2021-10-07 13:25:28 The West can help Afghans without recognising the Taliban now | Opinions
The West can help Afghans without recognising the Taliban now | Opinions
While Afghans have seen a glimmer of stability for the first time in decades, they are now confronted with a major humanitarian and development disaster. To avoid this outcome, all stakeholders in Afghanistan and the international community must engage in a dialogue about how to get aid to the country’s impoverished people.
Despite significant progress in development over the last two decades, the country’s humanitarian situation was dire even before the Taliban took over in August. In its aftermath, the majority of humanitarian activities ceased, bringing Afghanistan even closer to the brink of disaster.
The Afghan healthcare system has been described as “on the verge of collapse” in recent weeks. According to the World Food Programme, only 5% of Afghan households have enough food. According to the UN, the country’s GDP will contract by 3.6 percent to 13.2 percent during the next fiscal year. If nothing is done, the country will be in near-“universal poverty,” with poverty rates reaching 97-98 percent.
Donors pledged more than $1 billion in aid to Afghanistan at the September 13 Geneva conference in response to these multifaceted challenges. Although this is 30% more than the UN requested for emergency assistance, it pales in comparison to the US military’s daily expenditure of $300 million over the last two decades. Despite the pledges, much of what has been committed cannot be implemented due to a stalemate between the Taliban and the international community.
Afghanistan has been cut off from critically needed resources that would allow it to address pressing humanitarian and development challenges since mid-August. Afghan state institutions are currently facing a financial crisis as a result of the US government’s decision to freeze nearly $9.5 billion in central bank assets held by US-based financial institutions.
Because of the destabilizing effect this move has had on the banking system, as well as a lack of funds, the country may be forced to rely on money transfers via the Hawala system and traditional forms of money lending and bartering to survive. Informal transactions have frequently been linked to criminal activity, money laundering, and terrorism financing.
Back in August, as Kabul was falling, I argued that a disaster in Afghanistan could be avoided. This required both the Taliban and the West to communicate their expectations and set clear, measurable goals for the future – and this is still true today. All stakeholders should pay attention to the following important messages as they chart a path forward toward international cooperation to prevent a humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan.
First, the Taliban must overcome its natural aversion to the West. Despite the enormous temptation and desire for vengeance, its leadership must ensure that humanitarian aid is not diverted to its fighters and is not used to exert pressure on the international community at any time.
The vast majority of Western governments do not want the Taliban to fail, according to extensive consultations with Western diplomats I have had over the last month. Rather than seeking to destabilize the Afghan state, Western powers see a strategic interest in a stable Afghanistan, given the risk of mass migration, terrorist threats, and a resurgent narcotics trade. While no governments have rushed to recognize the Taliban, it is widely acknowledged that some form of cooperation with the group is required.
The Taliban may regard non-recognition as a snub, but it should be aware that Western governments are constrained by electorates outraged by media reports on human rights violations and mistreatment of women and minorities.
Second, top Western donors must recognize that business as usual will not work in Afghanistan today. The country under a Taliban government is not like a post-disaster or state collapse zone, where the UN and others can step in to provide aid outside of the state’s framework.
Whether or not it is recognized internationally, the Afghan government operates within the Afghan state and its national institutions, which have been built at a high cost in terms of resources and effort over the last 20 years. They may have flaws and suffer from corruption, but they function.
However, large-scale development without the involvement of state institutions is unlikely to take place. There is an urgent need to investigate potential means of coordination that would allow some form of development assistance to proceed while the de facto Taliban government is not fully recognized.
Western aid in education and health can open channels of communication and coordination with the Taliban without the need for formal recognition. National institutions with a track record of effective collaboration are already in place, as are a broad network of community-based governance structures, non-governmental organizations, and private firms capable of leading a whole-of-society approach to development. The Citizen’s Charter, which replaced the National Solidarity Programme, one of the largest and most successful community-based reconstruction schemes in the world, is one example.
It is critical that international assistance strengthens rather than replaces local capacities. The Taliban lacks the resources, knowledge, and skills to govern Afghanistan effectively on its own. Financing local priorities, utilizing untapped resources, and investing in developing local capacity and public administration would increase trust and cooperation with the Taliban.
Despite the fact that 120,000 people have fled Afghanistan, many of whom are highly skilled and educated, there is still a large pool of specialists and workers available for development projects. Internationals should not use the recent post-evacuation “brain drain” as an excuse to continue longstanding and harmful practices of importing human resources.
Third, life-saving humanitarian aid should not be used as a political bargaining chip. The West has frequently attempted to use humanitarian aid as a bargaining chip against the Taliban. This counterproductive approach must be avoided at all costs in order to prevent the Taliban from taking desperate measures to pursue close relations with non-traditional donors who are ill-equipped to support Afghan development.
Western donors should recognize that the Taliban has important political dynamics that influence its decision-making. There is a schism in particular between military leaders and the political or peace wing that negotiated with the US in Doha. Lack of engagement with the Taliban will only strengthen the hardline military elements’ position over time. If the West does not change its policies, Afghanistan risks becoming a breeding ground for insecurity and a thriving narcotics trade, both regionally and globally.
Finally, humanitarian aid is one of the few common languages shared by Kabul and the West today. There is a strong desire to communicate on all sides, but an effective medium for dialogue is lacking. One immediate step in the right direction would be the formation of an independent council of well-respected Afghans who could serve as a go-between for the Taliban and outside parties. At first, this would allow for a shared understanding on life-saving aid delivery, and over time, it could pave the way for the West to engage the Taliban constructively on a variety of other issues.
Direct or indirect dialogue is critical not only for preventing a humanitarian crisis, but also for expanding opportunities for more effective collaboration across the Humanitarian-Development-Peace Nexus.
The author’s views are his or her own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial position or Strydom Conglomerate’s editorial position.