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The author is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the International Rescue Committee and former British Foreign Secretary
It is too late to discuss the reasons for the United States and NATO’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. It happened. The fact that it has been sent by telegram between successive governments has not reduced its instability. The danger now is that the Afghan people are unarmed.
Impunity is a sign of the current crisis. There were more than 5,000 civilian casualties in the first half of 2021, an increase of 47% over the same period last year. There are many books and lectures on how Afghanistan became an “imperial cemetery”. It should attract our attention today because it is a cemetery for innocent people and their hope for a better future.
More than 350,000 people move within the country. Neighboring countries such as Pakistan, Iran and India are worried about the outflow of refugees, with 30,000 people fleeing the country every week. There are also Afghans heading to Europe.
You can see why they are running away. This is more than just fighting. Nearly half of the population, or more than 18 million people, require humanitarian assistance (this number has doubled from January 2020 to January 2021). The Covid-19 pandemic is raging, and only 9% of the population has enough vaccines. Extreme drought has hit large areas of the country. At the same time, there is huge political uncertainty.
When Afghanistan is torn apart by violence and fear, it is not enough to simply “let them solve it by themselves”. There are four priorities here.
First, unexpected humanitarian crises will fuel political crises. However, the UN’s humanitarian response plan has received only 37% of the funds it needs in 2021. The UK cut its aid pledge from 78 million U.S. dollars last year to 18 million U.S. dollars so far this year. The United States has not increased its aid commitments (approximately $260 million).
NGOs such as the International Rescue Committee worked in the country before, during and after the Taliban took over in the 1990s. All but a few are Afghans, and the IRC will now stay to provide assistance. But we need donors to provide more funds more flexibly. As access, security, and requirements change, we need to transfer programming within the country.
Second, there are many serious shortcomings in the Trump administration’s promotion of a political settlement, including the Afghan government and the country’s women being marginalized in the process. However, it failed to establish a parallel regional process and was doomed to any internal political compromise. Stability depends on neighboring countries, not just Afghans. The region faces many risks, and its stability is now crucial.
Afghanistan’s neighbors decided to close their borders to Afghans, leaving people nowhere to go, which is unsustainable. The international system must uphold the rights of Afghans and work hard to help countries that are already supporting large numbers of refugees. Pakistan alone has more than 2 million refugees.
Third, Afghans who are targeted because they work for the United States or other Western governments or organizations owe them a special honor. Debts are repaid through resettlement to a safe and new life. Through the special immigrant visa and the current priority two designation, the United States has taken gratifying measures to broaden the path to safety.
It is obvious from the weekend that the United States must ensure that all US affiliated partners who need immediate safety leave in a safe and orderly manner. It must also increase the capacity to make these projects operate efficiently and quickly, allow applicants to apply at home and expand regional processing. Other governments must do the same. The number of people currently helping (approximately 10,000 people per year) is too small.It has been reported that many applicants for the UK program have been rejected-this requires solved.
Finally, political and economic power and humanitarian assistance are needed to alleviate chaos or worse. The United Nations and country representatives are crucial. Diplomatic and multilateral communities must maintain their presence with humanitarians to support the Afghan people, especially women and girls, and to engage with various political actors in the country.
It is necessary to work with all parties to the conflict to reverse the trend of attacks on humanitarian facilities, personnel, transportation and supplies, and to protect civilians as the fighting continues.
It is too easy to say that Afghanistan, which has proven to be one of the poorest countries in the world in the past 20 years, is a hopeless case. With the improvement of education and the expansion of freedom of thought and action, a generation has grown up. They represent a different future for the country. The cost of trying to support them is low, but the cost of allowing them to fend for themselves is high.