Since the Taliban took power in Afghanistan, more than half the population is suffering from starvation and poverty. With a healthcare system on the brink of collapse, food shortages, and malnourishment rising, Afghans need urgent aid. The World Food Programme stated that over half of Afghanistan’s population currently lives under the poverty line. 14 million people lack adequate access to food, and more than half a million people are displaced since January. Earlier this month, the United Nations and Pakistan urged for immediate action.
The United Nations hosted a donors conference on 13 September in Geneva, aiming to raise $600 million. However, by the end of the conference, they raised over $1 billion in financial support to Afghanistan. Donations will primarily be used for urgent assistance in food and health supplies. After, the UN aims to invest in development gains to ensure long-term peace maintenance. This includes protecting human rights in Afghanistan, especially the safety of women and journalists.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres stated in opening remarks that the Afghan people “are facing the collapse of an entire country – all at once.” He went on to detail the humanitarian crisis, stating that “one in three Afghans do not know where their next meal will come from. Hundreds of thousands… have been forced to flee their homes.” He also highlighted a severe drought, and that “[M]any people could run out of food by the end of this month, just as winter approaches,” while COVID-19 “continues to stalk the country.” According to Reuters, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi stated that “past mistakes must not be repeated. The Afghan people must not be abandoned.” The donor’s conference stressed the global obligation to provide aid to Afghanistan, with almost 100 member states and 30 additional international organizations in attendance. They united for the welfare of Afghan nationals.
Support during this period of collapse has shown a global commitment towards protecting Afghan citizens’ basic freedoms. However, many nations have also expressed concerns about recent spikes in human rights violations, regarding education, journalists, and women’s rights. UN Secretary-General Guterres has made clear that donations made to Afghanistan will also go towards “establishing robust mechanisms to coordinate the response across development and humanitarian efforts – anchored in human rights.”
Member states have become increasingly hesitant in supplying aid to Afghanistan, considering massive human rights abuses, fearing corruption or a misuse of resources. However, Guterres insisted on the impossibility of providing “humanitarian assistance inside Afghanistan without engaging… the de facto authorities”. According to Linda Thomas-Greenfield, United States ambassador to the UN, “[W]e need oral and written commitments made by the Taliban about operating rights of humanitarian agencies and the treatment of rights of minority groups, women and girls to be upheld.” Many nations, including Germany, have also stated that any future relations with Afghanistan will depend on whether or not the Taliban keeps its promise to ensure basic human rights.
While reservations about dealing with the Taliban may be substantiated, the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan cannot afford hesitancy at the moment, especially when millions of innocent civilians are paying the price. Therefore, many countries like Pakistan, the U.S., and China are providing aid through food supplies or independent organizations, instead of direct bank transfers. Urgent humanitarian aid is ensured to civilians while bypassing the Taliban, and risks of corruption are avoided. While the commitment to providing aid seems promising, with many putting the safety of Afghan citizens as an international priority, nations must consider the necessity for future relations with the Taliban.
Ultimately, as the UN has persisted in its commitment to provide aid, it has stated its unwavering commitment to preserving the human rights of Afghan citizens. While human rights should certainly not be compromised, reluctance to engage with the Taliban must subside to ensure the long-term security of citizens’ basic needs to live. As Secretary-General Guterres stated on the day of the conference, “there is a clear interest of the Taliban also to engage with the international community and I think this… gives the international community some leverage.” Such relations will only form by increasing communication with the Taliban. This way, further assurance of Afghan human rights can occur. Then, the Taliban can start gaining the trust of the international community, and hesitancy to engage directly with them will subside accordingly.
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