by Zia Sarhadi (Main Stories, Crescent International Vol. 50, No. 10, Rabi' al-Thani, 1443)
One million children could die in Afghanistan this winter, according to Jan Egeland of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). The food situation is so grim that in desperation some Afghan parents are selling their children to get a little bit of money to purchase food for the rest of the family, according to multiple reports.
The World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley told the BBC Afghanistan is now the worst humanitarian crisis on earth. “It is as bad as you can possibly imagine. In fact, we are now looking at the worst humanitarian crisis on Earth. Ninety-five percent of the people don’t have enough food and now we are looking at 23 million people marching toward starvation. Out of that, almost nine million are knocking on famine’s door. The winter months are coming. We’re coming out of a drought. The next six months are going to be catastrophic. It is going to be hell on Earth.”
United Nations officials have on several occasions urged the international community for immediate help to avert a humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan. On November 17, Deborah Lyons, the UN Special Representative for Afghanistan said at a press conference at the UN headquarters, “Now is not the time to turn away from the Afghan people.” Earlier in the day, she had told the UN Security Council, “To abandon the Afghan people now would be a historic mistake – a mistake that has been made before with tragic consequences.”
Even the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres had in September urged that Afghanistan’s assets should be unfrozen to avoid “a severe economic downturn.” The US froze nearly $9.5 billion in assets that belong to Afghanistan’s central bank soon after the Taliban peacefully entered Kabul on August 15.
This is grand larceny but the Washington warlords are habitual thieves. Most of the money is held by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has also blocked Afghanistan from accessing IMF resources. The World Bank followed suit saying it would no longer give funding to projects in the country. America’s hand was clearly visible in both cases.
The US frequently resorts to economic terrorism to coerce governments into complying with its demands. Most of the IMF and World Bank funds had financed teachers and healthcare professionals’ salaries. Withholding such funds has inflicted enormous suffering on the Afghan people.
Additionally, Afghanistan has been in the grip of a severe drought that would make a famine inevitable unless funds are immediately provided. Jan Egeland of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) revealed in an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now on November 16 that without immediate assistance, at least 9 million Afghans would face starvation.
Taliban officials have held several rounds of talks with the Americans asking them to release the frozen funds. The latest such attempt was on November 11, 2021 in Islamabad during the Troika-Plus meeting. The joint statement after the meeting “Acknowledged international humanitarian actors’ concerns regarding the country’s serious liquidity challenges and committed to continue focusing on measures to ease access to legitimate banking services.” No concrete steps, especially by the US, have been taken to ease such restrictions.
This has resulted in Afghans trekking to neighbouring countries for food and shelter. According to Egeland, as many as 5,000 Afghans are fleeing into Iran every day. He recently returned from a trip to Iran that has hosted millions of Afghan refugees for four decades, without any international support. He tweeted that “Iran alone hosts more displaced Afghans than 30 European countries combined.”
The UN estimates half a million people could flee Afghanistan by the end of the year. The vast majority will go to two neighbouring countries, Iran and Pakistan that already host 90% of all Afghan refugees since 1980.
Yet the Western media and regimes keep harping about the ‘influx of Afghan refugees into Europe.’ They conveniently ignore the fact that the refugee crisis is the direct result of Western policies. If the Taliban-led government were handed over the $9.5 billion frozen funds, there would be no need for Afghans to flee their country. These funds belong to Afghanistan, not to any particular government and could be used to pay people’s salaries as well as avert a looming humanitarian disaster.
While the long-suffering Afghans grapple with famine-like conditions many may have forgotten another anniversary that falls this month on December 24. It will mark 42 years of the Soviet invasion that ended in disaster for both the Afghans and the Soviets. The Red Army had to withdraw from Afghanistan in February 1989 because it could neither prevail against the mujahideen nor sustain the financial costs of the war.
Afghanistan’s travails had started 20 months earlier with the overthrow and murder of President Sardar Muhammad Daud Khan and his entire family on April 27, 1978. The military coup led by pro-Soviet army and air force officers set in motion a chain of events that caused millions of deaths and the destruction of virtually the entire country.
Apart from a few brief periods in-between, the people of Afghanistan have not known peace. Will the Taliban’s return to power offer any hope? Outside powers, especially the US, are making every effort to destabilize the country and prevent peace from being established in Afghanistan.