A way must be found to ensure that the new government in Kabul is able to access its funds kept frozen in American banks. This humanitarian gesture, if it comes about, will be a major step towards peace and stability in the region and beyond, opines Syed Nooruzzaman

Afghanistan under the Taliban continues to attract as much global attention as it did before the US-backed government in Kabul became history on August 15 this year. The main factors behind this reality are the strategic significance the country enjoys and the political forces running the government today are seen as extremists, who have recaptured power after a long drawn-out struggle upholding their primary viewpoint – Afghanistan must be governed by Afghans with no strings attached.

The truth, as seen by experts, is the Taliban rulers are not what they were when they first established their government in 1996-97 in a confusion-filled scenario. They are now battle-hardened, reformed politicians, serious about successfully governing their country with a clear-cut objective of putting Afghanistan back on the road to socio-economic recovery. However, they are acutely short of funds and want the world community to not put a spanner in the works and facilitate the task of rebuilding the country destroyed by the circumstances beyond anyone’s control.

Any kind of contribution to get people engaged in economic activity is bound to promote peace and stability in that country and the region. Yet, in the midst of all that is going on there, there is need to have

a close look at the forces that may be in search of opportunities to play negative politics.

The recently held Delhi Regional Security Dialogue on Afghanistan requires to be seen against this backdrop. The dialogue was held mainly to discuss the evolving situation in the war-torn country, especially the security scenario and its regional and global ramifications, but it could not avoid expressing concern over the worst  socio-economic and humanitarian crisis the country is faced with at this stage. The unanimously agreed declaration issued at the end of the dialogue underlined the need to provide “urgent humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan”.

The Delhi Declaration also had it that “humanitarian assistance should be provided in an unimpeded, direct and assured manner to Afghanistan and that the assistance is distributed within the country in a non-discriminatory manner across all sections of the Afghan society.”

The participants in the regional dialogue, held in New Delhi at the initiative of India’s National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval, included the NSAs from Iran, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. China and Pakistan, not surprisingly, preferred to stay away.

The declarations that Afghanistan’s territory should not be allowed to be used for terrorism and efforts must be made to prevent radicalisation of society are bound to get support from one and all. But the prevailing circumstances demand that the global community, as its top priority, must also focus on saving millions of Afghan lives, including those of children.

Realisation has ultimately dawned on Pakistan, which has at last listened to saner advice for allowing the transportation of 50,000 tonnes of wheat plus life-saving medicines to Afghanistan from India through its land route, part of the blocked humanitarian assistance worth Rs 5 billion, but this is not enough. More needs to be done to save the threatened lives of 22.8 million Afghans – over 50 per cent of the country’s population – including 3.2 million children, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Food Programme (FPO). India, which has already spent a lot on rebuilding of Afghanistan, must come forward with more economic aid to a country with which it has had historical relations. This is the best way to make China less attractive for the Afghans.

The prevailing food crisis in Afghanistan will become more acute as winter fully sets in when most parts of the country will be snow-bound, difficult to be accessed by anyone engaged in humanitarian activities.

The WFP and UNICEF (the United Nations Children’s Fund) had warned as early as in October that “one million children were at the risk of dying from severe malnutrition without immediate life-saving treatment”. A horrible situation, indeed! The continuing drought and the situation that has emerged after the Taliban takeover of the country worsened the already grim scenario there. Afghanistan is headed for famine-like conditions if the world does not act fast to save innocent lives. According to the WFP’s  Deputy Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, Anthea Webb, “the drought (second in less than three years) has reduced the amount of food that people can grow; so crops are down by 40 per cent. Jobs have evaporated, and food prices have gone up.”

Much of Afghanistan’s financial difficulties can come to an end if the US de-freezes Kabul’s nearly $9.5 billion in assets belonging to the Afghan Central Bank. But the Joe Biden administration argues that it cannot allow a Taliban-led government to access the seized money mainly because the Taliban still remains on the US Treasury Department’s “sanctions list”. This is what the Americans describe as a “technical” factor that comes in the way of Afghanistan’s national funds being out of bounds for the Taliban government in Kabul.

If this “technical” factor is removed immediately, it may save Afghanistan from the catastrophic consequences it is likely to face under the prevailing circumstances. The ultimate beneficiaries will be the people of Afghanistan. It is not the people’s fault if Taliban factions happen to be ruling the roost. Such gestures may make the Taliban undergo a major transformation to the liking of the global community.

“If the current situation prevails, the Afghan government and people will face problems and will become a cause for mass migration in the region and the world which will consequently create further humanitarian and economic issues,”  Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi said in an open letter aimed at shaking the conscience of Washington DC. The letter clearly told US Congress members to make the Afghan assets accessible to Kabul, otherwise economic turmoil in Afghanistan could lead to trouble abroad.

The new government in Kabul is unable to get sufficient financial aid from abroad primarily because no country has so far recognised the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan. Not even Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Pakistan which were among the few countries which had come forward to establishing diplomatic relations with the Taliban administration in 1996-97.

This is, after all, an unusual situation, somewhat akin to the capture of power by Hamas, considered a terrorist outfit, through the democratically held elections in Gaza. In a desperate appeal to the US as also to the rest of the world, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told media persons the other day, “Our message to America is, if un-recognition continues, Afghan problems continue; it is the problem of the region and could turn into a problem for the world.”

The world cannot afford to keep quiet as Afghanistan is not Gaza. A way must be found to ensure that the new government in Kabul is able to access its funds kept frozen in American banks. This humanitarian gesture, if it comes about, will be a major step towards peace and stability in the region and beyond.

[The writer, a Delhi-based political columnist, is a former Dy Editor of The Tribune, Chandigarh.]

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