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Review 2021: why an isolated and bankrupt Afghanistan could fall back into conflict
WATERLOO, Canada: As the last American troops left Kabul on August 31, ending a 20-year war in Afghanistan, the Taliban commanders were quick to declare victory. They did not know, in the midst of their jubilation, that a new and much more complex battle was about to begin.
It is often said that it is easier to acquire power than to keep it. After conquering the capital, Kabul, in a lightning-fast summer offensive, the victorious Taliban now face the mammoth task of reviving the economy while dealing with a worsening food crisis, by fighting an ISIS insurgency and bridging a divide in its own ranks.
Meeting these simultaneous challenges will not be easy. The United States, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have cut Kabul’s access to more than $ 9.5 billion in loans, finance and assets, hampering the new regime.
At the same time, and despite all efforts to the contrary, the Taliban also failed miserably in their attempt to gain international recognition as the official government of Afghanistan, leaving the country in precarious isolation.
“The real risk for the Taliban is not to be recognized by the international community, just like the last time they were in power, from 1996 to 2001,” Torek Farhadi, who was an adviser to the Taliban, told Arab News. former Afghan President Hamid Karzai. . “It wouldn’t be good for the Taliban and it wouldn’t be good for the millions of Afghans.”
Indeed, without international recognition and access to capital, the Taliban cannot keep their promises of development.
“This would put an end to the region’s hopes for economic collaboration,” said Farhadi. “The plans for the economic integration of Central Asia and Pakistan will remain under threat, as the necessary funding from international institutions to modernize and invest in Afghan infrastructure will remain on hold. “
Muslim nations pledged Sunday to create a fund to help Afghanistan avert an impending economic collapse which they say would have a “horrific” global impact.
At a special meeting in Pakistan of the 57 members of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), delegates also agreed to work with the United Nations to try to unlock hundreds of millions of dollars in frozen Afghan assets.
The pledged fund will provide humanitarian aid through the Islamic Development Bank (IDB), which would provide cover for countries to donate without dealing directly with the country’s Taliban leadership.
For ordinary Afghans, the return of the Taliban has been a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it eliminated corrupt warlords who had long treated entire swathes of the country as their own private fiefdoms. It has also made the country safer overall.
On the other hand, it went back 20 years in the era of individual freedoms and civil liberties.
As a result, tens of thousands of Afghans are now trying to leave the country, following in the footsteps of more than 123,000 civilians who were evacuated from Kabul airport by US forces and their coalition partners in August.
In mid-November, the Norwegian Refugee Council reported that around 300,000 Afghans have fled to neighboring Iran since August and that up to 5,000 continue to cross the border illegally every day.
One of the main reasons for this massive exodus and the Taliban’s continued isolation is the group’s ultra-conservative view of women, ethnic minorities and freedom of expression.
“The Taliban have defeated their rivals militarily, but on the political, social, economic and academic fronts they have failed enormously in Afghanistan,” Ahmad Samin, a former US-based World Bank adviser, told Arab News.
“They did not win the support of the Afghans and the international community. They established the government of the Taliban, by the Taliban, for the Taliban. They want recognition with minimal commitments, but I don’t think the international community will compromise in this regard.
Afghanistan is on the brink of humanitarian catastrophe due to its isolation. With depleted foreign exchange reserves, empty granaries, hospitals running out of medicine and barely curtailed international aid, ordinary Afghans face a winter of hunger and misery.
What’s more, without foreign capital to pay for electricity from neighboring countries, Kabul and other major cities are at risk of continued blackouts.
* 3,750 civilian casualties since May 2021.
* 9.5 million people in food insecurity.
In a report from the town of Bamiyan, in central Afghanistan, this month, headlined by Afghans facing ‘hell on earth’ as winter looms, BBC News’ John Simpson wrote: “Before the Taliban took power in Afghanistan in August, we were convinced that the government of President Ashraf Ghani would be able to face the threat of a bad winter, with the help of the international community. This aid evaporated when Mr. Ghani’s government collapsed.
“Western countries have cut aid to the country because they don’t want to be seen as helping a regime that bans girls education and is in favor of reintroducing the full range of Sharia sanctions.”
Speaking to Arab News, Taliban spokesman Ahmadullah Wasiq admitted that Afghanistan faces serious economic and health problems, but blamed the crisis on the loss of aid and the freezing of the country’s assets. country.
On November 17, Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi wrote an open letter to the US Congress warning that there will be a mass exodus of refugees from Afghanistan unless Washington releases the country’s assets and lift punishments.
“Currently, the fundamental challenge for our people is financial security and the roots of this concern lead to the freezing of our people’s assets by the US government,” he wrote.
But without any sign that the Taliban is ready to change its ideological course, UN officials have said Afghanistan is heading for disaster.
“The Afghan people now feel abandoned, forgotten and, in fact, punished by circumstances which are not their fault,” Deborah Lyons, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Afghanistan, told delegates at New York last month.
“To abandon the Afghan people now would be a historic mistake – a mistake that has already been made, with tragic consequences. “
David Beasly, executive director of the World Food Program, said an estimated 23 million Afghans are on the brink of famine, a challenge the humanitarian community is ill-equipped to tackle.
“WFP does not have the money we need to feed them. We have to choose who eats and who doesn’t, ”he said in a video message posted to Twitter last month. “How many children have to starve until the world wakes up?” None of these children should die.
Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia’s Security Council, said the situation in Afghanistan was becoming critical and warned the country could fall back into civil war unless the Taliban and the international community come to an agreement.
“The situation unfolding in Afghanistan today is unprecedented both in military-political and socio-economic terms,” Patrushev said last month.
“If the new authorities in Kabul fail to normalize the situation and the international community fails to provide effective support to the Afghan people, the scenario could become catastrophic, involving a new civil war, the general impoverishment of the population. and famine.
Kamran Bokhari, director of the US think tank Analytical Development, agrees that the Taliban face a serious dilemma which, if left uncompromised, could plunge the country into yet another conflict.
“The Taliban need the world to provide them with financial aid, hence the feverish effort to convince the world that the Taliban are pragmatic, despite being a radical Islamist entity,” Bokhari told Arab News. “But the Taliban cannot be both at the same time. The Taliban must change, but cannot without causing internal disruptions. Therefore, we envision more conflicts.
Farhadi agrees that the Taliban face the prospect of internal conflicts and challenges to their power unless they can urgently resolve this dilemma and remove obstacles to their economic salvation.
“These are the risks for Afghanistan; they are real, ”he said. “The Taliban refuse to recognize the link between extreme poverty and political instability in Afghanistan. The risks engendered by extreme poverty are real. The Taliban risk further violence in the face of instability and risk losing control.