Saturday, October 1, 2022

West must cut a deal with Taliban to stop mass starvation in Afghanistan

The lack of food security in Afghanistan could soon become a threat to the stability of many other countries.

Without radical changes in Western policy towards the Taliban, millions of people can find food anywhere. The arrival of the poorest people in neighboring countries and the European Union threatens to further political polarization at a time in which many governments are already under severe stress.

Domestic tax and benefits scandals, Brexit, yo-yo COVID-19 policies and a failure to prevent migrants from crossing the English Channel have already undermined confidence in British and European politicians.

Accepting and rejecting refugees can be very costly in these countries, both economically and politically.

Meanwhile, the Taliban remains in power in Afghanistan. Even in the absence of a moral objective to reduce the famine, there is a strong argument for the West to do whatever it takes to feed Afghanistan this winter.

women have been the focus

Sherbat Gula is seen in this famous photo that appeared on the cover of National Geographic magazine in the 1980s.
Steve McCurry/Creative CommonsCC BY

For 20 years the fight against the Taliban has been modeled as a fight for women’s rights in NATO countries.

This is similar to how post-revolution fighting in Central Asia was portrayed in the 1920s, and Afghanistan occupied by the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

As a child, young Sharbat Gula became the face of Soviet-occupied Afghanistan to the citizens of the West. Her famous appearance on the cover of 1985 National Geographic The magazine reported the US sale of Stinger missiles a year earlier to the Mujahideen, the forerunner of the Taliban.



Read more: The history of the Taliban is key in understanding their success now – and what may come next


Other famous photographs taken in Afghanistan were girls in mini-skirts walking in Kabul in the 1970s before the Soviet invasion, women in burqas under the Taliban, and various photographs of girls in hijabs under the governments of Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani. Together these photographs suggest a dramatic upsurge in the status of Afghan women that coincided with a change in government.

The real improvements took place during the 20 years of Western presence in Afghanistan before the US withdrawal in August 2021. More rural children, more girls went to school. Infant and maternal mortality rates have declined. However, the improvement in the standard of living of the rural population is not sustainable if there is no food security.

For women, height at age 15 is a summary measure of the nutrition and disease environment during childhood. Data from a 2013 national survey shows that women born before 1976 in the historical province of Badakhshan, part of the Soviet Union, were three to four centimeters taller than Afghan Badakhshans.

By this measure, no real progress has been made in food security during the childhood of young Afghan women.

A cluster graph shows the average height of Afghan women.
Average height of Afghan women born between 1960 and 2000.
Afghan Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey and National Nutrition Survey, 2013, author provided

It is much easier to count the number of schools and hospitals built, the number of female students, or how many female presenters appear on television than it is to reliably measure the amount of food consumed. In fact, the failure to reduce food insecurity during the NATO campaign may have been a precursor to the Taliban’s eventual victory.

need food number 1

More hospitals and better highways also don’t do much to help people if they are still hungry. Afghans have long needed a strong foundation of food and physical security, and still do. Previous Soviet success in education and the rise of women’s status in Central Asia was based on providing people with food to eat.

Geography cannot help domestic food security in Central Asia. In Tajikistan, which shares a common border, language (Dari) and culture with northern Afghanistan, the main income source of families is remittances from family members working in Russia. But seasonal migration to Russia is not an option for Afghan families.

Statistics also show that women’s lives in Afghanistan were far more difficult than women in neighboring countries, even 15 years after the NATO intervention. Afghan women still marry much earlier, have more children and are more accepting of husband-wife violence than neighboring Tajikistan.

A girl with brown eyes and light brown hair looks at the camera, one hand over her mouth.
An Afghan girl and her family camp in Herat, Afghanistan, in November 2021.
(AP photo/Petros Gianacoris)

News reports from Afghanistan are increasingly focused on food shortages. There is widespread belief that without massive amounts of food aid, millions could starve to death this winter.

US aid may have been the main factor in averting famine in recent years, when lack of rain and lack of protection hampered the harvesting of food crops.



Read more: Can the world avoid mass starvation in Afghanistan without encouraging the Taliban?


Amid despair among NATO countries about the rapid collapse of the Afghan military in August 2021 and the US$2 trillion cost of the failed war, there is little evidence of any consensus among NATO allies on what to do. More than three months after the Taliban takeover, US-held Afghan government funds are frozen. There is no NATO or EU representation in the country.

many more sharbat gulasi

Iris-recognition software allows West to rediscover sherbet gula National Geographic fame, followed by her child marriage and the birth of five children. In 2017 in response to international news reports about her legal crisis in Pakistan, former President Ghani offered her a larger house in Kabul.

Gula and her family were deported from Afghanistan to Italy after US troops withdrew in August.

But there are millions more like her – and her husband and children – who may not be welcomed anywhere else.

NATO countries should deal with Taliban in an immediate and cooperative manner. If they don’t, countries from China to the United Kingdom face hundreds of thousands of destitute refugees on their borders.

The domestic political implications for these countries, including boosting support for anti-immigration, anti-EU parties, should not be underestimated.

The only answer is to make life in Afghanistan a little less difficult this winter by facilitating large-scale food imports. That means acknowledging the reality of the Taliban regime, immediately unblocking at least some international accounts frozen since August 2021, and funding humanitarian aid. The rest will have to wait.

This article is republished from – The Conversation – Read the – original article.

Nation World News Desk
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