's future role

Given the indefinite lags in funding, smaller organizations can work alongside the UN to ensure resources get distributed equitably. The international community can also leverage financial sanctions as a means to ensure the Taliban stays true to its promises for safeguarding rights and create an alternative and inclusive government model.

Not just the Taliban, but organizations have been reliant on aid provided by foreign nations. Out of these, Russia and Pakistan who are known to be rather sympathetic to the regime, haven’t provided sufficient aid. Meanwhile, China has been working to provide essentials and coronavirus vaccines.  

On the other hand, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and the UAE have also been flying regular evacuation flights for Afghan refugees. In this respect, India’s position as a non-permanent member of the UNSC and member of BRICS gives it an edge to emerge as a responsible ally and push for coordinated international response not just for humanitarian assistance but also to set precedence for dealing with the Taliban.

(The writer is a graduate in International Studies from Deakin University, Melbourne and works as an independent researcher. The views are personal. She can be reached on Twitter @justnandni)