The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) met in an emergency meeting in Islamabad on December 18th to discuss launching a trust fund addressing the humanitarian crises in Afghanistan. International organizations froze billions of dollars in aid and assets to Afghanistan after the Taliban took control of the country in August 2021. These reductions in aid delivery and frozen bank reserves have created a state of emergency in Afghanistan, with millions facing starvation and disease. The fund, managed by the Islamic Development Bank, would begin assisting by early 2022, though the amount to be provided remains unclear.
Representatives from the United States, China, Russia, Japan, and the United Nations joined ministers from 30 Islamic countries to protect Afghans and prevent total economic collapse. According to Al Jazeera, Martin Griffiths, the UN Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs, warned, “the Afghan economy is in free-fall.” Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan also voiced the urgency of the situation: “Afghanistan is heading for chaos.”
The Afghan Foreign minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, was also present at the conference, though the OIC did not formally recognize the Taliban government. Reuters reports Muttaqi claimed the Taliban government is cooperating with international organizations and repeats the necessity of reopening financial channels to Afghanistan. He also promised to uphold Afghan human rights, though Amnesty International revealed the Taliban continued to discriminate against women target members of the former government.
Afghanistan needs immediate humanitarian assistance, with the Taliban government’s failings compounding the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The OIC’s trust fund ensures aid will reach Afghanistan and pressures other countries and organizations to lift harmful financial freezes. These sanctions are punishing Afghan citizens by impeding aid delivery rather than pressuring the Taliban. It is essential to note the crisis extends past immediate projected aid requirements; maintenance of economic stability in Afghanistan is in the international community’s interest, as well as a moral imperative. While the Taliban government has reportedly failed to uphold universal human rights values, the international community also violates Afghans’ human rights by preventing humanitarian aid from entering the country.
The Taliban took control of Afghanistan in late August 2021 when the United States exited Kabul after more than two decades of fighting. According to the World Bank, the US-supported former government had already been struggling to mitigate the effects of the pandemic and severe drought, which have created economic contraction, poverty increase, and macroeconomic instability. The Taliban takeover worsened these conditions when international donations and expenditures supporting the former government stopped, and inflation skyrocketed. According to the New York Times, the US froze $9.5 billion in Afghan central bank assets, leading to near-collapse and essential health and educational services already impacted by the pandemic. According to the World Food Programme, 22.8 million people face acute food insecurity in a country of 41.7 million. In response to the OIC conference and the worsening humanitarian disaster, the US and the UN agreed to exempt aid groups from sanctions preventing financial assistance from entering the country. This move also allows the Taliban to make financial transactions for humanitarian purposes.
While many applaud the decisions of the US, the UN, and the OIC, some critics are wary of aiding an organization officially listed as a terrorist. Though the OIC conference did not officially recognize the Taliban government, critics worry this funding may be seen as a form of legitimization. On the other hand, diplomats and activists argue easing these sanction restrictions will not adequately address the needs of the Afghan people, and the international community must do more to prevent massive economic collapse. While security concerns are significant, the tremendous burdens of the sanctions fall on civilians themselves because aid restrictions impede access to healthcare and nutrition. Therefore, the OIC, the UN, and the US must continue their efforts to address the crisis in Afghanistan by reducing the limitations on sanctions and allowing aid to enter the country.