The fall of the Afghan government to the Taliban has presented the world with some tough choices. In recent weeks, the international community has raised concerns about a rapidly escalating humanitarian emergency in the country, calling for an influx of aid to reach millions of Afghans before winter.
Meanwhile, the new Taliban regime has systematically denied the Afghan people suffrage and severely restricted their fundamental human rights – especially those of women and girls.
In the short term, the Taliban and the international community’s failure to adequately respond to the country’s immediate humanitarian needs is likely to result in famine.
Already, the United Nations estimates that nearly half of the country’s population – or about 23 million people – are facing acute hunger in the coming months. And by the end of the year, 3.2 million children under the age of five are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition.
However, the country’s long-term needs are not so easily separated from these more acute concerns.
The international community must find a way to address the humanitarian emergency without encouraging the Taliban or disregarding its horrific human rights record. The threats of ethnic cleansing and gender apartheid are real – and will be just as damaging to the future of Afghanistan’s civilian population.
growing humanitarian emergency
Before coming under Taliban control in August, Afghanistan was facing a major humanitarian crisis. Last year nearly half the population was living below the national poverty line. This was due to a combination of years of insurgent violence, severe droughts in parts of the country, and disruptions caused by the pandemic.
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The crisis was exacerbated by the fall of the government at the hands of the Taliban. Afghanistan’s foreign assets – about US$9.5 billion (A$12.8 billion) – were immediately frozen in the United States. This almost completely collapsed the financial and public sectors of the country.
According to the International Monetary Fund, the country’s economy is expected to shrink by 30% this year, leaving more people in poverty. The United Nations estimates that 97% of Afghans could fall into poverty by the middle of 2022.
Concerns over allowing Taliban to distribute aid
The Taliban have sought recognition by the international community and the United States to stabilize Afghanistan’s financial reserves.
The European Union has also cut its development funding for the country, while the IMF has suspended access to more than US$400 million (A$540 million) and the World Bank pledged US$800 million (A$1.08 billion). ) has stopped its disbursement. help this year.
Even as Afghanistan is gripped by a humanitarian disaster, there are great concerns about whether emergency aid can be distributed in a transparent and fair manner without reinforcing the Taliban’s repressive and exclusionary regime.
Contrary to its earlier promises to form an “inclusive” government, the Taliban’s all-male caretaker cabinet is dominated by radical and radical factions. The leader of the Haqqani terrorist network, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is the new minister of interior affairs, while his uncle, Khalil Haqqani, is the minister for Afghan refugees.
As such, the IMF has warned that any funds going to Afghanistan could be used to finance terrorism and launder money.
The blatant human rights violations by the Taliban also question its ability to distribute aid fairly.
For example, the group’s objective of gender segregation has effectively excluded women from the workforce. Barring a few essential roles in primary education and health care, most women have been forced out of public sector jobs, leaving countless families deprived of their income. Millions of Afghan girls have also been banned from attending schools and universities.
These policies are affecting the most marginalized sections of society, who are also most likely to be in need of humanitarian aid.
The Taliban’s severe sanctions on female aid workers have also limited access to aid to women in much of the country.
In addition, the Taliban engage in large-scale land grabbing by forcibly evicting members of the Hazara minority from their homes and farms. Human Rights Watch says others linked to the former government have also been targeted as “collective punishment”.
Read more: With the devastation to come, the world cannot turn its back on the children of Afghanistan
Many observers have warned that these mass evictions, as well as gruesome attacks on a minority group by a local ally of Islamic State, could amount to genocide.
There are also several reports of summary executions and torture of groups and individuals who supported the previous government in Afghanistan. For example, in Panjshir province, where the Taliban faced fierce resistance, the group is accused of killing and torturing civilians.
What can be done to help?
In the short term, it is a response to the humanitarian crisis for vital international donors who immediately provide life-saving aid before a long and cold winter. But the world must do so without giving the Taliban the recognition and legitimacy it wants, or allowing the group to directly control the funds.
G20 countries are currently exploring ways to do this. An agreement with the Taliban would be needed to allow the group to provide aid without direct authority, although it is unclear how this would work.
As Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said last month,
It is very difficult to see how anyone can help the Afghan people […] Without any involvement of the Taliban government.
While Taliban cooperation is necessary to provide some emergency aid, donor countries and institutions should understand the limits of aid as a leverage in encouraging moderation.
UNICEF has negotiated a deal with the Taliban in which the UN agency pays teachers’ salaries directly without funding through Taliban-controlled institutions. If successful, it could potentially offer a model to replicate in other sectors such as health and agriculture.
To provide humanitarian aid, donors and NGOs can also use a number of existing community networks. The European Union has pledged 1 billion euros ($1.5 billion) in immediate aid to Afghanistan, about half of which will be channeled through international organizations operating in the country.
Read more: What did Afghanistan achieve with Arab aid? 5 questions answered
Western countries have made it clear that any inflow of cash will not give recognition to the Taliban government.
While diplomatic recognition of states under international law does not always depend on respect for human rights, the Taliban should not be allowed to use a humanitarian emergency as a bargaining chip to gain international recognition.
In the absence of a genuine commitment by the Taliban to address growing international concerns, the world must engage with the group on purely practical and humanitarian grounds, without providing formal recognition.