Afghanistan is facing a severe economic downturn that could throw many millions into poverty and hunger, may generate a massive wave of refugees from the war-torn country and indeed set it back for generations turning the hapless nation into a veritable producer of terrorism.
The world, especially the region needs to take immediate and urgent economic measures, preferably collectively, to avert such a dire aftermath.
The region has already held highly successful separate consultative conferences of foreign ministers and spy masters of neighboring countries—-the first one to remain seized of the socio-political and diplomatic developments in Afghanistan and coordinate with each other for a holistic, comprehensive and harmonized response and the second one on the urgent need for dealing with the terrorist threat from groups including ISIS, Al-Qaeda, ETIM, TTP, BLA, and Jundullah to the neighboring countries.
In the same way, a broad-based conference of official economic managers of the regional countries could be convened to formulate an urgent assistance program for Afghanistan on the lines of the now defunct Aid-to-Pakistan Consortium which was converted later into Pakistan Development Forum.
The forthcoming summit of heads of member states of Shanghai Cooperation Organization or SCO on September 16-17 in the Tajikistan capital, Dushanbe, could be used for the purpose with Russia and China pledging immediate cash assistance and investment plans via Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) as well, Iran contributing oil on differed payment and Pakistan facilitating freer trading between the landlocked country and the world while at the same time offering whatever it can by way of food and other edible essentials minus duties.
The United Nations has already held a pledging conference on Monday for humanitarian assistance, although without the Taliban government – which has not been recognized by any country.
António Guterres, the United Nations secretary-general, convened the conference to solicit aid pledges, hoping to raise more than $600m of emergency funding to help 11m people. Countries may cough up, but it is believed to take some cajoling. Many are said to be reluctant to turn the aid taps back on full until they have seen how the Taliban govern.
The SCO as an organization or individual members of the SCO on their own could join up with the UN in this endeavor.
Indeed, painting an extremely grim picture of Afghanistan’s current economic plight the UN on Thursday urged the world to keep money flowing into Afghanistan despite concerns over the Taliban government, warning the already poor country could otherwise suffer a historic breakdown.
Deborah Lyons, the secretary-general’s special representative on Afghanistan, called on the world at least to give a chance to the victorious Taliban as the group turns to governance and confronts a severe economic decline.
If not, the result would be “a severe economic downturn that could throw many more millions into poverty and hunger, may generate a massive wave of refugees from Afghanistan and indeed set Afghanistan back for generations.”
She warned that the new Afghan authorities cannot pay salaries and voiced alarm over a storm of crises including a plunging currency, sharply rising food and fuel prices, and a lack of cash at private banks.
The UN Development Program said that Afghanistan is already one of the poorest nations, with 72 percent living on no more than one dollar a day.
That figure could soar to 97 percent by mid-2022 due to foreign money drying up and a severe Covid-19 outbreak, said the UN agency’s Asia director, Kanni Wignaraja.
Foreign donors led by the United States provided more than 75% of the public expenditure under Afghanistan’s 20-year Western-backed government – and quickly stopped payments as it crumbled last month amid a US military withdrawal.
US President Joe Biden’s administration has voiced openness on humanitarian aid but says that any direct economic lifeline, including unfreezing some $9.5 billion in Afghan central bank assets, will be contingent on Taliban actions including allowing safe passage to people to leave.
“These assets belong to Afghanistan and should be used for Afghanistan, not as leverage for threats,” said China’s deputy UN envoy, Geng Shuang.
Deborah Lyons added, “The economy must be allowed to breathe for a few more months, giving the Taliban a chance to demonstrate flexibility and a genuine will to do things differently this time, notably from a human rights, gender and counterterrorism perspective.”
The appeals for support come despite wide concerns over an interim government named Tuesday by the Taliban that includes several ministers on UN watch-lists over terrorism allegations and no women.
With such a dire economic situation prevailing one cannot rule out the possibility of the Taliban lapsing back to their first incarnation (1994-2001) and acting even worst as the country falls into a deeper hole of anarchy due to economic deprivation, becoming a serious terror threat to its neighbors and to the world.
The regional countries are already worried about security situation along their borders with Afghanistan; they fear terrorists using Afghan soil for launching attacks on other countries, spread of extremism, and possibility of influx of refugees, drug trafficking and transnational crimes.
In an Op-Ed published by the Gazeta.Ru news website on Saturday, Russian Security Council’s deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev warned that tens of thousands of members of the militant Islamic State (IS) group were based in Afghanistan’s provinces close to borders with Central Asian countries, according to TASS news wire.
“According to the intelligence services, now the region numbers tens of thousands of the IS militants and their followers, with the significant part of them concentrated in the northern and eastern provinces bordering the Central Asian countries. The leadership of the Islamic State openly announced plans to spread its influence to the entire region,” Medvedev said.
Foreign ministers of Afghanistan’s neighboring countries earlier in a meeting on September 8, “agreed to remain seized of the developments in Afghanistan and coordinate with each other for a holistic, comprehensive and harmonized response,” according to a joint statement issued after their meeting.
Notably, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi played a proactive role in the deliberations by exhorting the neighboring countries to “help Afghanistan get out of chaos”; “exert a positive influence on the situation”; and “guide and urge the Afghan Taliban to unite with all ethnic groups and factions, build a broad and inclusive political structure, pursue moderate and prudent domestic and foreign policies, draw a clear line with terrorist forces, and establish and develop friendly relations with other countries, especially neighboring countries.”
Wang said the Taliban had recently made positive statements on issues such as forming a government, fighting terrorism and making friends with its neighbors. “We welcome the statements and the key is to transform them into concrete action,” he told the ministers.
Wang underlined that the neighboring countries have a “unique role in providing a good external environment” for Afghanistan’s stability and reconstruction while addressing their own legitimate concerns.
A tangible outcome of the meeting is that the FMs’ forum has been institutionalized. Iran has offered to host the next meeting in a month or so. To be sure, Iran coming on board could be a game changer.
The regional countries worried about security situation along their borders with Afghanistan and fearing use of Afghan soil for launching attacks on immediate and distant neighbors, spreading extremism, influx of refugees, drug trafficking and transnational crimes, convened the other day a separate meeting of spymasters of Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. The meeting was hosted by Pakistan.
Earlier on Sept 4, the ISI DG Lt-Gen Faiz Hameed had travelled to Afghanistan where he reportedly held meetings with the new Taliban regime. A source said he had in his meetings in Kabul, besides, other issues had emphasized on the urgent need for dealing with the terrorist threat from groups including ISIS, Al-Qaeda, ETIM, TTP, BLA, and Jundullah to the neighboring countries.
China has already offered big-ticket infrastructure projects in recent meetings with representatives of the Taliban. Suhail Shaheen, Taliban spokesman, recently referred to China as a “friend” of Afghanistan and expressed his hope China would invest in reconstruction work “as soon as possible.”
China’s offer would effectively seek to physically extend the CPEC to landlocked Afghanistan through trade-promoting roads and power supplies.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021