Thursday, March 23, 2023

Imminent humanitarian crisis: Time for introspection for Taliban

By Hamid Pakteen

The concern about regression and retrogression in the new Taliban regime has caused concern even in the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) as well as Western donors. The OIC has decided to send a delegation of religious scholars to Afghanistan in second half of June 2022 to persuade Afghan Authorities / scholars on the issues of tolerance, moderation in Islam and women’s rights including equal access to education.

Fundamentalism that stopped Afghanistan from progress in the past is once again being subscribed to by the present Afghan regime led by the Taliban. Afghanistan has once again become a hostage to fundamentalism and power game between regional and global powers, while people are suffering. In less than a year of Taliban 2.0 regime since it usurped the seat of power through military power in last August, the country is on a rapid path of regression to fundamentalism, starvation, malnutrition, and poor governance. The Taliban have not only destroyed the seedlings of democracy, but also snatched the space created for women’s liberty and child rights. The economy is in shambles and with no corrective measures taken till now, a collapse is imminent. 

The United Nations, in one of its recent reports, pointed out that in Afghanistan, 1.1 million children under the age of 5 will face the most severe form of malnutrition in 2022, as increasing numbers of hungry, wasting- away children are being brought into hospital wards. Since the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan, Afghan women have been subjected to a cascade of announcements restricting their employment, education, travel, deportment, and other aspects of public life. In December 2021, the Taliban regime decreed that woman could not travel beyond 45 kilometres from their home without a close male relative accompanied her. 

Taliban’s non-negotiable decree

In December 2021, Deputy Education Minister of Afghanistan Abdul Habim Hemat said in an interview with an international broadcasting agency that girls would not be allowed to attend secondary school until a new education policy was approved. The Taliban officials insisted on creating a “safe learning environment” for girls in the new education policy but failed to offer any detail in this regard. They have so far not shown any signs to permit girl to go to school. 

Restricting girls’ access to schools is already causing harm. With young girls blocked from continuing their education, many families are already marrying off teenagers to shift their support to husbands. If the ban on girls’ high school education becomes permanent, it would eventually exclude women from all sectors of the society under the cover of “Sharia” or religious laws in Islam. In the month of May, the Taliban passed another obnoxious decree for women stating that Afghan women must cover themselves from head to toe, suggesting burqa as the preferred garment for covering a woman’s face, hair and body and otherwise to wear “the good and complete” Hijab. Again in May 2022 Taliban rulers announced another order requiring all female TV news anchors in the country to cover their faces while on air. The Information and Culture Ministry insisted the policy was “final and non-negotiable”. 

Soon after Taliban came to power in August, 2021, it dissolved the Afghan Ministry of Women Affairs and replaced it with the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, which will oversee the implementation of hard line Islamic rules in the country. Taliban also directed, in September 2021, all female government employees to stay at home until Sharia related procedures are put in place to ensure their safety. Millions of women had voted in the last elections and 89 of 352 members of parliament were female. Contrary to this, when Taliban unveiled a 53 member cabinet in September 2021, it did not include any woman. In the previous government there were 13 women ministers and deputy ministers. The political space for women was curtailed. 

Avoiding humanitarian catastrophe

At the same time, an economic collapse of the country is fast becoming imminent with deepening economic recession and drying up of resources to support economic recovery. Afghanistan’s GDP is forecasted to contract by 28-30 % within a year as the country grapples with a sudden freeze in international aid which contributes as much as 40 % of its GDP and 50 % of the budget spending. The basic services are deteriorating in Afghanistan and it needs an estimated USD 6-8 billion in international grants annually to fund basic services, support growth and sustain peacemaking efforts. The country would require an estimate USD 2 billion to just lift the incomes for those in extreme poverty to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe. 

Afghanistan is fast coming on the brink of food and nutrition crisis. According to the UN, by the end of last year, half the population of Afghanistan, i.e., around 38 million lived below the poverty line. According to UNDP experts, the economy crumble and prices mount, the proportion of people below poverty line may go up to as high as 97 % of the population in the latter half of 2022. The country is suffering to a great extent due to failure of Taliban government in governance and mobilising funds to fortify the country against economic crisis. Reverting to fundamentalism, disregarding the rights of women and girls, Taliban’s obstruction to ‘inclusivity’, is jeopardizing the efforts to get released its frozen funds abroad as well as assistance from donors. 

As Pakistan is floundering economically and politically unstable, it cannot salvage its own problems and Afghanistan cannot rely on Islamabad’s politically motivated token gestures. Other neighbour China does not have a record so far to salvage any country from crisis including Pakistan. And China most recently has left Sri Lanka sinking amid economic crisis. Beijing is mainly driven by its own strategic interests. Afghanistan cannot expect anything different. If at all Taliban desires to save its people, it must avoid retrogression to fundamentalism and at the same time negotiate financial assistance from its tested development partners. 

Note: The contents of the article are of sole responsibility of the author. Afghan Diaspora Network will not be responsible for any inaccurate or incorrect statement in the articles.

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