Afghanistan: The Harshest Winter for the Afghan People

As winter looms, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) warned in its appraisal that 97% of the Afghanistan population may live below the poverty line next year. 

The withdrawal of foreign funds to Kabul has pushed the living of ordinary Afghanistan people to a harsher scenario than before. Since the fall of Kabul in August, the United States, the largest aid provider in Afghanistan, pulled out its aids in the country, which constituted almost half of Afghan’s total aid in the last twenty years. Following the US’s policy, the European countries, alongside the International Monetary Organisation (IMO), halted their funding to the country after the Taliban took over. Lacking crucial foreign aids has left Afghanistan people, as well as the daily operation in its government, nearly on the brink, which has raised increasing global calls for resuming the aid to avoid further tragedy in the coming winter.

In response to a United Nations appeal in September, $1.2 billion (nearly£1b) was sent to Afghanistan by the US and other donor countries. The Taliban also received guarantees of aids from key regional figures during the Moscow talks last month, including Russia, Pakistan, and China. So far, China and Pakistan have provided over $60 million (£44 m) cash to Kabul as a sign of support. Despite the increasing willingness of western nations and Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries, the revisit of international funds offers little help to the indigenous communities because of Afghanistan’s sinking economy and paralysed structure in the central government.

Humanitarian Crisis: Economic Plight and Ill-functional Government

The economic plight in Afghanistan has made foreign funds the main source of revenue for its humanitarian missions. Even before the Taliban takeover, Afghanistan has already been suffering from a series of disasters, including the COVID-19, severe drought, and intensifying conflicts. Lack of food production and societal instability exacerbate food insecurity and the difficulties for Afghan people to maintain their daily lives. In addition, as the US is unwilling to release Afghan’s $9.5 billion (£7b) foreign reserves saved in its financial institution out of security reasons, the Taliban is unable to mobilise most of its money into humanitarian work. Accordingly, the humanitarian missions in Afghanistan are now mainly, if not fully, reliant upon funding from foreign aid. 

Nevertheless, even with increasing foreign aid, it seems unlikely that all the money will reach the people on the ground due to the ill-functional government structure. For the funding directly received by the Taliban, a local Afghan in south Kandahar pointed out that only those who belong to or support the Taliban will receive the money, while others cannot even afford to buy food and electricity. The distrust of the Taliban in regard to the use of foreign aid spreads among a larger community in the country. The insufficiency of local infrastructure and evacuation of foreign workers further blockade the delivery of daily commodities, such as food and medicines.

Recent collapse of the healthcare system in Afghanistan provides clear evidence of how the system is under threat because of the country’s poor economy and the Taliban’s mismanagement. The withdrawal of funds took three-fifths of funding from Afghan’s 3,800 hospitals and clinics, which also covers staffs’ salaries. Lack of funding has pushed the healthcare facilities to rely on emergency aid groups, while more health staff refused to work without being paid. And the system is now run by the Taliban officials, who have no expertise and education, which means that the crisis could worsen, said Afghan health staff.

Women’s Rights: Actions Taken?

Despite the UN’s calls to not forget Afghan women and fighting for their rights to education, women’s rights are left out, or at least weakened, by talks between the Taliban and the key players, such as the United States. In the G-20 summit, state parties did not raise any concerns regarding women’s rights in Afghanistan. they rather focused their energy on negotiating foreign aid.

Since August, women across governmental branches, private sectors, and even students have been encountering bans in every aspect of their lives. Right after the Taliban took the office, it set out its ‘security reason’ that female governmental officers should stay at home temporarily, while there shows no sign whether such a temporary ban will be lifted soon. Oppression is specifically harsh on women’s rights to education. Girls are banned from attending secondary schools, whilst universities are implementing segregation policies, where only female teachers can teach women’s classes. In light of such suppression, many Afghan women, despite their ‘right’ to go to university, chose to stay behind and remain silent to avoid being targeted by the Taliban, who are famous for laying harsh punishment on women stepping across their ‘red lines.’

The Taliban’s policy against women further expands to the foreign aid workers which narrow down the already-shrinking humanitarian aids. In an agreement signed by the Taliban and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), only three out of 34 provinces had permitted women, aid workers, to do their jobs with other provinces setting strict limits on their daily activities. The restrictions on women for even going out of office have undermined the efficiency of humanitarian tasks that the Afghan people urgently need right now. 

Dire situations of Afghan women, however, seem to raise calls on the international stage and not pragmatic solutions. As key states are still struggling to recognize the Taliban, the lives and rights of Afghanistan women, alongside other vulnerable communities, are pushed to the back scene that it seems to be mere ‘one of the objectives’ states need to reach with the Taliban. The Next Century Foundation’s report outlined our positions on not just advocating for but also truly realising women’s rights to education in Afghanistan. 

International Recognition: A Force to Stress Better Governance?

Three months since August, most states in the international community are still reluctant to recognise the Taliban as the legitimate authority of Afghanistan. The calculation of big powers’, as well as regional players, positions reflect that international recognition might be the main, if not the only, tool to push for more inclusive and better governance in Afghanistan under the Taliban’s rule. 

One obstacle to the Taliban gaining international recognition comes from the resolutions laid down by the United Nations. In March 2020, the UN passed a resolution that declared no compromise in regard to supporting “the restoration of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.” This is further strengthened by its recent resolution in August, which demands inclusive governance and respect for human rights. Knowing the position from the international community, the Taliban, after its takeover, immediately pushed for a ‘changing image,’ in which the Taliban tried to present its determination to take a different way of governance. The reality on the ground, however, tells a different story.

Key states, including Afghan’s neighbouring states, are hesitant to recognise the Taliban mainly out of security implications behind the recognition. In the Moscow talks last month, which involved China, Russia, Iran, and Pakistan, the leaders of the region could not reach a consensus on recognition even after China’s effort to take them on board. In fact, Pakistan, alongside Iran, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan, agreed on a ‘conditional’ recognition. That recognition is possible only if the Taliban establishes inclusive governance, assures human rights, and adheres to the principle that Afghanistan will not be used for terrorism. Likewise, the United States is concerned with not just its security, but also the composition of the Taliban interim government which involves several figures that are now on the US’s terrorist list.

The reluctance across the globe on whether to recognise the Taliban, however, could mean larger negligence of the Afghan people in the international community. Considering the government structure of the Taliban, increasing foreign aid could do little to improve the situation on the ground, in which the Taliban’s internal rules against women and lack of international recognition could all play a role in impeding the delivery of aid. The evidence of structural difficulty is clear, where the wider international community should take serious consideration before another human tragedy in the Afghan territory. 

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