While the Afghans have finally seen a glimpse of stability for the first time in decades, they now face a major humanitarian and development disaster. In order to avoid this outcome, it is essential that all stakeholders in Afghanistan and within the international community open a dialogue on how to provide assistance to the struggling Afghan population.
Although the country has made significant development progress over the past 20 years, its humanitarian situation was dire even before the Taliban took power in August. In the process, the majority of humanitarian activities ceased, bringing Afghanistan closer to the brink.
In recent weeks, the Afghan health system has been described as “on the brink of collapse”. The World Food Program has warned that only 5 percent of households in Afghanistan have enough to eat. The UN predicts that in the next fiscal year, its GDP will decline from around 3.6% to 13.2%. If no action is taken, the country will face near-universal poverty, with poverty rates reaching 97-98 percent.
In response to these multidimensional challenges, at the Geneva conference on September 13, donors pledged more than $ 1 billion to help Afghanistan. While this is 30% higher than what the UN has requested for emergency aid, it pales in comparison to US military spending of $ 300 million a day over the past two decades. Despite the commitments, much of what has been committed cannot be used due to the stalemate between the Taliban and the international community.
Since mid-August, Afghanistan has been deprived of essential resources that would enable it to face urgent humanitarian and development challenges. Currently, Afghan state institutions are facing a financial crisis due to the US government’s decision to freeze nearly $ 9.5 billion in central bank assets in US-based financial institutions. .
Due to the destabilizing effect this decision has had on the banking system and the lack of funds, the country may be forced to resort to money transfers through the Hawala system and traditional forms of money lending and bartering. to survive. These forms of informal transactions have often been associated with criminal activity, money laundering and terrorist financing.
In August, just as Kabul was falling, I argued that a disaster in Afghanistan could be avoided. This forced both the Taliban and the West to voice their expectations and set clear, measurable goals for moving forward – and this remains true today. In charting a way forward for international cooperation to prevent a humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan, all relevant stakeholders should heed the following important messages.
First, the Taliban must overcome their instinctive rejection of the West. Despite the immense temptation and desire for revenge, its leaders must also ensure that humanitarian aid is not diverted to its combatants and at no time is used to exert pressure on the international community.
In extensive consultations with Western diplomats I have had over the past month, it has been made clear to me that the vast majority of Western governments do not want the Taliban to fail. Rather than seeking to undermine the Afghan state, Western powers perceive a strategic interest in a stable Afghanistan, given the risk of mass migration, terrorist threats and the resurgence of the drug trade. While no government has been quick to recognize the Taliban, the need for some form of cooperation with the group is widely recognized.
The Taliban may perceive non-recognition as a snub, but they must be aware that Western governments are constrained by their own constituencies appalled by media reports of human rights violations and mistreatment of women and minorities.
Second, major Western donors should recognize that a business as usual approach will not work in Afghanistan today. The country under a Taliban government is very different from post-disaster or state collapse areas in which the UN and others can step in to provide aid outside of the state.
Whether or not it is internationally recognized, the Afghan government operates within the Afghan state and its national institutions, which have been put in place with considerable effort and resources over the past 20 years. They may have disabilities and suffer from corruption, but they work.
Yet large-scale development without engaging state institutions is unlikely to continue. There is an urgent need to explore potential means of coordination that would allow some form of development assistance to continue without the full recognition of the de facto Taliban government.
Education and health are two areas in which Western aid can open channels of communication and coordination with the Taliban without the need for formal recognition. National institutions with a proven track record of effective collaboration are already in place with an extensive network of community governance structures, non-governmental organizations and private companies capable of leading a comprehensive approach to development. One example is the Citizen’s Charter, which replaced the National Solidarity Program, one of the largest and most successful community reconstruction programs in the world.
It is crucial that international aid builds rather than replaces local capacities. The Taliban do not have the resources, knowledge and skills to effectively rule Afghanistan on their own. Funding for local priorities, using untapped resources, and investing in building local capacity and public administration would build confidence and make the Taliban more cooperative.
Despite the fact that 120,000 people have fled Afghanistan, including many highly skilled and educated people, there are still a large number of specialists and workers who can be mobilized for development projects. The recent post-evacuation “brain drain” should not be used as an excuse by internationals to continue long-standing and harmful practices of importing human resources.
Third, vital humanitarian aid must not be used as a bargaining chip for political concessions. The West has often tried to use humanitarian aid as leverage against the Taliban. This counterproductive approach must be avoided at all costs, to prevent the Taliban from taking desperate steps to continue close relationships with non-traditional donors who are not equipped to effectively support Afghanistan’s development.
Western donors should recognize that there are important political dynamics within the Taliban that affect their decision-making. In particular, there is a split between the military leaders and the political or pacifist wing that negotiated with the United States in Doha. Over time, the lack of engagement with the Taliban will only strengthen the position of hard-line military elements. If the West does not revise its approaches, Afghanistan could easily become a breeding ground for insecurity and a flourishing drug trade, regionally and globally.
In conclusion, humanitarian aid is today one of the only common languages shared by Kabul and the West. There is a strong will to communicate on all sides, but what is lacking is an effective means of dialogue. An immediate step in the right direction would be to establish an independent council of nationally respected Afghans who could act as an intermediary and facilitate communication between the Taliban and outside parties. In the beginning, this would allow a common understanding of the delivery of life-saving aid and, over time, it could open up the possibility for the West to constructively engage the Taliban on a range of other issues.
Direct or indirect dialogue is essential not only to prevent a humanitarian crisis, but also to improve opportunities to work more effectively around the world. Humanitarian-Development-Peace Nexus.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.