Afghanistan Teetering on Brink of Universal Poverty, UN Warns
Millions may starve if farmers do not receive the seeds to plant their winter wheat crop on time
[Islamabad] Forty years of war, natural catastrophes, poverty and drought, and now the coronavirus pandemic, have left Afghans in the grip of a desperate economic crisis.
Since the Taliban completed their conquest of Afghanistan on August 15, global financial organizations have suspended all assistance and the US has frozen the country’s foreign reserves.
Afghans are struggling with the chaos caused by the political transition, collapsing finances and rising poverty.
“Afghanistan teeters on the brink of universal poverty, as 97% of the population is at risk of sinking below the poverty line unless a response to the country’s political and economic crises are urgently launched,” a United Nations Development Program (UNDP) report published on Thursday states.
Kanni Wignaraja, UN assistant secretary-general and director of the UNDP’s regional bureau for Asia and the Pacific, said, “We are facing a full-on development collapse on top of humanitarian and economic crises.”
Jens Laerke, spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), emphasized the dire situation, warning that “basic services in Afghanistan are collapsing and food and other lifesaving aid is about to run out.”
OCHA is seeking $606 million to assist nearly 11 million people during the four remaining months this year, which includes two million people not previously covered in the overall humanitarian response plan,” the agency announced.
Millions of Afghans may starve if farmers do not receive the seeds they need to plant their winter wheat crop before the end of September, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned.
The FAO is hosting a major fundraising conference for Afghanistan in Geneva on September 13.
After the US-led invasion of late 2001, Afghanistan received billions of dollars in foreign aid.
Unfortunately, instead of contributing to the prosperity of the Afghan people, much of this money accumulated in the bank accounts of corrupt officials or was used to support warlords and their militias.
Pakistan is the first country to send urgently needed humanitarian aid to Kandahar since the Taliban takeover.
The first Pakistan Air Force C-130 aircraft carrying lifesaving and necessary daily usage items landed at Kandahar airport on Thursday.
Pakistan has now completed three flight operations to address the humanitarian crisis.
During the battle of Kandahar and the Taliban’s seizure of the airport, the Afghan National Army heavily bombed the airport, destroying its infrastructure including the runway.
“Pakistan will continue to do its best to help Afghan brethren during the prevalent challenging environment. After the first immediate tranche through the air, further supplies will continue through land routes,” the Pakistan Foreign Office said.
Relief supplies are being flown on a daily basis from Qatar to Kabul but the Afghan people remain in urgent need of food and medicines.
Pakistan and Qatar urged the global community on Thursday “not to take steps that might lead to the economic collapse of Afghanistan. Pakistan called to unfreeze the Afghan assets.”
Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, Qatari foreign minister, held a joint press conference with his Pakistani counterpart, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, in Islamabad on Thursday and said that “humanitarian support should be free of any political progress because we believe that the Afghan people deserve to be supported despite what’s happening in the political landscape.”
Wang Yi, Chinese foreign minister, on Wednesday announced that Beijing is offering at least $31 million worth of emergency aid, including coronavirus vaccines, to Afghanistan.
He spoke during a virtual session with the foreign ministers of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.
Wang added, “The US and its allies are duty-bound to help Afghanistan, following the withdrawal of American troops.”
Zabiullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s Kabul-based chief spokesperson, told The Media Line, “The Afghan nation is entering into a new era.”
“Forty years of war has taken a heavy toll in Afghanistan and it is very difficult to rebuild a war-devastated country,” Mujahid continued. “Our national resources have been ruthlessly plundered.”
“Afghanistan is short of food and other necessities, but we hope that keeping in view our respect and dignity, the international community will support us unconditionally,” he said.
“We will rebuild our country with the same zeal and zest with which we have gained independence. We will soon get Afghanistan out of trouble,” Mujahid said.
Dr. Muhammad Naeem, a Doha-based Taliban spokesperson, told The Media Line, “No doubt the Afghan people are in the dire need of humanitarian aid in the different areas of a war-torn country.
“Of course we welcome global aid, but whatever is collected in the name of the Afghan people, must be delivered to the deserving people in a transparent and fair manner,” Naeem said.
Maj. (ret.) Adil Farooque, a former NATO coordinator and an Islamabad-based defense analyst, told The Media Line, “The foremost reason for Pakistan’s interest in Afghanistan can be assumed to be a natural phenomenon, mainly that Pakistan and Afghanistan are Muslim countries and share an at least 1,600-mile-long common border.
“The tribes living across the border have centuries-old relations; meanwhile the tribal culture on both sides is similar,” he continued.
“The second main reason in this regard is over the interest of its archrival India in Afghanistan,” Farooque further said. “Despite having no land connection, India invested more than $3 billion in Afghanistan and the purpose of this huge investment was not to develop Afghanistan but to harm Pakistan and its interests.
“This investment was supposedly made to develop infrastructures and to train Afghan security forces, but in fact, the money was used to spread terrorism and instability in Pakistan,” he said.
“India wanted to create two-front security concerns for Pakistan. Both countries are already engaged on [Pakistan’s] eastern border [with India], while Pakistan’s western border [with Afghanistan] remained active during the last 20 years due to Indian-sponsored cross-border terrorist attacks,” Farooque continued.
“So it is just a lifeline protection strategy for Pakistan that [the Pakistan-Afghan border] is now safe and calm,” he said.
“Now, with the Taliban’s control in Afghanistan, Indian ambitions to establish a permanent foothold in Afghanistan have been completely ruled out,” Farooque said.
Umar Karim is a leading Afghan expert and a visiting fellow at the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies in London.
“Pakistan is a key political and security arbitrator, and now with this major gain it will be filling to some degree the political vacuum left by the US,” Karim told The Media Line.
“Another key gain for Pakistan is the elimination of the Indian presence on Afghan soil that used Afghanistan as a springboard for terrorist activities against Pakistan, including in the former tribal areas of [Pakistan’s] Balochistan [Province],” he said.
“With a pro-Indian government in Kabul gone and the Indian structural presence alongside Pakistan’s border areas dismantled, the security threat at Pakistan’s western border is relatively manageable,” Karim said.
“An additional key achievement for Pakistan has been its success in coordinating the Afghan situation with all of Afghanistan’s neighbors, which helped in achieving political unanimity on the issue and noninterference by any country in Afghanistan against the Taliban,” he added.
“These gains are mainly geopolitical. Now Pakistan will only gain further, particularly in the economic domain, if there is stability in Afghanistan and an all-inclusive government is formed,” Karim said.